I've said it before and I'll say it again; boy there are a lot of anime shows about vampires! Hellsing, Black Blood Brothers, Karin, Rosario + Vampire, Vampire Hunter D, Trinity Blood, and Blood+ are just a few that spring to mind. Originally released in 2004, Moon Phase is another fine addition to that list.
Most vampire tales tend to put a spin on the horror genre rather than approach the material as if it were classic Bram Stoker. Moon Phase tackles the vampire mythos in such a fashion and infuses new ideals into the storyline. It crafts a unique world that is darkly captivating and it remains so for the entirety of its 26 episodes. This cute yet serious show has been a success for FUNimation and this collection marks the first re-release of it. Like their other collections such as Desert Punk and Samurai 7 this release is very comprehensive right down to the art books being included as a pack-in.
The six disc series gets started in Germany at a dark and foreboding castle named Schwartz Quelee which is out in the middle of nowhere. Kouhei Morioka happens to be visiting this location for a publication he works for that focuses on paranormal phenomenon. Basically Kouhei is a tabloid photographer who has been sent to this dank spot to follow up on some leads. When he sees a beautiful young girl lapping up the moonlight atop of the castle he is naturally stunned. This figure captivates Kouhei and it's not long before he makes his way back to the castle to meet this person.
As it turns out the castle is protected by some serious spiritual barriers but thanks to Kouhei's lineage he's able to pass right through them. This brings him closer to the castle than anyone else and he actually stands in front of the girl from the photograph. She introduces herself has Hazuki though her true nature as a vampire is quickly revealed when she bites him on the neck. She essentially sees Kouhei as an opportunity to break her out of the castle. Why not make him a slave to her will in order to aide her escape? Unfortunately for Hazuki, Kouhei's bloodline once again comes into play.
Kouhei comes from a very spiritual family and it's one that has many ties to the supernatural world. Our lead male is what becomes referred to as basically a Vampire Lover. This means that he has the power to break a vampire's hypnotic curse and wreak havoc within their society. It's kind of a cool idea and it certainly works well considering the relationship he develops with Hazuki. At any rate once the pair leaves the castle they return to Japan to stay at Kouhei's grandfather's place.
With Hazuki out of the castle the show begins to explore her reality as a vampire and her history as a character. It's interesting to learn about how she was being held in the castle and how her mother is out in the world somewhere. She and Kouhei set out to find her early on but this conflict isn't as powerful as others that brew as the series continues. Hazuki's alter-ego known as Luna sprouts up repeatedly whenever there is a full moon. It's interesting to see this dual personality take hold of Hazuki's body and you'll start to question which character is the real one.
Throughout the 26 episodes (well, 25 and an OVA) the show explores many avenues and in my opinion it only gets better as it expands the universe. Several new characters are introduced that impact the lives of Hazuki and Kouhei, many villains come to the surface, and the forces of darkness aren't quite as evil as you may think. There are certainly more than a few twists thrown in for good measure and an equal amount of battles later on. As Hazuki discovers more of her powers and Kouhei trains for spiritual combat the show really takes off.
As neat as Moon Phase is it's the atmosphere that will really draw you in. There's no denying that the character designs are adorable and as such you tend to feel that things are going to get goofy at any moment. The funny part is that while comedy is an important factor in many scenes the attitude is kept very serious and dark. It's a very foreboding program that tackles the horror genre well; even if it is a tad disconcerting given the show's design.
There is so much to love about this show and it stands out as one of the better vampire anime licenses on the market. It's a different kind of vampire story but that's a good thing in this case. The unique characters and some of the concepts truly support the surreal atmosphere. I suppose in the end my only complaint was that the pacing felt off somehow. The series starts out slowly, picks up, then gets slow again. Moon Phase never really pushes itself to tell its story and it handles everything with a relaxed attitude that more or less works in its favor. Overall this is a solid series and a fine package from FUNimation. If you missed Moon Phase the first time around consider this your chance.
Moon Phase is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is a nice representation of the original production. The designs ring through perfectly and as you watch you'll appreciate the artistic nature of the show. A lot of thought went into creating this series and it truly shows. With that being said the technical presentation isn't quite as strong as one would hope. The colors are vibrant and there is some nice contrast but grain, softness, and compression can be found in varying degrees. Neither is ever to the point that it's distracting or makes the show look poor but it certainly doesn't look as sharp as it could have.
As you'd expect the audio in Moon Phase comes in three packages: 2.0 stereo for English and Japanese and a 5.1 for English. The dubbing quality for both language tracks is fantastic with voices that perfectly match the personalities of the characters. I actually found myself leaning towards the English language here due to the 5.1 surround mix which created a nice sense of immersion. The only problem with the 5.1 is the fact that the soundstage doesn't get much play. This is a somewhat quiet series and the rear channels aren't picked up quite as much as they could have been. Even so this is a flawless sound presentation that offers crystal clear audio.
This collection of Moon Phase pulls the discs from the individual volume releases. That means the bonus material is kind of disappointing and you'll only receive character profiles, some trailers, and textless animation on the actual discs. As I previously stated there are six art booklets packed into the set with interviews and production drawings but those can't take the place of a commentary or featurette.
Moon Phase was a lot of fun. It's a cute show with a dark twist and though the two ideals are at odds much of the time they help the series stand apart from so many others. The characters are definitely the highlight here as each personality is well-developed but the plot and background are fleshed out as well. This is a solid 26 episode ride that never really stops though as I did mention already the pacing feels kind of off. If you like vampires in your anime then Moon Phase is definitely a must see. It's unique enough that it separates itself from the pack but it's the quality that truly makes it a can't miss title.
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