Sharon K. Reamer
Vampire Knight, 13 Episodes
Vampire Knight Guilty, 13 Episodes
Vampire Knight is an anime dramatization of the of the same name as the (ongoing) shōjo manga (drawn by one of the stars of Japanese manga, Matsuri Hino) started in January, 2005. The first Vampire Knight anime series originally appeared on Japanese television starting in April 2008 and was followed in October 2008 by the second series, Vampire Knight Guilty.
The story follows the three protagonists Yuki Cross, Kaname Kuran, and Zero Kiryu. Yuki and Zero are Guardians posing as prefects at an unusual school founded by Yuki's adoptive father, Cross Kaien, a legendary vampire hunter who has hung up his sword and profession to start the Cross Academy intended to show that vampires and humans can live and study together peaceably. They are divided into the Day Class (humans) and Night Class (vampires). The nature of the Night Class students is a secret maintained by Chairman Cross and known only to Yuki and Zero, whose job it is to prevent the labile females of the Day Class from getting too close to the elegant, sparkly Night Class males and finding out that they are vampires or tempting the vampires with adolescent girls as snacks.
Yuki has no memories before the age of five, when Kaname, a (rare) pureblood or 'Level A' vampire saved her from a bloodthirsty 'Level E' vampire and brought her to Cross. She has adored Kaname since then, and it is quite clear that he feels the same about her. Zero came to live with Cross Kaien after his parents, also vampire hunters, were killed by a pureblood vampire. Zero was spared but hates all vampires and had already completed his apprenticeship as a vampire hunter. Kaname is the Dorm Leader of the Night Class, the only pureblood, among noble Level B vampire students. Both the Vampire Hunter Association and the Vampire Senate conspire to disrupt the peace of the Cross Academy for purposes of their own.
Zero, Yuki, and Kaname
My original intention was only to view the first seven episodes of the first series to get an impression. Each episode lasts twenty-four minutes including title and ending song. I watched them together with my 15-year old son in a single sitting. As my anime background is slight, and he watches a lot of anime, I wanted to see if he could also relate to this series. Although my son liked the episodes we watched, it was not something he wanted to actively pursue further. (Aside: he did ask when I was going to order the second half of the series. Teenage boys are inscrutable.)
I, on the other hand, was hooked after the first seven episodes. I watched all the remaining episodes of both series over the space of two weeks. The target audience for the magazine (and the anime dramatizations) are primarily girls between the ages of 13-25. The vampires are drawn with a lush sensuality, and Yuki is, of course, quite adorable. I found all of the animations richly detailed and well drawn.
Yuki Cross in her Day School uniform.
The love triangle with Yuki, Kaname, and Zero plays out with a generous number of plot twists and surprises. Some of the revelations were predictable, but many were not. Plot holes and inconsistencies abounded, and I had many questions at the end about certain details that were likely much clearer in the manga version. Despite this, I found the series irresistible and enjoyable.
Zero getting some from Yuki
The top-shelf vampires are all sparkly and have sworn off drinking human blood (at Kaname's insistence). They drink water with dissolved blood substitute tablets. Comparisons to Twilight must inevitably be made, at least for the first series, in terms of the problems of an ongoing love affair between human and vampire, but the original manga appeared nearly ten months before Twilight hit the bookstores.
The bestial Level E vampires are humans who have been 'turned' into a vampire by a pureblood and have degenerated due to bloodlust after a certain time. These vampires attack Yuki regularly necessitating rescue by either Zero or Kaname. Because of the PG rating, buckets of blood should not be expected with this series, although the blood volume is high enough to raise the level of violence satisfyingly above tame. Alas, also no sex, although the sensuality of the character exchanges are suggestive enough to titillate any teenage girl's heart.
A Level E vampire.
I found it interesting that most of the vampires drank blood from each other. Drinking the blood of a pureblood can bestow a vampire with more powers and also stave off degradation to a Level E vampire. Besides the usual traits such as enhanced vampire strength and magnetic attraction over the opposite (human) sex, Level A and Level B vampires have an array of neat tricks such as encasing their Level E opponents in ice blocks or disintegrating them outright. Vampire hunters have individualized charmed weapons effective against vampires. As Guardians, Yuki and Zero also possess anti-vampire weapons. The vampires have red eyes when they are in their 'vampire' mode and sleep during the day but are not adversely affected by daylight.
Inevitably, the conclusion I made from the series is that it's not so much about vampires as about undying (!) love, personal denial and sacrifice, and the quest for power. The series contains all the ingredients required for a good suspenseful romance, especially against the backdrop of humans and vampires cohabiting in a boarding school. There are artful shades of gray in the both the vampires and Vampire hunters that lend the characterizations verisimilitude and depth.
I think those of us in the Western world either like anime or not – I haven't observed much middle ground. I enjoy anime and find it fascinating but am not a devoted fan. Even though I'm also not the target age group for this series, I did enjoy it enough to watch all the episodes as quickly as I could manage. I watched it in original Japanese with English subtitles, preferable in my opinion (despite a touch of translation awkwardness) to the trailers I've seen for the English-dubbed series that came across as saccharine in comparison. I've also ordered a few of the manga books (available in a number of languages) to see what plot points had been left out of the anime (and, of course, to see what happens next). This series ranks as the best anime I've seen so far, both for visual effectiveness and story. Although a quick survey of a couple of the anime forums revealed that many series followers did not like the dangling threads ending, especially with the lack of a follow-up (anime) series, I found it satisfying. My rating: 8 out of 10.