Anime Review: Moon Phase

Written by Richard Brown

This series was a bit of a milestone for me, it was the first anime I saw at my first convention. I was pleasantly surprised when it appeared at the club. But is it any good? (People, who know me, know the answer.)

The Basic Plot

Kouhei works as a photographer for a mystery magazine, the only work he could get as the apparently talentless son of an extremely magical family. In Germany he meets Hazuki, a young vampire and something of a spoiled princess. He frees her from her castle, and is made her “servant” when she bites him. Unfortunately for Hazuki, it doesn’t work as it should and Kouhei refuses to do what she wants. Unfortunately for Kouhei, she won’t go home, and scary people are after her.

Chibi Vampire! No, not Karin

Say what you will, that is a good setup for an anime, with promises of both comedy and drama.  The series tries hard to live up to this, maintaining the plot from the get-go, rather than falling into the trap of episodic silliness. There is also some attempt to address the difficulties of a slightly petulant vampire suddenly appearing in a Japanese home, featuring some arguments between Kouhei and Hazuki and a novel solution to the sunlight problem. The initial episodes are somewhat removed from the cutesy image the series often has, which makes things interesting enough to keep you watching. Then again, the cute factor is pretty high, with cat ears being a big theme. However, while the relationship of the two leads starts out as something between a respectful friendship and an entertaining battle of wills, the anime starts to shift the pair into more conventional territory, to the detriment of the series.

There is a romantic element to things, but the series lacks the maturity to deal with the issues this should raise. The phrase “Lolita Complex” is always lurking in the background, and its not just Hazuki’s character design, as Kouhei’s family is in the habit of arranging marriages with substantial age differences. Meaning he is already promised to a girl not old enough to buy a GTA game. I would feel happier about this aspect of the anime, if only the series had the nerve to face the issue head on (which could make for uneasy, but daring and praiseworthy viewing) or was played for laughs ala Dokuro-Chan. As the characters as a whole just treat the situation as normal, refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room, the entire anime was soured for me. Even accounting for cultural differences, this felt like creative cowardice at best, and pandering to the Lolicon crowd at worst. Admittedly, the relationship between Kouhei and Hazuki is both innocent and completely benign, but you may very well find yourself asking questions.  This having been said, things could have been much worse. Modern fiction involving vampires tends to be bogged down by angst, discussions of human mortality, historical flashbacks, bodily fluid metaphors, the ever-popular lesbian vamps, and leather. Moon Phase largely avoids these clichés, though I wonder if this is a result of a conscious attempt to do something different or the same unwillingness to rock the boat that marks the series. After all, if Hazuki was far older than she looked, her behaviour would come across as a bit creepy.

Let’s assume for a moment that you did not have the same response I had, what does the anime offer? What does the anime have other than cuteness going in an odd, but harmless direction? Not a great deal, and after the initial story arc concludes, things start to falter. The main problem is that the series can’t quite work out what it wants to be. Initially, the main appeal is the cuteness of its characters and a certain light-heartedness, but this slowly disappears as other elements come into the series. There are elements of fighting anime in here, perhaps surprisingly, but the series doesn’t have the budget for it. There are two drawn-out combats during the series and in both the animation quality drops suddenly, and there is an attempt to compensate with odd colours and perspectives. The series also tries for horror and drama in later episodes, but ends up sabotaging Hazuki’s character, changing her from an independent girl into a damsel in distress, so Kouhei can rescue her. It tries to be a comedy, but doesn’t have many jokes, favouring slapstick and visual gags. The anime is very fond of repeating these gags ad nausea, with characters hit from on high by tin baths and kettles seemingly three times every episode, usually at dramatically inappropriate moments. It seems the humour is s deliberate attempt to counterbalance the melodrama in the series, but it only really works in the hilarious omake episode. Genre-hopping can bring dividends to an anime, but in this case the result is an anime which is below average in several different things. This a disappointment given the interesting set up.

Conclusion

When you write a review, its a good idea to acknowledge the audience the anime was aimed at. I wasn’t able work out who that was in this case, except that I wasn’t in it. Occasionally quite funny, and praiseworthy for paying more than lip service to plotting, Moon Phase is ultimately a very average anime with elements that don’t translate well. While it does have its moments, the series offers little beyond gothic and kawaii in equal parts. Great if you like that sort of thing, but I would urge caution. If you can’t cope with the idea of a non-sexual, but emotional and loving, relationship between an adult man and an apparently 12ish years old vampire girl, there’s no point in watching.

4/10

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