Yes, I know I said my next review would be Heart de Roommate. Sue me, I haven't finished it yet.
Ah, Tsukihime. The breakout hit of the doujin circle TYPE-MOON*, which eventually became its own franchise. Said franchise, of course, includes adaptations to other media in addition to spinoffs. Having already covered the game itself, I feel I'd be remiss if I, as a fan, miss the opportunity to talk about said adaptations, and whether they live up to the standards of the original.
...oh, come back already! This is a review, not a rant!
That said, I'll give my impressions on the adaptations of Tsukihime into anime and manga formats. Let's get started.
There is no Tsukihime anime.
The manga adaptation of Tsukihime, however, most definitely exists, as it OW! What the hell was that for?! Well, no, I don't...um, K-Koha-?
No, no, put the broom down, please! Please, I'll do it right this time! NO, anything but that! Okay, okay, I'm on it! Back off!
Yeesh, s'not like she's ever important in the anime...*grumble*
As might be guessed, the anime adaptation of Tsukihime is a bit of a contentious subject in TYPE-MOON fandom, even to the point where it's spawned an internet meme denying its existence. There are very understandable reasons for this, though.
As an adaptation, Shingetsutan Tsukihime fails utterly. It's not just that things are changed. It's that things are changed to near-unrecognizable levels.
There are some complaints milder than others, of course. Hisui and Kohaku certainly get shafted by the story, because there's extremely little about them...but that's pretty much what actually happened in Arcueid's route, which the anime follows. In that scenario (the recommended first one), they really are little more than supporting characters, and I understand their lack of importance in an adaptation. No matter how much I chafe at calling Kohaku "unimportant." I'm going to go shiver with incredulity until I'm ready to be objective again.
...actually, that didn't take long.
Most of the problems come from the characterization. Arcueid I found to be the particularly infuriating example. The game characterizes her as cold and ruthless when it comes to her primary purpose (hunting down other vampires), but playful and childlike when she's around Shiki. After all, the only emotions she's ever felt on a significant level before meeting him were rage and hatred, and even those were only in a few very specific instances; it's a huge part of her character development that her curiosity upon meeting Shiki and her unexpectedly long time awake opened the gates to other emotions. The anime throws pretty much all of this out and makes her more of a ditz. I think the crowning moment, where I actually had to pause the DVD in shock, was when Shiki manages to catch her before she pays for their dinner with fake money. That she printed. The woman who specifically learns about the society she wakes up in in order to do her hunting, who's clearly shown to be smart enough in every adaptation to buy an apartment, and who once rented out an entire hotel floor without a hitch.
There is another giant weird thing that she does (her, the second most powerful being in the world, running away from Shiki in the beginning, rather than him ambushing her), but I should drop that and move onto Shiki himself. There's not much to comment on...which is the problem. Now, I find criticisms of "emo Shiki" in the anime to be exaggerated, but he really is bland compared to the game. Ciel doesn't suffer much in characterization, but she shares Hisui and Kohaku's problem in that, as I recall, nothing is explained about her (and unlike with them, that's actually kind of odd here). On the villain side, Roa is downgraded a little bit in both power and personality, but nowhere near the extent of Nero. It seems that for this anime, Nrvnqsr Chaos, 1000 year-old vampire and true monster comprised of 666 demonic beasts, was replaced by his underachieving younger brother who summons a few trained wolves and can turn to liquid. It's the single most disappointing aspect of this anime when you expect the huge final confrontation, vampire versus kid with eyes that see Death, the prospect that probably drew more fans of the game than anything else...and the vampire goes down like a pansy. To schoolboy Shiki. Oh, and there's a problem with Nanaya as well: he's not really in the anime. Which also explains some of the disappointment in that Nero fight.
And all that is in addition to a few storyline problems. The anime follows Arcueid's route very closely, but some things show up in her route that aren't explained until later in the game. Ciel is the giant example, but there's only a little detail on the Tohnos as well, on Arcueid's true purpose, on just what Hisui and Kohaku are doing (there's one thing in particular that should have been either explained or dropped). But probably the biggest thing: the ending goes completely unexplained. You really don't know what's going on that scene, and unless you've played the game, the answer might surprise you! But the worst, the absolute worst thing is...
This isn't a bad anime.
I'm totally serious.
Wait, did I say "worst?" I meant "redeeming." It's true that it did take a lot of reflection, and was a surprising conclusion, but hear me out.
The key factor in the whole thing is that Shingetsutan Tsukihime has a very different...atmosphere, I guess you could say, from the game. Tsukihime has many things: suspense, exposition, mystery, psychological horror, exposition, daily life humor, some action, and love themes abound. The anime, limited as it was to twelve episodes and focusing solely on adapting one of the game routes, couldn't really cover all of this while still doing justice to the Nasuverse, so the sense of a larger world is mostly discarded, and the sense of mystery and supernatural love is played up considerably.
This being the case, some of the characterization differences can be explained, because everyone becomes closer to human. Anime-version Shiki loses some of his personality and deeper ties to the supernatural, but what remains is still a normal guy, drawn against his will into a world he doesn't understand. Far from being unlikable, he's in some ways even more sympathetic than in the game, as this time his Mystic Eyes of Death Perception are really his only defense, and a poorly-understood one at that, against the horrors he encounters. Arcueid seems unforgivably stupider and weaker than in the game, but here again, all that really happens is that she starts out closer to human. Ironically, this sort of makes her seem ever more otherworldly than in the game, which fits the atmosphere of the anime much better...and it also helps that Shiki and Arcueid's relationship, while rather different from the game due to the different personalities, is still very well-written. The decision to use the SHIKI Tohno version of Roa fits in with this design as well.
This only makes the Nero fight slightly less lame, though. I mean, geez, that scene could only be more watered down if you turned a hose on it.
As a technical production, this anime is incredible. The art style is a more realist style, very different from Takashi Takeuchi's work, and took some getting used to for me as a fan of the game (especially with regards to Arcueid's design). Nonetheless, it's still quite good. The animation is also surprisingly good for a mostly non-action series. And the soundtrack is nothing short of a masterpiece, comprised mostly of hauntingly beautiful orchestral pieces and a few semi-impressionistic pieces with other instruments. Of particular note would be the opening theme, "The Sacred Moon."
The technical quality isn't perfect, of course. In particular, the English dub is little short of terrible (and that little is Arcueid's voice). People in general sound fairly unnatural, and Shiki in particular is godawful to listen to; also, why oh why, can't any dub track get the right translation for "Nii-san?" Hell, even if they just left that word in with a translator's note, it would have sounded less strange than Akiha always using "my brother" (it's supposed to sound formal, but just comes off as weird). The Japanese track is much better, though, so I strongly recommend going subtitled.
There are also a few instances of direction that can be called nothing short of bizarre. Much as I rail on the Nero Chaos fight, it at least made a modicum of sense (and Shiki still managed to look like a bit of a badass). On the other hand, talk to anyone who's seen this show, and ask them about the bridge scene with Roa if you want to know how strange things can get.
Still, I personally forgive those aspects for two things in particular. One, any adaptation where Satsuki Yumizuka, of all people, can lay the verbal smackdown on Arcueid, Ciel, and Akiha is one I'm inclined to appreciate. Second, there's a bit of direction in the final episode that I found strangely cool*.
Okay...that was a little longer than I was expecting. Looks like I'll get to the manga some other time.
Bottom line: this anime is a terrible adaptation, but good enough on its own merits that I feel comfortable recommending it. Just don't watch it dubbed unless absolutely necessary...and if you're a fan of the game, be very careful.
I think I prefer reviewing games. They make me feel more organized.