Lunar Legend Tsukihime
12 30-minute episodes
You think you’ve got problems? Try being Shiki Tonho for an afternoon. for one thing, he’s having to move back to the family estate after the death of his father, meeting his sister for the first time since they were kids. For another, there’s a series of strange murders going on after dark in the area. And for another, he’s just zoned out and awoken in a pile of a girl he doesn’t recall dismembering for some reason.
Yeah, I’d say he’s got you beat.
Y’see, Shiki is blessed with suck. He has what is known as the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. Dumb name, I know, but hear me out. What this does is let him see lifelines as a physical presence. Everything has them – you, me, cats, dogs, chairs, running all over us like scribbles. By running his trusty knife along these lines, he can effectively ‘kill’ the object, no matter what it is. Still doesn’t sound too great? Try imagining what would happen if he tried doing it to a block of steel. Or a building. Or the Earth.
As the story opens, Shiki is trying to get accustomed to his new life with his almost needlessly strict sister and their two maids. While taking some time out at a nearby park, he spaces out as a young woman passes by. When next he wakes up, he discovers he’s sliced her to pieces and, unsurprisingly, freaks the fuck out. When there’s no news of any dismembered women on the TV, he heads back to make sure it wasn’t a dream. He’s a little surprised when he not only meets the woman again, but she then proceeds to tell him, in great detail no less, exactly how he carved her up into 17 neat pieces. It turns out the woman, Arcueid Brunestud – Arc for short – is a vampire, and was on the hunt for another before Shiki sidetracked her into little pieces. As penance, she asks him to help her, since there’s no way she’d be able to stand up to her quarry in her weakened state, and he is somewhat responsible for her current predicament. Feeling just a little guilty, Shiki agrees, and soon realises that absolutely no one around him is exactly what they seem.
Tsukihime is part of the larger Type-Moon universe. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve encountered it in the better-known Fate/Stay Night series, or the Melty Blood fighting games. Or at the very least, the phrase “A CAT IS FINE TOO‘ All of these take place in the same shared universe, though, Melty Blood aside, there’s very little crossover between them. Tsukihime was one of the first projects in this shared universe, and began life as a visual novel. The game, started as a simple piece of amateur work, quickly gained in popularity, becoming one of the most popular games of its kind, even compared to more professional commercial games. Japan being what it is, the game was swiftly snapped up and a manga and anime produced alongside it.
The original game is renown for two main reasons: first off, there’s the plot. Like all VNs, it features a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style form of play, eventually branching off into one of two distinct storylines. The writing, however, is widely regarded as exceptional, with some of the best world-building and character-based moments seen in the genre. Unfortunately, it kinda goes a little downhill when you encounter the other thing the game is famous for: the sex scenes. Y’see, both Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night feature several fully-illustrated and scripted sex scenes, and while, in fairness, they are integrated far better than in most other games (none of this ‘Oh, she’s unconscious, perhaps loosening her clothes will make her feel better’ nonsense here) the writing is, well, painful to read. There is an option to turn these scenes off, but the game will always have a sad reputation as a hentai game, turning a lot of people off.
Thankfully/unfortunately, none of this is in the show. I say thankfully, because the sex scenes are, as I said, hard to read. I say unfortunately because much of the character of the game is somewhat absent from the show. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still well worth your time, just that much of the sparkle from the original source material has been lost in the transition. For one thing, the designs aren’t as visually pleasing, somehow becoming a lot flatter. Sure, the original art was a little amateurish, but it had character. In ironing out the creases, they’ve ironed out the detail and it hurts just a little. As for the writing, that’s mainly the fault of it being an adaptation. You’re constantly shown tantalising glimpses of a bigger world with more depth just around the corner. Of course, being a linear show, they can’t even begin to cover any of it, and with only 12 episodes, even what they do cover is fairly glossed over, vitally important clues and details being given a vague allusion to before being ignored. The pace, on the other hand, I’ll cheerfully blame on the writers. After the first main story arc, the entire thing grinds to a halt. Compared to the game, which carried the momentum with its writing and dialogue, it’s horribly slow, and compared to the manga, which carries it by being more action-packed, it’s positively glacial.
What the series does do that’s interesting, is give the proceedings a strange dream-like atmosphere. The show floats along idly, and it made me wish they’d capitalised on some of the weirder moments from the game: the words ‘this chair is an eyesore’ spring rapidly to mind, as does Arc ‘rewarding’ Shiki with a visit from one of her minions.
Watching Tsukihime, if you’re at all familiar with the parent series is frustrating. Again, it’s not entirely the fault of the show itself, though the bland designs certainly don’t help. By itself, it’s a nice primer to the universe as a whole, and in tandem with the manga, a far less daunting excursion to the series than the game alone would be. As a show itself though, its disappointing. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and it doesn’t help that it keeps dropping hints at the bigger picture, making you wonder if you’ve just seen something significant or not. If you’re looking for a basic introduction to the Type-Moon universe – something I’d highly recommend, for what it’s worth – this is a decent place to start. If you’re looking to watch a solid show, on the other hand, check out Fate/Stay Night or Kara No Kyoukai.