Background: Vampires and the supernatural have long captivated the imagination of the public with shows like Forever Knight and anime releases like Trinity Blood. Folklore and cinematic legends also seem to dwell on the charismic undead, which prompted me to pick up Moon Phase V1 recently. The lead vampire this time is a young gal by the name of Hazuki; who left the trappings of her master in the original volume to follow a straight-laced male of legal age named Kouhei Morioka. Kouhei has issues of his own and now that the second volume of the series is up for review with Moon Phase V2, I'll try to give you a head's up without spoiling the action too much.
Series: Moon Phase V2 Okay, the story starts off with the lead male of the show, Kouhei Morioka on assignment in Germany. He works freelance shooting pictures for an occult magazine since he has a knack for catching ghosts and other paranormal entities in his photographs, even though he doesn't see them when he's initially taking the pictures. The rest of his family is extremely gifted in terms of supernatural powers but he's considered "spiritually retarded" by them since he completely lacks any abilities in this area. Thankfully, that actually comes in handy as he approaches the castle; allowing him to walk right through some serious spiritual shields placed there by powerful creatures that want the castle unmolested. His reasoning for going to the castle is to see if he can find the beautiful little girl he saw from a distance there, a gal he comes to know as Hazuki. Hazuki, is the gal that kisses him and bites his neck, trying to bend him to her will with her vampire powers but it's her first kiss and doesn't seem to have any effect on him. At this point, the guardian of the castle, a monster with great powers known as Vigo, tries to capture him and ultimately fights Kouhei's traveling partner, his cousin Seiji Mido. Seiji is older and has a reputation for being the strongest psychic in Japan, also gifted with incredible spiritual powers. Seiji fights Vigo to a standstill but the monster keeps coming back for more, wearing out the man as Kouhei attempts to free himself. Also along for the ride is Hiromi, a gal known as Kouhei's best pal and his editor but she really doesn't play a large role in the series just yet, running away when Seiji tells her to.
Kouhei breaks free with the help of Seiji but Hazuki tells him that the only way he can escape is if he helps her break free of the mystical shackles that bind her to the castle, he eventually does so but in the midst of so much going on, they are separated and he leaves with his friends to go back to Japan. Hazuki follows them there and sets up residence in the house of Kouhei's grandfather, Ryuuhei Mido. He's wizened beyond even his years and sees Hazuki as something of an interesting mystery to solve so he invites her in while warning the pair that they need to be careful. The rest of the story has a cute black cat (Haiji) joining Hazuki and a pretty vampire named Elfride sent to bring Hazuki back to Germany by her master. Initially seeming like a straightforward retrieval for her, she soon learns that Kouhei is more than meets the eye; trying to use physical force as well as old fashioned reasoning with the family. Kouhei starts to fall for her Ryuuhei finds her to be delightful, although bratty Hazuki is the only one that remembers how the lady vampire almost killed Kouhei to gain control of the young girl. Hazuki changes during a full moon into a powerful being called Luna, Kouhei seems to be protected by his spiritual ineptitude but also a source of power beyond the enchantments his grandfather placed on him, Elfride seems to notice his potential and wants it for herself, and the others seem quite willing to accept everything going on at face value. Now with the second volume of the series out, the adventures can continue, not tied down as much to explaining the entire universe the series is set in.
The episodes were 6) Heart Throbs in Kyoto, 7) Well, I Wanted It..., 8) Mother Came To See Me! Happy! 9) Save Me From This Dream, and 10) You're My Slave and I Won't Forgive You. Initially, Kouhei and Hazuki go on a trip to Kyoto; combining business and pleasure while on assignment for the magazine. Haji stays behind and becomes something of a mystery to Ryuuhei and Seiji as the cat appears to need the energy from Hazuki to survive. This leads to some intrigue, and comic laughs in latter episodes, though Elfride makes another appearance in order to test out her suspicion of Kouhei's supposed lack of powers. Needless to say, his cousins and Hazuki intervene just a bit too late but it underscores his importance to the series; spiritual retard or not. The following episode showed exactly how selfish Hazuki is about using her charm powers on anyone around her, thankfully finding no one in the family susceptible except for Kouhei's gal pal, Hiromi. Learning about humanity as well as right from wrong establishes the next arc as it showed Hazuki's former master on the prowl to reclaim her. Knowing nothing of the family that has taken her in, he sets up a trap using her long dead mother to capture her, initially showing Vigo as the bad guy but quickly escalating to the big man himself as Ryuuhei and Kouhei decide they can't wait for the assistance of their powerful kin (Seiji) while attacking a powerful modern fortress. They get some help from an unlikely ally but his powers are simply too great and they find themselves on the defensive as Count Kinkel breaches all they have to offer far too easily. The pinnacle of the battle is when he uses Hazuki herself to deal a death blow to Kouhei, showing Kinkel exactly how dangerous the seemingly gift less boy could become to the entire vampire world. As the youth eventually lays in a coma in the hospital, finding himself on the verge of being claimed by spirits that even his family can't fend off, a surprise sacrifice gives him a shard of hope.
Okay, I know that there were some very dark elements mixed in with the light hearted moments of this volume too but now that the basic dynamic has been established, it seemed to work better. The fate of Elfride as well as some of the background drama showing ties between Kouhei's family and Count Kinkel were left just out of reach in order to inspire the plot a bit rather then give it all away. His sadistic handling of Elfride and mannerisms to date have established the man as pure, unredeemed evil, but I also got the impression that he has a lot more where that came from for the protagonists of the story, elevating the pleasure of the five episodes all that much more for me. As a fan of all sorts of anime, I know that some might feel uncomfortable at how the childish aspects of the story were woven into the darker parts but for me at least, it warranted a rating of Highly Recommended as a result. Like some of FUNimations other solid efforts of the year, this title gets better all the time and I can't wait for the next volume to come out.
Picture: Moon Phase V2 was presented in an anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of about 1.77:1 as shot by director Akiyuki Shinbou for airing on Japanese television not long ago. The show was an interesting mix of the kind of colorful show that kids seem to like during the comedic moments as well as the darker, almost film like look of the times when the supernatural elements appear (typically for battle but not always). Most of the stories take place at night since Hazuki is a vampire cursed with the whole "light kills" problem but from my point of view, the show looked very nice all around (with the use of special visual effects handled to enhance the atmosphere of the plot elements). If you prefer the bright pastel colors of anime made for younger audiences, you may not like this one as much but I did notice that there were times when the show took on an almost surreal look to it; something a friend pointed out when I originally fussed about the slight haze that appeared in some of the scenes (she indicated that it was supposed to look like that, kind of bridging the natural and supernatural worlds).
Sound: Moon Phase V2 was presented with several choices for the audio tracks. The original 2.0 Japanese Dolby Digital track was present, as was a corresponding English track and a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track for those who appreciate the fine work that FUNimation does. I'm not a subtitle snob so I listened to all three tracks and found the vocals tended to flow slightly better on the Japanese track but the added musical and sound effect coverage of the 5.1 track was plainly superior. The bass added in enhanced the mood and the high end frequencies seemed brighter. There was some separation between the tracks but most of it was similar in terms of vocal placement with the surround track enhancing the other elements nicely.
Extras: Moon Phase V2 should also shine for most people. It had some trailers, short character profiles of the cast, textless songs (the opening and closing themes), optional subtitles in English, a very appealing twelve page booklet with interviews, pictures, and some series leads for the future, a plastic photo album with Hazuki and Kouhei on it, 4 large trading cards of Hazuki; all in ADDITION to sporting five full episodes, unlike far too many other series that have four (or even three) after teasing the consumer into the opener.
Final Thoughts: Moon Phase V2 might have proven to be a little too fanciful with Moon Phase V1 but it made a strong sophomore effort that showed me it could become something really appealing. There aren't many series these days with youthful elements that also get this dark and show death as morbidly as has been done here but it balances them to prevent the show from going too far over the edge just the same. I liked the continued use of five episodes, decent extras, and quality on each vocal track more than a little bit, bringing it into the running for the year end top awards coming up later this month.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.