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January 2011

Vampire Knight, part 1

voice cast: Daisuke Kishio, Yui Horie, Ethan Murray, Mela Lee, Vic Mignogna

director: Kiyoko Sayama

96 minutes (12) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
Manga DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Sarah Ash

Vampire Knight - part one: episodes 1 to 4

"You must not get close to a vampire. If you get close... those eyes will enslave you." A little girl stumbles through the snow, pursued by a terrifying fanged man. Just as the creature looms over her, fangs bared, it lets out a ghastly cry and falls dead; out of the blizzard, a beautiful crimson-eyed boy has come to her rescue just in time...

Yuki Cross (Yui Horie/ Mela Lee) attends a very unusual high school: Cross Academy is divided into two, the day class and the night class. As the Sun sets, the students in the day class return to their dorms and the dazzlingly attractive students of the night class make their way to their lessons. Yuki and fellow day class student Zero Kiryu (Mamoru Miyano/ Vic Mignogna) represent the academy's disciplinary committee and have a hard task keeping the smitten day class at a safe distance from the glamorous night class. The reason why? The night class students, led by pureblood Kaname Kuran (Daisuke Kishio/ Ethan Murray), are all vampires - and Kaname is none other than the boy who rescued Yuki on that snowy night long ago. But the day class students are all blissfully unaware of these facts.

Yuki, the headmaster's adopted daughter, is a sunny-natured girl, determined to do her best at her job, whereas silver-haired Zero is the complete opposite in temperament; sullen and proud, he hides his inner pain behind a fašade of indifference. Four years ago, the headmaster brought him to the academy after he was the sole survivor of a vicious vampire attack in which his parents and twin brother were murdered. Since then, he and Yuki have grown up together. Armed with special weapons, their duty is to protect the day class in case any members of the night class ever scent human blood and lose control (they take special blood tablets which they have developed to subdue their bloodlust).

But Zero is finding it harder to fulfil his role as a guardian; flashbacks to his past trauma keep surfacing as do dark urges of another kind, especially when he's around Yuki. Was he just incredibly lucky to survive the vampire attack on his family? Or is something dreadful happening to him, something over which he has no control? Yuki can only watch the boy she has cared for like a sister - and maybe more - begin to disintegrate. Meanwhile the enigmatic Kaname watches over Yuki. What does she mean to him? Why is an elite pureblood vampire so protective towards a human girl?

Gothic imagery abounds in Vampire Knight, which is based on Matsuri Hino's bestselling manga, and the sombre mood is reinforced by Takefumi Haketa's score which uses chanting voices and tolling bells to enhance the atmosphere. These are not the 'sparkly' vampires of Twilight fame, as Matsuri Hino has created her own variation on the eastern European mythos, but these beautiful and dangerous creatures will appeal to Twi-hards, as well as to those who prefer a more traditional take on the shadowless ones. The character design is faithful to Hino-sensei's artwork, providing plenty of eye candy for fan-girls (the bishounen members of the night class have considerable slash-able potential) and fan-boys who appreciate the Gothloli look. In fact, Vampire Knight has proved a firm favourite amongst cosplayers over the last few years, as the white (night class) and black (day class) school uniforms are stylish yet not too tricky to replicate.

So does it work as an anime? Yes - although it's a little early to tell exactly how well. Yuki makes a likeable heroine, although her ditsy moments can prove a little grating, and Zero alternately suffers and smoulders as a true antihero should. When he finally loses control, the sense of impending tragedy leaves the viewer impatient for more. Unfortunately, Manga Entertainment has decided to release this 13-episode series over four separate discs, which seems something of a throwback to the bad old days.

A second series, Vampire Knight Guilty (UK release not yet confirmed, although Viz Media have volume one slated for March 2011 in the US) means that only some of the dramatic issues in this first series will be resolved. Perhaps it would have been better (and kinder on anime fans' bank balances) to release all 13 episodes in one boxset here, as tends to be the norm these days? And there are no extras, not even text-less versions of the opening and ending songs.

The US dub is effectively done; Vic Mignogna (love him or hate him, he's undeniably one of the best voice actors around) brings depth to Zero with a sympathetic and restrained portrayal of the conflicted student who's fast losing his grip on reality. Mela Lee makes a likeable Yuki (as does Yui Horie) and doesn't overdo the ditsy schoolgirl side to Yuki's personality. As for the mysterious Kaname, the third player in this unlikely love triangle... it's a little early to tell but Daisuke Kishio and Ethan Murray both have that suave, compelling tone of voice that says 'dangerously seductive vampire!'

Vampire Knight is a must-see for all gothic shoujo enthusiasts who don't mind buying/ renting their anime in four-episode mini-bites.

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