This is a show that has an interesting and long history with me. I originally watched this show when I was in middle school towards the beginning of my anime obsession. This was back when I was unfamiliar with the medium, when the internet was still a baby, and I harbored an unhealthy obsession with vampires (pre-Twilight, of course). I was finding less-than-awesome shows such as Helsing, Trinity Blood, and Nightwalker to feed my lust for bloodsucking sexiness. This is when I watched the first few episodes of Vampire Princess Miyu. I rented the first two volumes from Blockbuster (already dating this story) and watched them several times. Why write this review now? I just bought the newly rereleased box set of the show from Maiden Japan. Watching this show with my now matured view of anime and knowledge of the medium, I can now conclude that this show struggles to hold up through the times and has aged less than gracefully.
First off, I feel it is necessary to address my issues with this new rerelease. The price is fair…I paid about 36 dollars for the full set which consists of 26 episodes. The cover art is nice…if not a little bland in colorization but fairly sell the show to the uninitiated. The way the discs are contained in the box is where the deal falls short. All five discs are pressed together onto one spindle which not only harbors the risk for scratches but makes it nearly impossible to remove the discs without forcible prying them apart to the point of snapping them in half. I have only encountered packaging this bad once before in my anime collection when I bought an old copy of Princess Tutu.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s describe the show itself.
Vampire Princess Miyu is about a vampire named Miyu who fights monsters called Shinma to protect the human race with the help of her companions Larva, a reformed shinma, and a cute rabbit-like creature named Kyubeast. If you missed anything in that description, it is repeated over each opening in dramatic narration. The show is largely episodic with a slight overarching plot regarding the less than interesting high school life of Miyu and her friends. There are few reappearing characters. Miyu and her fighting posse are in every episode and an ice spirit named Reiha is in a good handful of episodes.
A first impression of this series when viewed by a veteran anime fan (and an observant new comer) is that the animation is…economic. It is apparent that the studio needed to make this show on the cheap as the viewer will lose count of how many times a character goes off model, Miyu speed lines into an enemy, and the characters don’t so much as walk but hover awkwardly while each of their legs appear in front of the other. Animation-wise, the show is a mess. Its old which may excuse a few aesthetic choices but few anime have aged so poorly. For example, Cowboy Bebop, a show which has aged extremely well, was aired a year after Vampire Princess Miyu. The art is a step above the animation. The character designs are distinct enough to stand out making each main character extremely recognizable. The scenery is colored to give the mood of foreboding and despair which is very fitting. The Shinma are each unique and distinct and it is always the highlight of each episode to see them transform into their monstrous forms.
The worst aspect of the show I noticed as I watched, as someone who has viewed well over a hundred other anime series, is the dub. I chose to watch the entire show dubbed since I default to this option if it is available. With the exception of a few strong cameos, the voice cast seems to be suffering from a case of severe apathy. Miyu’s high school friends vocally express the emotional range of Velcro. There are some obviously bad moments such as when the tall friend and the friend with glasses come across a snake and are meant to scream which comes out as more of a quiet “ahh.” The worst offender is, perhaps, Miyu who is so prevalent in each episode. It seems, in my opinion, that the actress, Kimberly J. Brown (episodes 1-7) and Dorothy Elias-Fahn, understood her character as emotionless and cold which, in a way, is accurate. I have seen this character type portrayed before more effectively in Hell Girl. In this show, Brina Palencia plays the role of Ai Enma, a character very similar to Miyu in personality and in being a supernatural, immortal young girl. While Brina finds a way to make a whispery emotionless voice sound complex and threatening, Miyu’s actress makes her sound bored and seems to lack commitment. In each episode, for example, Miyu makes a speech to the Shinma she is about to vanquish where she shouts “into the darkness, Shinma!” Her victory speech ends with an awkward whisper of “shinma” which falls flat. Her speaking voice is even more unbearable as her monotone hearkens back to the voice of Daria without the sarcastic charm. The other characters are less than notable with the exception of Steve Blum who pops up once and a while and a few other actors well known for their older voice work. When the credits run after an episode, dub fans will note the lack of recognizable vocal talent which can be very telling. One may also notice that Miyu’s voice actress changed after the first 7 episodes, a fact which I didn’t realize until I check the show’s wiki page; another bad sign.
After that rant, one may expect me to write this show off as a waste of time and not even salvageable through the lenses of nostalgia, however, there is an aspect of the show that may save it. The soundtrack. While many anime fans may not put so much stock in a soundtrack, that may be because, with some exception, anime is accompanied by instrumentation meant to support the action on the screen rather than stand on its own as a musical piece. The soundtrack from Vampire Princess Miyu is amazing. Each track is beautiful and fitting. The opening is unskippable and the ending gives the viewer a somber yet satisfying conclusion to their episodic adventure. In middle school my friend and I passed a copy of the soundtrack between us and each track is gorgeous. The orchestration is dramatic and lush and the vocals range from a slow pop ballad to a children’s choir. If anything, an anime fan should experience the soundtrack for themselves.
In conclusion, avid fans of the vampire genre or nostalgic otaku looking for old fashioned animation and a dated dub track may want to look up Vampire Princess Miyu. The box set is on sale now for a fair price (with dreadful packaging). New anime fans should steer clear until they develop their genre preferences and decide they want to experience this bit of early anime. Hardcore otaku looking to experience all types of anime and wish to experience the evolution of anime to the present day would benefit if only to hear its fantastic soundtrack and yearn for the old days of full orchestration.