Moon Phase - Phase 1 review
A Wonderful Phase
When it comes to titles covering the supernatural occult you might be expecting an outward dark moody theme, with liberal use of blood and occult rites to fully realise their dark fantasy. Sometimes though, you get ones like Moon Phase. A quick glance at the artwork on the DVDs should be enough to clue you in on the direction this series intends to take. Although the occult themes - especially those favouring vampires - are the focus on the set the visual style is so cutesy and vibrant that by the time you've put the disc in your chosen player and started watching the light hearted and at times comedic approach to the genre shouldn't come as a surprise.
Well, in truth Moon Phase is a tale of two halves. Its outward appearance is a light hearted take on the usual vampire story masterfully combined with humour sections that get the interest, but at its heart is a darker story that delves into the reasons behind Hazuki's circumstances and the shadowy figures that are coming after her. Volume 1 itself doesn't dig into the deeper storyline much though, instead deciding to focus on the character relationship building of the main cast, and in this it works well.
The majority of the focus is on the female lead Hazuki. At first she is portrayed as a mysterious girl trapped in a castle who tries to get Kouhei to help her escape. During this short arc she flits between two very distinct personalities of innocent child and malicious adult, and while this aspect is not examined to any large degree during this volume it does hint at the difficulties she faces. After her escape from the castle she stays closer to her child-like persona and we really get to see Hazuki for who she is - a worried child who is too used to getting her own way.
In fact, it's her tendency to demand things that leads to a lot of the humour, as she and Kouhei clash when she fails to manipulate him into carrying out tasks for her. However, she also shows a more tender side that has difficulty dealing with emotional aspects and struggles to comprehend why things don't go her way. It tends to lead to trouble for her and those around her and makes her quite endearing to the viewer. There are also the expected conflicts of nature, as a vampire is forced to try and adapt to living in a human environment. Problems like the coming of sunlight and the need for blood as sustenance are addressed and produce some interesting sequences. It's not just Hazuki that has to adapt though, as the other members of the main cast need to readjust their lives.
Kouhei, in addition to being a point of contention for Hazuki, is unique in that he's probably the only main cast character deeply involved with the occult but lacking actual supernatural powers himself. In fact, he's so ignorant of the supernatural that magic doesn't even affect him and he remains oblivious to supernatural energies. The kid could certainly use with showing more emotion outside of bickering with Hazuki, but he does possess a drive for helping others that, combined with his character interactions, helps provide a solid male lead. Further development will certainly help, but decent for these early episodes.
In this disc the role of the supporting cast is fairly underplayed. The Grandpa really isn't doing anything more than providing a supportive figure to the others, Seiji is the one most visibly talented at manipulating supernatural powers (at least in this volume) and Hiromi is the caring friend who lacks experience in the occult but tries to help her friends. Elfriede comes in later on and does present a fairly compelling character as an antagonist who tried ways to 'persuade' Hazuki to return home, and by the time the disc comes to an end it's obvious she has an even bigger role to play further along.
Visually the anime is beautiful to look at. The art style is very crisp and clean, putting across a vibrant graphical display that is pleasing to the eye. Everything about the series is presented in a rather cutesy fashion, including a distinct obsession with cat ears, and yet despite the obvious conflict with the expected theme it works to its advantage, truely reinforcing the series direction. The way the show sometimes emphasizes characters or locations through the use of monochrome colour schemes is a nice touch, and the cutaway doll-house effect when viewing Kouhei's home gives the location a sense of completeness and opens the way for seeing multiple occurrences at once.
One thing that struck me is the high quality of the production. Usually shortcuts taken by production studios can be a little too obvious, whether it comes in the form of the use of copied scenes or reduced details in certain areas. Such flaws were not readily apparent in Moon Phase, which handles even distance work well. The level of animation is also very high, with a smooth flow of actions that just simply work.
The design of the locations and even the characters are quite nice too. The overall look is obviously designed to appeal to those inclined to the cute side of things, and the series manages to present a wide spread of outfits for various characters, especially Hazuki who tries out a fair number of costumes in these first five episodes alone. The locations span an old castle, forest area and the main city, with a sense of depth to each one. The structure of each location really helps the appeal of the series.
The music in the show tends to play out in an understated fashion to complement the onscreen events, although the tracks themselves are actually quite pleasant anyway. There is the odd moment where the music steps up a few notches and really this approach is quite nice. The end song generally lacks the impact one would expect from an end song but again it's pleasant. The opener is rather... unique. In contrast to the rest of the soundtrack it's a techno beat with Hazuki singing about 'kitty ear mode'. It's one of those songs that will require a specific taste to appreciate, but it does have an infectious tone to it and at least is certainly memorable.
The voicework is very nice. The overall cast work is wonderful, but Monica Rial puts in a stellar performance in the role of Hazuki, perfectly capturing the essence of the selfish vulnerable brat. Her talents combined with the voicework of Jason Liebrecht as Kouhei really help give the interactions more than enough spark and energy to make for compelling viewing. The script itself is impressive too, with some excellent choices in terms of wording and pacing to make things interesting. Of some note is the decision to maintain a couple of Japanese terms in there, such as nekomimi (cat ears), which is a nice bonus to those anime fans who like their Japanese terms.
The menu design, although not as clear as others I've seen, come across as a fairly elegant design with a lot of visual interest. Large scale artwork is used quite liberally and it makes for a rather pleasing way to navigate between chapters and options.
Moon Phase establishes itself in the crowd with superb execution that merges seemingly dark undertones with a light hearted appeal and elements of humour that make for excellent viewing entertainment. It's a wonderful end production that fans of anime would do well to invest in.
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