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Shiki Tohno is a boy who, after an accident as a child, is able to see strange lines coming from objects and people. He has to wear special glasses to stop seeing them. If he cuts some of these lines, he destroys people connected to them. One day he meets a woman called Arcueid and together they start a journey that's going to reveal some secrets of his past. Written by
Tell me, Shiki. Do you remember the second time you and I met in the park?
Of course, how could I forget that? The person I had just killed was just calmly waiting for me with a smile.
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It would be easy to overlook this because the characters are based on a video game, yet here is a remarkably good Gothic novel successfully set in an urban Japanese backdrop. Shiki is a member of the Tohno family, which has more than one dark secret to conceal on the grounds of the imposing family mansion. Shiki and his younger sister are the only family members left, and at the beginning of the story he is moving back into the mansion after being gone for years (a classic Gothic plot device that serves well here).
In spite of being younger, the sister Akiha is a severe authority figure, having been named the heir due to Shiki's infirmity. Although she lays down draconian house rules and coldly upbraids Shiki when he doesn't exactly toe the line, she is also remarkably and obviously caring, and warms considerably as the story goes on. Of course, she has her own secret to keep, and she is made even more interesting in that she still puts on a schoolgirl uniform (ubiquitous in anime) and shepherds herself off to school.
Shiki gets off to a slow start, confused and passive, but as with the best anime characters he gets more self assured as the story unfolds. The events at the start of the story seem clumsy and confusing rather than mysterious, but eventually enough is explained, and enough is left unexplained to sustain the mystery. He meets a mysterious and beautiful woman named Arcueid Brunestud (great name), who really is an 800-year-old vampire on a quest. She draws him into the danger, and although he is reluctant he ultimately finds a plausible moral justification for continuing as an active player.
The other major player is Ciel more secrets there as well, who was at one point a mortal enemy of Arcueid but now has a wary coincidence of interests with her former foe. The interaction between these two is worth watching.
What makes a good Gothic work so well are the secondary characters offered as part of the story. There are the two servant girls, twins that are eerily loyal and discreet and who, of course, know far more about what is going on than anyone else. Then there is Shiki's classmate and only male friend, Inui, who is both self-assured surprisingly insightful when needed. There is also Satsuki, another classmate who wants to be Shiki's girlfriend.
So Shiki finds himself at the center of attention of four women who each have a different interest in him. It could be a setup for a comedy, but Shiki is not a comical character and treats each with consideration and seriousness.
Although a somber story from start to finish, TLL does provide some humorous moments, mostly around the ill-fated day at the amusement park where all of Shiki's women are gathered in one place for the first time and all their conflicts come to the surface. For me this is where the story starts to turn really interesting, where we see Achimed and Ciel talking over their situation rather than threatening each other.
The artwork in this anime may lack some detail, but it is pleasingly well crafted. Arcueid is presented as a head-turning femme fatale and her general features are consistent with that, she looks almost dowdy with her short haircut, mid-calf skirt and loose turtleneck blouse. Thankfully, there are no cartoonish distortions to depict sudden emotions. Much of the story's violence happens in shadow or off camera, making the most of the power of suggestion. The production doesn't need or indulge in fan service; none of the women are exposed immodestly even during the gratuitous bath scene. There is sexual tension, but it is handled adeptly. This could have been shot as a live-action movie with relatively few special effects, but it is quite effective as it is.
There are a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the last episode, which I believe to be by design rather than by neglect. The fact that the viewer cares to even ponder the questions is a sign that the storytelling has done its work. This is an excellent example of how anime is being used to create interesting drama.
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