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Tsukihime Lunar Legend
- volume one: Life Threads
voice cast: Hitomi Nabatame and Kenichi Suzumura

director: Katsushi Sakurabi

100 minutes (15) 2004
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Tsukihime Lunar Legend is a 12-part horror anime series based upon a series of manga and video-games that form a larger coherent universe despite this anime focussing only on one particular aspect of it.

Shiki Thono returns to his childhood home to live with his younger sister who runs the house like a military camp with the aid of two identical maids. The city is terrified following a series of murders in which people are drained of their blood and Thono awakes one day with a memory of having carved a young girl into pieces. He starts to question his sanity when the girl pops up, it turns out that she was a powerful vampire and he would never have been able to kill her if he did not have the mystical ability to see the join-lines in all things and therefore be able to cut anything and everything into pieces. Quickly he is sucked into a battle between the True Ancestor vampires who aren't bothered by sunshine or the need to drink blood and the Dark Apostles who look and act a lot more like traditional vampires. But who was the woman who gave him the glasses that allow him to block out lines, and what's the deal with the mysterious flying woman with the Wolverine claws that looks just like one of Shiki's schoolmates?

I received this DVD with some excitement as my research had led me to discover that it is well thought of and highly rated by anime fans. After having sat through the four episodes presented here I'm left wondering if the quality drastically improves after volume one because this highly thought of slice of fantasy horror fails to impress on almost every level.

Most shocking of all for an anime (even if it is a TV series), the series is poorly animated. The characters' facial expressions rarely change and it's rare that anything is animated apart from the main characters in the foreground. In a number of crowd shots people appear frozen in time and space while people speak and a number of wide angled shots of groups see them talking while remaining completely and utterly still. This lack of energy is made worse by the fact that the world of Tsukihime Lunar Legend seems absolutely tiny. Again and again we see the same alleyways and lunchrooms. When the characters aren't in familiar surroundings, they're in rooms that are completely barren with white walls and virtually no furniture. Even the character design is decidedly sub-par as the artists seem unsure whether to go for a stylised look or keep the characters more realistic, this results in Tahno having a circle of friends composed of two normal-looking people and a schoolgirl who looks like some kind of genetically engineered prostitute with the voice of a Clanger. Even the vampires are disappointing, the artists under-design the Princess Executioner of the True Ancestors by making her look like a normal person and goofily over-design her nemesis Nero Chaos (a name so silly he could have been in a ring fighting Kendo Nagasaki or Giant Haystacks) who can pull wolves and snakes out of his clothes like some bizarre cross between Marilyn Manson and Paul Daniels (I am the god of fuck and you'll like that... not a lot).

The two basic plot ideas of a man who can see the mystical points at which things are joined and a civil war among vampires show promise but they're poorly exploited. Tahno can carve nature up at the joints allowing him to kill powerful vampires but the problem is that, mystical lines or not, if you cut bits of something off with a knife, it's going to end up in a pile on the floor anyway. The use of vampires is also a questionable decision because what it gives a piece in terms of immediate connection with the audience, it also takes away in that these creatures are familiar to everyone already. So if you're going to use vampires and still make your work seem fresh then you've got to come up with a new spin on them and this series is limited to positing the existence of vampires that don't drink blood or fear the Sun. You have to then ask, why are they vampires? These two big ideas behind the series seem slight and uninteresting but in all fairness this is only the first of three volumes so things might improve. Either way, neither set of ideas is particularly new or interesting.

A further problem is that the plot is incredibly slow to unfold. A third of the way through all that has basically happened is an introduction to the main characters and the context of the plot. This glacial pacing and the incredibly static feel to the animation and art are compounded by the voice acting´┐Ż I listened to both the English and Japanese language tracks and both are delivered in an unwaveringly bored monotone that leaves you half expecting a character to suddenly go 'Bueller? Bueller?' The slow direction, acting, plotting and animation combine to make this series feel less like an exciting romp through horror and magic and more like a Ken Loach film about some heroin-addicted single mum on a Scottish housing estate. It's not frightening, it's not exciting but it is vaguely depressing.

Given that this is a third of the series, I'd suggest you give it a miss. There are countless films and series out there that prove that anime can and should be better than this because despite a solid pedigree and a reportedly large and popular pool of source material this is pretty weak stuff.
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