I've always been a huge fan of Gothic Horror. Dark, creepy, and bloody shows have been things that have always interested me. I also love a good vampire story. Now add to that the fact that I enjoy a good mystery or crime drama, and the reason I decided to review this next show should be a no brainer. As the back cover proudly exclaims this "combines urban crime drama and horror motifs". Ah, it's like a show made specifically for my tastes. But I also think this is the type of show that could have a much wider appeal. I ran into this title at my local Blockbuster probally about a year ago now. It was so out of place among the more popular titles avaible for rent there, that I just had to check it out. They only had the second volume, which covers the second half of the 12 episode series, but I didn't mind. This series was easy to get into midway through. I was instantly hooked because episode 7, the first one I saw, is such a strong episode. Since then I've of course bought both volumes, and watched the show a few times through.
The anime series is based off of a PC game by the same name, created by TomBoy. The anime series was produced by AIC, and ran on TV from July to September in 1998. Shido is a vampire, and a private detective living in Japan. He's devoted himself to saving humans, not killing them or turning them to vampires, as the other vampires do. He rocks cool pink hair, and an interesting style of clothing, and hunts "nightbreeds". Nightbreeds are the name for lesser demons in the series, who need to feed on, or control human beings in order to survive. One of Shido's "powers" as a vampire, is he is able to turn his blood into a weapon that can kill or harm nightbreeds. Yayoi is a member of a secret organization designed to investigate cases involving nightbreeds, hunt them down, and destroy them and she often works with Shido to do this. Since he is a vampire, he is very powerful, and can use his many skills to accomplish their goals, and solve the many cases. And Riho Yamazaki is the high school girl who just so happens to work part time as a secretary at Shido's detective agency. At first Riho is blissfully unaware of the dark secrets that are hiding just beneath the surface at this particular detective agency. You see in their world, humans are unaware that vampires and demons exist for the most part. And the reason she ended up working for Shido has to do with him investigating her parents mysterious deaths. Riho starts to develop a bit of crush on Shido, and wishes to help him with his many cases. And although Shido does not want her to get involved in the nightbreed cases, she eventually does many times, and predictably enough she does learns the dark secrets of Shido in due time. And circumstances develop in which a powerful enemy fatally wounds Riho and she must be turned into a vampire, or left to die (I won't spoil how this happens). Of course she chooses the former. The rest of the series follows those three attempting to solve the many crimes involving nightbreeds within the city. Now there's a crap load of demons here for them to find, so we're ganna have to just assume their city has a gateway to hell in it or something, but whatever. I'll buy it. During each case these three (and of course their gremlin little mascot, Guni) must figure out who exactly is the nightbreed (nightbreeds can take control of human beings), or where the nightbreed is, or even if a nightbreed truly is the cause of the problems in the first place (nightbreeds are also sometimes just called "breeds" for short by the way). And this is where the mystery element comes in, as we don't know who or what is the nightbreed, and are guessing along with our friends here. Sure some episodes are not set up like this, and are instead pretty straight forward, in that there is a nightbreed, they know where it is, and must fight or chase after it. And these episodes are very good as well. There is also an overall story that develops involving Cain, the vampire who turned Shido into a vampire in the first place, and is the only one who knows Shido's true past. And Cain becomes the main "bad guy" of the series so to speak. He doesn't care about human beings, and kills many people to satisfy his thirst. Shido and Riho on the other hand drink blood donated by Yayoi, so no one has to die for their survival. And also the series deals with Riho struggling to come to terms with the recent loss of her humanity, her new thirst for blood and dislike for the sun, and the fact that she will outlive all of her friends, classmates at school, and everyone else she knows.
Ok I'll admit there's a lot going on in this series. It even manages to touch on Shido and Riho's relationship (being more then friends, and maybe lovers?) a bit. It's difficult to explain all the different aspects of the show very well. But the series handles each part with expertise, and it's not nearly as complex as it sounds. Each and every episode is different enough as to not get repetitive, and main plot does move along at a great pace. The idea of Shido having to deal with his past with Cain (as his homosexual lover I may add), and also trying to cope with not knowing who he was before he was bitten is quite interesting. And this takes a toll on him, and you can notice this. It's also another stroke of genius to have the only person who has any idea who he was before he became a vampire be Cain himself. The transition of Riho from human to vampire, and her dealing with this is handled very well. It's not angsty or anything, because her one wish is to live forever with Shido, and it seems she can now do that, but it's not exactly "yeah I'm a vampire!! I'm so happy!!" either, and this middle of the road feeling makes a lot of sense. On the one hand she didn't really want to die, and she does want to live with Shido for all time. At yet she doesn't really want to be a vampire, and she misses being able to do many human things. This struggle with her loss of humanity and being a vampire is handled very well and is never forgetten about. She is of course aided by Shido, who tries to help her and guide her when he can. This of course parallels Shido's former relationship with Cain, only he felt humans were nothing but cattle to be used for vampires, while Shido thinks vampires should help humans. Cain made Shido a vampire, and was his mentor, and now Shido has made Riho a vampire, and became her mentor. This is a very interesting way for AIC to handle the series, and I really liked this aspect of the show. And character development for all the major characters, even the little mascot goblin guy, is really well done. They flesh out each and every one of the major characters, and somehow find the time to reveal each of their back stories, and show who Cain really is, all while hunting down nightbreeds or solving cases involving nightbreeds. Kinda amazing they fit all that in there. And many of the mysteries have great twists you won't see coming. (***small spoiler*** ) Hell they manage to reveal the entire back story of one character, and part of another WITHOUT you even noticing this until the very end the episode!! That was a great twist! (***end spoilers***) Even some of the minor characters who manage to stick around a little get some development, which I really liked. However the series probably did try and do a little too much. As some of the "nightbreeds of the week" have very little screen time, so they do seem a little generic. Few of them are really fleshed out. But this is a small problem. A bigger problem is that by the end of the series, the main plot is not really tied up. The series doesn't end with a cliffhanger or anything, but it feels like there's more to tell. It's not bad, but not very satisfying if you want real the main plot to actually come to an end. However I am not bothered much by this, mostly because the last episode is incredibly dramatic, suspenseful, and just very powerful. I know a few people will be bothered by what they do here, but I really loved the way the last episode was handled. Sure they never get to finishing up the main plot, but I'll be alright with that if that means we get an amazing episode like this. And it is a good episode to end the show on. Oh and I probably should mention the first four episode are very odd. Anime News Network notes that the series started as a 4 episode OVA, and then continued as a TV series were the OVA left off. I'm also willing to bet there was a big change in staff between these episodes as well. As the overall tone, style, and content of the show changes significantly (and for the better I may add). While, sadly, the TV series toned down the blood, gore, and violence, the writing really moved up a few notches. The first 4 episodes were very uneven in terms of writing. One would be all right, the next would be kinda bad, and then another episode pretty good. And then we also have the completely uncalled for nudity in one of the episodes. Look I'm not against nudity or anything, but in a series like this, and the way it's done, well it kind felt unneeded and stupid. Also I really liked the change in character design between the first 4 episodes and the rest. Perhaps it's because I started the series at episode 7, so that is what I was used to, but I really like the different character designs much more.
As far as production values go, this is about average for 1998. The animation is pretty good. The artwork is detailed, although very reminiscent of early 90's or even 80's anime. I'm pretty sure this was intentional, as it really goes with the music style which I'll get to in a bit. I really like the style though, and the second character designs are really nice looking. The original character designs manage to make Riho really ugly looking, and I don't like Yayoi's hair at all. But when it was an OVA it seemed to have the budget to really pay attention to what all the minor characters looked like, and so all of the earlier minor characters look a bit better. So it evens its self out I guess, although I'd rather my main characters look good and not worry much about the minor cast. As for the music, it's exceptional. They went with a great jazz inspired background theme, and it really works. If you closed your eyes you'd think you were watching some old crime drama from the 1970's or 1980's, and it's very fitting. The opening theme is distinctive, and the ending theme is very good too. But I really love the background themes! Some themes don't sound like that however, and instead sound like they are straight out of a 80's horror flick. So with the 80's inspired music, I think it's fitting why the art style looks a little 80's inspired. And it's not bad artwork either.
The dub for this was produced at Bang Zoom, in late 1999 and early 2000. And it is a pretty good dub. While not amazing, and it does show it's age a bit, I really found myself enjoying it. The star of the dub is easily Richard Cansino, who plays Shido quite well. He gives that character a distinct feeling, and really understands where he is going with the dub. I should probably also mention that at times Shido narrates the story, filling us in on a few things here and there. And Cansino's narration gives the anime a film noir feeling that's definitely called for and adds to the overall atmosphere. Yayoi is played by Jane Alan. At times Alan does not seem like she's giving it her all; it's a little disappointing. She just didn't seem enthusiastic enough at certain times, and at others like she wasn't sure what she should be doing or how she should be saying it. Luckily for most of the anime she's not like this, and does a wonderful job. She fit her character very well. I probably shouldn't be so harsh on her. Riho is played by Dorothy Elias-Fahn who does a really good job. She gives her character just enough spunk, youthfulness, and playfulness to fit Riho. And she knows when to tone down the happy-go-lucky side of herself when needed. Also I MUST apploud her for her work in the final episode (don't worry no spoilers). As I already alluded to it's quite a dramatic episode, and I thought she handled it perfectly. She did a truly great job. Now why couldn't she be this good in Vampire Princess Miyu?? Cain is played by Lex Lang, and he's not bad. But I really thought he could have been better. Sandy Fox plays Guni, and I'm assuming they pitched her voice up a bit here. I thought the way they made her sound fit Guni well, and that she was quite good as well. I liked how the main cast here was filled with lesser known actors, and on the whole I liked how different this dub sounded then many other LA dubs of the time. Many of the episidic characters are voiced by better known actors however, like Michelle Ruff, Mona Marshall, and Wendee Lee. And they of course do a good. job. But again many of the other minor characters are played by lesser-known actors, and they too go a good job. So in short, this is a dub worth checking out. Although it's not really too impressive or anything. It is however a rare LA dub from CPM, since they usually stuck to New York City, so I do find that interesting.
This anime is very well done. It has a great fleshed out main cast, an interesting story, and decent dub. The production values are good, and it's an interesting mix of genres. If you plan on buying this on DVD, watch out for the dub-only release Central Park Media released (if you don't want that version that is). I own the 2 volume release from 2004, and it has both an English and Japanese track, along with one extra. The extra feature is a comparison of the storyboard to the finished product and it's on both DVDs. This was a nice little extra, that they really didn't need to add on. However I do wish there was something more, like a behind the scenes look at the dub, or a commentary or something. But hey I'll take whatever extra they throw at me. The small problems with the show, make me subtract a half a star from my rating, but I still highly recommend this title. It's an under watched gem that could really catch on in my opinion.