It’s hard these days to find an original take when it comes to vampires. Something like Blood + relies on the cold contrast of a split personality, while something like Trinity Blood takes more of an alternate reality, science fiction approach. Vampire Hunter D had obviously gothic origins, while Vampire Princess Miyu was girl’s romance through and through. Lunar Legend Tsukihime finds a slightly different niche, but it’s a little more along the lines of Paranoia Agent or Boogiepop Phantom than any of its aforementioned kin.
The main character of this series, Shiki Tohno, looks like a fairly ordinary young man, but he is a young man with a secret. He can see the ‘life lines’ of things, and cut them, and thereby kill. No one else can see these lines; no one else believes him. Shiki’s reality is not the same as everyone else’s. Under those sorts of circumstances, anyone would question their sanity, let alone a little boy, but after a dreamlike encounter with a woman who says she’s a mage, a new pair of glasses returns to Shiki a degree of normalcy. Life becomes ordinary, the same way everyone else’s is, until one ordinary day his ability returns with nightmarish violence.
At which point parallels between the character and the stereotype of the unbalanced serial killer become quite prominent. He’s got the makings of a psycho, so is he just a time bomb waiting to go off? Can he really see life lines everywhere, or is what’s happening just symbolic of his disintegrating grip on reality? Animation direction by Katsushi Sakurabi sometimes hints that’s the case, and it certainly doesn’t help that Shiki wields a switchblade like a madman. Nor is it exactly a point for mental health that the one person that believes what he says about the lines is a vampire princess who tells him he is a natural born killer.
But this is anime, and statements alluding to the fact that his “eyes make lives less valuable” are meant to be taken literally in the end. Anyone who suddenly finds himself thrust into an unknown and dangerous world with no defence is bound to come across as a little unstable, and surrounded as he is by women who appear to know a lot more about what’s happening than he does, he seems an unlikely hero. But as these things are wont to do, Shiki must come to realise that sometimes running away is the least preferable option, no matter what horrors he has to face. If he can find it in himself to use the awful power he has, a power that can kill even the strongest of vampires, he might just survive, and protect those he cares about.
The thing that perhaps detracts a little from the strong psychological drama scenario is the slightly watery nature of those surrounding women mentioned, particularly pure blood vampire princess Arcueid. Yes, she’s kind of sweet and all, but her supposedly sharp and pointys are a little New Age. No self respecting Dracula would have been impressed, and going by the DVD art and the opening and closing sequences, one would think she’s actually the main character. It’s possibly a good thing she’s kind of not, because it takes a little too long to warm to her, and, mysterious protagonist or love interest, either way she comes across a bit bland to start.
But to be fair, all the characters are, overall, a little low-key and in reality it’s the mystery surrounding Shiki’s ability, his family, and his destiny that really sinks its teeth in. In fact, everything in this series is done a little more subtly than would be expected and it’s a bit slow going, but that also makes it possible for a few genuine chills. Again this is as much thanks to the animation direction as it is to the script. With minimal dialogue and a dramatic, atmospheric soundtrack, Lunar Legend Tsukihime is actually a lot more reminiscent of a good Japanese horror movie than one might think. And as vampire flicks go, it’s fresh enough to leave a few bite marks without becoming the same old walking dead.