At last, in its second installment, the story is beginning to match up to the aesthetic beauty of this film series. Heck, with its mix of quiet romance, menace, and blood, I think this would have made a fine first installment.
This is a grand Gothic romance mixed with a few (understated) conventions of the anime romantic comedy: once again, the male is rather hapless and naive, especially once it’s abundantly clear who the perpetrator of the all the murders is. The cute smile that curls up Shiki’s lips a few times is an immediate charm–dare I say, moe–point. Her split personality might, if one stretches it, seem tsundere–but that would be a stretch indeed as the two Shikis are much more of a piece than the often artificial “tsun” and “dere” divisions in lesser shows. That one has a taste for blood and stabbing just makes it all the more appealing for those who got their kicks from the end of School Days. (See Higurashi for a primer in how real moe and murder can go together.)
But all that is beside the point, because one of the hallmarks of this as well as Tsukihime is the relative emotional restraint (for anime). In Tsukihime it was a bit too much, leading some characters to the point of stiffness and stuffiness. Here, the balance was just right. There is a lot of unspoken feeling in the scenes where Shiki and Mikiya are together by themselves, especially when that doofus doesn’t have his mouth open. A refreshing lack of manipulative music helps balance the mood. When the murders come, they are neither too unexpected or gratuitous; a few gory scenes are only shown in flashes, and the final chase feels appropriately tense and driving. It is one of the few action scenes in the episode, and the rarity of such scenes makes their fluid animation seem that much more impressive. Here we have a great example of “less is more.”
The same can be said of the plot, too. The first installment seemed to assume too much out of the new viewer; here, though, with the focus on just two principal characters and their first meetings, the story is simpler and more comprehensible. Shiki tells outright about her two personalities and their possible consequences, and Mikiya reacts: this is more or less the sum of the plot. Nothing yet about her powers; nothing yet about Tohko and her agency. It is incomplete of course, as the title implies. While I understand the desire to begin in media res, something which densely developed anime seem to always like doing, I believe that this would have served as a better introduction in some ways. There’s far less “mythos baggage” to carry and the two characters have compelling conflicts that reveal important aspects of their characters by the end. There’s also much less pontificating, which was refreshing. In some ways this reminded me of an extended version of one of the standalone episodes of Boogiepop Phantom. The eerie mood was there, as well as the hint of terror, with the pointing toward much darker and deeper things to come.
If there was any part that was lacking, it was the way Mikiya’s overly-optimistic and naive attitude clashed with the mood of the rest of the show. “How can he still believe what he believes?” I kept asking myself, and to its credit, the dialogue addresses this question directly–and what it boils down to is “it’s love.” We know in real life, of course, that this answer is exactly what some people say, even in the face of abuse and adultery and other betrayals. The idea of blind love is even discussed by Mikiya and one of his male friends–“when you can’t see [her abnormalities], then you know that’s it.” It certainly goes a long way in explaining his behavior in episode 1. Of course, that naivete is probably what saved him at the end, but…I suppose it reminds me of the protagonist of Now and Then, Here and There, an optimist in the middle of the bleakest of worlds. Had he not been there, offering hope in the face of incredible odds, the despair would have been crushing. Maybe every goth show needs someone who isn’t brooding to make the brooding ones look cool.
One more installment to go that’s available in English. See you on that tomorrow!
PS: And may I also add that I found the beginning segment a very persuasive message on why one should never tape a movie in the theater.