The best way to sum up Vampire Princess Miyu for me would be ‘Sailor Moon meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘. The premise of this vintage 1997 series is deceptive; Miyu is The Guardian, vampire trapped in a 15-year-old girl’s body, goes to high school in Japan, and is tasked with returning evil demons, shinma, to the darkness. Doesn’t sound particularly original, right? Well, you’d be surprised.
Spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 below!
The whole ‘high school girl fighting demons’ is a tried and tested TV series format, from Japan’s classic Sailor Moon to America’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, Vampire Princess Miyu doesn’t quite fit the mould. There are no happy endings! In Sailor Moon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, bad things happen to good people, but then Buffy defeats the villain and everything goes back to normal (and there’s a good chance everyone will conveniently have amnesia). In Vampire Princess Miyu, everyone dies no matter what. Painfully.
Episode 1 sets the premise for the whole series. The mysterious Miyu Yamano turns up at high school as girls are found dead with the blood drained from their body. Nobuo, your average boy with glasses who is ‘fed up with the boring world’ and feels above it all, suspects that Miyu is a vampire and follows her to the roof of the school where the real culprit is revealed. Miyu puts an end to them but when Nobuo jumps forward and begs her to let him join her and slay shinma. If you’ve watched enough anime, you might expect for Nobuo to be bitten by Miyu and become a vampire, or at least become her bumbling human accomplice. What happens in this show? Miyu chastises him for his idiocy, he falls to his death and she basically just says ‘told you so, idiot’. Ouch.
In the second episode, young women’s souls are trapped in mannequins by a shinma who promises to make them more beautiful. Miyu predictably defeats the shinma but the girls are not freed. She expresses no remorse or pity at all and effectively says ‘they were selfish, so this is their punishment’.
This brings us on nicely to characters. Miyu appears to be a heartless you-know-what, and there aren’t many living characters to warm up to by the end of each episode. People die regularly and quickly in this show but, fear not, Miyu isn’t the only recurring character around. There’s the mysterious Reiha, another creepy and even more heartless shinma hunter, her talking doll Matsukaze; Larva, a shinma and Miyu’s guardian; Shiina, Miyu’s bunny mascot companion with spooky mixmatosis in one eye; and Miyu’s three school friends, Chisato, Yukari and Hisae. This collection of characters is close-knit enough for you to become close to and interested in them, although it may not make up for the copious amounts of death elsewhere and Miyu’s apparent inability to care about human suffering.
Vampire Princess Miyu is not without its faults, however. With 26 episodes and a small cast, most episodes seem to be stand-alone shinma slaying and tragic human tribulations mini stories. If you like shows like Musashi, where the main character typically encounters a new spirit each episode and interacts with it in a human environment, this is a series for you. If you like a complex plot and an ongoing story, you might find Vampire Princess Miyu a bit slow. That said, the last few episodes turn everything on its head and finish the series off with a bang. You eventually learn how Miyu became The Guardian and, without giving too much away, the ending doesn’t pull any punches. I recommend watching the whole series to really connect with the story but the final DVD in the boxset is by far the best one, in my opinion.
If you want to add more ‘classic’ anime series to your collection, Vampire Princess Miyu sits comfortably alongside old favourites like Berserk, Rorouni Kenshin and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The art style and soundtrack are beautiful and, although dated, do not take anything away from a great story and setting. The director, Toshiki Hirano, also worked on Detective Conan and Fist of the North Star, so you can expect good things! As you might expect with an anime series dubbed in the 1990s, the English voice over version is poor. Miyu sounds like a 30 year old school mistress, rather than a 15 year old school girl (even though she is actually hundreds of years old), and Shiina’s voice is painfully squeaky. That said, I always recommend watching at least one episode in English for comparison. The extras also offer little other than a shinma gallery, which is obviously best viewed after the episodes.
All in all, Vampire Princess Miyu is a solid classic series. Its strength lies in the shinma-human relationships and tragic stories of both humans and shinma who try to live in the human world. Although it feels slow in places, there are some emotive stand-alone episodes and the dramatic ending more than makes up for any other shortcomings. The Complete Collection is now available from MVM Entertainment, and I have already lent my copy to a friend to pass on the love!