Tag Archives: Vampire

Sharp teeth and a thirst for blood. Thankfully, there is no sparkling. Yet.

Kurozuka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kurozuka

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Ergo Proxy

Blade of the Immortal

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Intriguing start

Negatives:

  • Leaps to the future too soon
  • Laughing maniac villain is ineffective
  • Most interesting character isn’t in the story enough
  • Visuals show their age

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It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.

Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.

I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!

Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.

And here is where you lose me.

The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.

Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.

The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)

So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.

Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!

I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.

Art – Medium

In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.

Sound – Medium

I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.

Story – Medium

A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Diabolik Lovers – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Diabolik Lovers

 

Similar: Vampire Knight

Amnesia

Dance with Devils

Brothers Conflict

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Harem

Length: 24 episodes (12 minutes each, 2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Half-length episodes get you out the door sooner.

Negatives:

  • No story.
  • Same thing each episode.
  • No likeable characters.
  • Season 2 is a copy of the first.
  • Not even fun as trash.

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Do you remember when Twilight was a big deal? Diabolik Lovers comes from that era of hysterical fangirls and tear-filled trailer reactions, adapted into an otome game (visual novels aimed at girls).

When sweet innocent Yui goes to live in a grand mansion populated by pretty boys, her life takes a turn for the worst. These boys are bloodthirsty vampires and they aren’t afraid to show it. Her daily routine becomes one of abuse and vampire meals. Will she resist or fall for them in the process? (No points for guessing correctly.)

Just like harem anime for boys, otome adaptations are a failure from the get-go because the studio doesn’t commit to a single story path from the game. Even if Diabolik Lovers were a good game, an anime adaptation that tries to incorporate the romance arcs with all the boys will always be a mess. For comparison’s sake I checked out the anime adaptation of Code:Realize, an otome game I completed on the PS Vita. Though there are five romantic options, the game never feels harem-like because no relationship goes beyond friendship until you as the female protagonist choose to pursue it. From that point onwards, there is no “dating” multiple guys aspect. It acts as though you were never interested in the others to begin with. Furthermore, you won’t know most of any given guy’s history unless you choose his path, adding more depth to the story – and replay value. In the anime, however, it tries to put every path into the story rather than committing to one. Needless to say, the Code:Realize anime is subpar (and the detailed art is missing). So when Diabolik Lovers didn’t even have a good game to start with, there was no hope of a good anime. Yet even then, I didn’t expect something as abominable as this.

Yui’s first meeting with the vampires has them taunt and frighten her, acting like stereotypical douchebag vampires, which I took as them playing it up like in the vampire myths before they reveal that they aren’t all like that. But no, they are awful.

The vampires take it in turns, for roughly two episodes each, to torment, assault, and sexually abuse Yui. I understand that the ultimate fantasy for fans is to be dominated and protected by powerful, and preferably rich, older guys. However, none of that matters if the guys are so unlikable, as is the case in Diabolik Lovers.

I’ll tell you of her time with one of them. The vampire breaks her phone when she tries to call her father to leave, but he then tells her to get lost. (Mixed signals there, buddy.) He bites and drinks from her, and later pushes her into the pool, where she begins to drown because she can’t swim. This allows him to jump in and kiss her for air, which she will see as romantic, of course, and fall for him. What a shock. Yui is an empty protagonist with no spine, no motivation, and frankly no use. She irritates me most in this horrid affair. You might imagine that the goal of the plot is to have her make the guys nicer, to bring out their chocolaty centre. You’d be wrong. No one develops an inch by the end.

Each vampire is one cliché after the other. They all have “the one thing” to check every box in the Vampire Otome Character Type Checklist, though with the “absolute douche” trait added. Most of them have nicknames for her. Little bitch, pig, pancake (this one offends her most), and masokitty are just a few of the delightful nicknames that will make you cringe every episode.

The one vampire I expected to be a decent person – you know, for a change of pace – was the refined older brother type, who cares for etiquette and manners. After he invites Yui over for tea, he too abuses her. So, nothing new.

Story is an important element for otome fans. Sure, it is about pretty boys in the end, but a proper story creates a deeper connection within the fan. If fans didn’t care for story, they could turn to another form of entertainment if they just wanted to get to the juicy bits. The second season is a repeat of the first, except it’s with a group of half-vampire boys that kidnap her, take her to their mansion, abuse her, drink from her – you get the picture.

Diabolik Lovers does attempt a story involving the boys’ dead mother and Yui’s identity, but that lasts 10 maybe 20 minutes across both seasons.

A dear reader recommended this anime to me with the knowledge that this is trash, prime trash ripe off the bone from the nearby landfill. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the fun with it that I expected due to the emptiness of the story and characters. Diabolik Lovers doesn’t do anything. It’s too boring to be so bad it’s good, for me.

Art – Low

Diabolik Lovers carries over the tradition from otome games of pretty characters and nice looking stills. However, this is an animation, which it lacks.

Sound – Very Low

They didn’t skimp on hiring high-end actors for this in both Japanese and English – another carry over from the game. Not that this in any way saves the abomination of a script. Contender for worst of all anime.

Story – Very Low

A girl finds herself trapped in a mansion with a family of beautiful vampire boys that want to use and abuse more than her body. There is no story.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Diabolik Lovers isn’t the right sort of trash for me to recommend as a hilariously bad time. Vampire Knight is better for that.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingLacks ConflictNo DevelopmentRepetitiveRubbish Major CharactersShallow

Noblesse – Anime Review

Korean Title: Noblesse

 

Related: Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction (prequel – included in review)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Japanese & Korean

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: Two 30-minute movies

 

Positives:

  • Makes you want to read the manhwa.
  • Well-choreographed action.
  • Bloody good powers.

Negatives:

  • Awakening is just the opening chapter.
  • Production issues in Beginning of Destruction.

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Noblesse (French for nobility), based on the popular manhwa webtoon of the same name, has received two short film adaptions, seemingly as a test for the reception of a full series. The first film, Noblesse: The Beginning of Destruction, tells the story of Raizel the Noblesse Vampire and werewolf lord Muzaka in medieval Europe as humans wage war around them, ending in the tragic falling out of these two friends. I assume this is a flashback volume from the manhwa selected as a self-contained story. Noblesse: Awakening is the proper start of the saga, where Raizel awakens from an 820-year slumber to find an unfamiliar modern world. He seeks out Frankenstein, loyal servant and current school principal, for help and ends up attending the school to learn modern life from his human classmates, who soon come under threat from other supernatural entities.

I have good and bad news about Noblesse. The good news? What we have of the series here is strong – I am excited for more. The bad news? That’s all there is in anime form (for now, hopefully) and we have to turn to the manhwa for the rest, which isn’t complete either.

While Awakening is a strong start, it truly is the mere first 2-3 episodes rushed to fit in as much as possible in 30 minutes. We see a bit of every key scene in setting up a larger story. Raizel awakens, meets Frankenstein, goes to class, makes friends against his will in a hilarious scene believing chopsticks are stakes and the garlic in kimchi is to poison him, and then the other vampires capture his friends for the climactic fight. Without having read the manhwa, I would wager it takes more time with these scenes. Still, they do work fine in the anime.

I like Raizel. He is the definition of a Korean drama protagonist. Let me tell you about Korean dramas one day – they’re plenty of fun. For now, the first rule is that the male lead must be tall, slender, handsome, and even a bit effeminate (middle-aged Korean ladies go nuts for that). Bonus points if he is emotionally reserved. Raizel barely speaks throughout both films with maybe 10 lines in Beginning of Destruction. However, he isn’t dull like Kaname, the aloof vampire of Vampire Knight – at least, not in what I’ve seen so far. His inner monologue, as present in the lunch scene, and his imposing manner give him character. When he has to make a hard choice in Beginning of Destruction, you can feel his pain conveyed in few words and facial expressions.

He’s overpowered as hell, though not without consequences. His blood magic looks great, particularly in the prequel.

Speaking of, Beginning of Destruction is the better of the two films when watched as is, owed due to the completeness of the arc. It does have lower production values, however, and I could only find it in Korean, which did work well. This story takes its time with the scenes, giving us enough to connect with the werewolf lord and the human girl he protects before the action starts. The action itself is well choreographed in both films and has a surprising amount of story weight for such little runtime.

Noblesse needs more episodes to deliver its potential, which I hope to see very soon. This is one of few anime adaptions I desire.

Art – High

The prequel may have average production values, but Awakening looks great and oozes style that is classically manhwa. Good animation for the engaging action.

Sound – Medium

The acting is solid. However, the music in Awakening feels generic, as if it not made for this anime but bought from a stock library. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the budget is responsible.

Story – Medium

An ancient vampire awakens to a modern world he doesn’t recognise and must learn of society and technology. The prequel shows his final moments before sleep over 800 years ago. Noblesse sets up a promising story that demands completion.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Hmm…I don’t like recommending incomplete work. If you fall in love and have to suffer the agonising wait for more, was it worth starting at all? Either wait or watch Noblesse and begin the manhwa.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: N/A

Negative:

Incomplete

Castlevania – Anime Review

Related: Castlevania Season 2

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful to the games.
  • Looks and sounds great.
  • Deeper than expected.
  • Unflinchingly brutal.

Negatives:

  • Too early to gauge full quality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the same way that game-to-film (or vice versa) adaptations bring the worst out of art, game-to-anime conversions are mind-numbing experiences that contain none of the game’s magic. When Netflix announced a Castlevania series, I didn’t even bother adding it to my ‘might, perhaps, one day if there is no more anime, eventually’ list. The series releases and the strangest comment reaches my ears… It’s good. What unspeakable pact did the creators enter into?

While not an anime, Castlevania adopts plenty from the likes of Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D in its adaptation of the game franchise of the same name. More specifically, this uses Castlevania III as a launching point with some Symphony of the Night elements.

The first episode introduces us to the human Lisa as she enters Dracula’s castle and meets the vampire lord of Wallachia himself. Rather than throw her out – or worse, drain her – he is endeared by her desire to learn science and spread such enlightenment across mankind. She doesn’t run away like the others. He teaches her chemistry to help the villagers and marriage is not far behind. However, the Church grows suspicious of her newfound curative abilities and finds heathenistic devices in her house, such as instruments of glass too thin to be of human creation. They burn her at the stake.

Oh what a grave mistake.

Dracula’s wrath unleashes a demon horde across Wallachia. The land is now a place of death. At a small inn still untouched by the horde, Trevor Belmont is drunk and getting drunker. His family of demon slayers fell from grace since their excommunication by the Church, so there’s little to do but drink these days. Even a horde of game doesn’t interest him. A human plea will soon change this.

So, the story starts like a Castlevania game, and it does well by setting the stakes as high as Dracula’s castle and giving a flawed yet likeable protagonist. Then there’s Dracula, exuding majesty and awe-inspiring power. They didn’t tone him down. I was prepared for something like the Devil May Cry anime, where the characters, especially protagonist Dante, have none of the personality that makes them enjoyable. Instead, Castlevania added more than what was to be found in the games.

These four episodes serve as the setup to a grander series. They establish Dracula, Trevor and his allies, and the subplot of the Church, which added the story depth to turn this from good to great. I hope to see the Church subplot throughout the series.

The action is no wet skeleton either. It’s gory and brutal, as it should be for the franchise, and the choreography has thought behind it. Duels are especially satisfying.

With all this praise, what’s the downside? Well, it’s hard to say at this point, as I am reviewing the start of a series. I have no complaints right now, but elements could become problems. For example, Trevor’s bravado will turn annoying if overused and he trash talks instead of fighting, like a bad villain monologue. The inside of Dracula’s castle may also have little story, with all interesting plot occurring outside under the Church’s influence. Who knows? It’s too early to say. Still, it looks right, sounds right, and feels right.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for Castlevania.

Art – High

The art feels like the games turned animated, dripping with gothic atmosphere. Some animation is jittery, but good overall.

Sound – High

The accents work well in English. The Japanese is good enough if you prefer that. Music complements the dark atmosphere.

Story – High

A son in the long line of once-noble Belmonts prepares to fight the Lord of Darkness, Dracula. Castlevania is a great start to adapting such a venerable franchise.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Unless you can’t stand gore, Castlevania’s four episodes give a good taste of whether you should look forward to more.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative: None