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Charm Eclipse: "Moon Phase" Not As Cute As It Hopes

by on June 23, 2008

Japan’s fascination with vampires once again flaps its little bat wings in the direction of my little dusty DVD box, and it is a struggle to understand the constant fascination in such a saturated genre. It truly is allegoric that anime appear as eternally spellbound by these charismatic monsters as the victims within the stories. This question leads us to FUNimation’s recent offering: the complete series of Moon Phase is now out there lurking in the shadows of your local retail outlets. Liberally inspired by the Keitaro Arima’s manga stories, is the animated Moon Phase a beast that leaps for the jugular or simply stinks of garlic?

Funnily enough, despite a lead and supporting cast of vampires, Moon Phase circumnavigates so many vampire conventions that one wonders whether they needed bother with vampires at all. In fact with the lead vampire looking to shake off her evil heritage, a family servant keen to ensure she retains her dastardly vampire lineage, and a craggy castle that can pop up wherever it wishes, Moon Phase has more ties to Count Duckula than Count Dracula.

So what’s the tale? Magic resilient Kouhei Morioka, a young bumbling freelance photographer, is on a trip to Germany with his cousin Seiji to explore a magical haunted castle. Upon their investigation of the building, he encounters a young girl called Hazuki, an innocent young vampire girl with a secondary evil personality called Lady Luna that emerges on a full moon. Hazuki attempts to turn Kouhei into her unwilling servant with a bite to the neck, but discovers that his magical immunity prevents her making him her slave. With Seiji’s help, Kouhei helps Hazuki escape the castle’s protectorate and the confused vampire is adopted into Kouhei’s family in Japan. Together Kouhei’s friends and family strive to protect Hazuki from the forces that hunt her, looking to re-establish the personality of Lady Luna permanently.

While the premise sounds interesting, in execution, the show sadly misses its potential. Despite its dark background and spats of fast action, Moon Phase is played out as a cute comedy romance – meaning much of the fantasy plays second fiddle to the primary characters. The rather interesting dual personality of Hazuki/Lady Luna is all but ignored for the most part, relieving the show of what might have been some interesting drama.

With Moon Phase’s more dutiful focus on comedy, romance and soap-orientated drama, its success truly hinges upon is the audience’s appraisal of Hazuki. Depending on how cute and lovable you find the star will greatly affect how much you enjoy the show. Despite the bombardment of cute images of Hazuki that accompany the credits, with her soft breathing yearns for kisses smattered on top, I did not find her lovable in the slightest. The constant insistence from the accompanying DVD material that she was wonderfully cute didn’t cut it either.

The problem is if you don’t find a demanding, brattish, rude, sulky, jealous vampire prepubescent particularly endearing, the rest of the show lacks enough definition to support the audience. Her counterpart in crime, Kouhei, is incredibly non-charismatic. For the most part, he’s a good played for laughs – he whines, pouts and pratfalls left, right and center. And to make things worse, the audience have to suffer the constant shrill quarrels between the two for twenty-six shows. All this is cute and adorable? I don’t think so.

Beyond its dubious leads, there is question as to whether Moon Phase’s use of romantic comedy and action fantasy finds a balanced fusion. It’s not that the show doesn’t succeed in fulfilling either genre, but simply it pulls back and forth too often to allow Moon Phase to carry any sense of coherency. The lynch pin is often falls to Hazuki’s apparent charm to staple Moon Phase’s various colors together, and I can’t help feeling it needed a little more.

That said, the show boasts a rich tapestry of characters, and one can’t deny the brilliance of grandpa Ryuuhei and the villainous Count Kinkell. Furthermore, what action-drama exists in Moon Phase is well handled, especially the gripping confrontation with the aforementioned Count midway through the show.

In regards to the visuals, the animation isn’t anything particularly mind-blowing in itself, but it does include some eye-candy backdrops and is all impressively directed. On the aural side, the voice direction on the English dub plays the comedy a little thick, with the shrill Hazuki and her lisping guardian imp Haiji being the biggest culprits.

The Moon Phase box-set carries the twenty-six episodes of the series across six disks. There is little in terms of special features, but the accompanying booklets contain a wealth of info-bytes, interviews and series details that is informative even if it’s a little self-congratulatory. The box set itself is well presented – FUNimation have done their usual good job in packaging the product.

Whether or not Moon Phase is worthy of your DVD collection really depends more on your feelings towards cute teen romances, squabbling leads and soap-driven story lines than your interest in vampires and fantasy. While there are occasions where the latter categories are allowed to breed, they are comparatively slim pickings to the indulgences of Hazuki. Moon Phase is a show that finds difficulties in balancing its strong taste in humor to the tense plot lines it alludes to. One can’t help feel if they’d spent as much time on the stories as they have in trying to impress how cute and special Hazuki is, Moon Phase could have been a real unique blend of myth, comedy, romance and action. With success depending on how well Hazuki’s vampire charms spellbind the audience, Moon Phase is definitely one to try before you buy.

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