Pretty Miyu may look like any other teenage girl going to school and hanging out with friends, but behind her sparkling eyes and musical laughter lie centuries of memories, secrets, and sadness. In reality, she is a Guardian, a vampire granted special powers and charged with tracking down rogue beings called Shinma (mixed descendents of gods and demons) and returning them to the demon world from which they’ve escaped. Accompanied by her silent servant Larva and occasionally observed by human spiritualist Himiko, Miyu holds her own thoughts close as she doggedly pursues her targets and fulfills her destined duty.
This two-volume, four-episode OVA series originally released in the late eighties is adapted from a ten-volume manga series by Narumi Kakinouchi with additional input from her husband (and the anime’s director) Toshihiro Hirano. Incomplete and now out of print in English, the manga also spawned two unlicensed sequel manga series and a 26-episode TV anime, with the latter originally released by Tokyopop in 1997 and slated for a reissue from Section23 in March 2013.
While the animation, character design, and often ham-fisted English dub reflect the OVA series’ vintage, the visuals remain largely attractive (though the demon world’s dark, misty landscape of leafless, eyeball-sprouting trees made me laugh after a while) and the original Japanese cast’s efforts sound natural, blending nicely with the show’s subtle, atmospheric storytelling.
In the first volume’s first tale, “Unearthly Kyoto,” viewers are introduced to Himiko as she investigates a case of possession and a series of deaths bearing all the hallmarks of a vampire attack — with all the clues leading to the mysterious Miyu. The second story, “A Banquet of Marionettes,” involves a rash of missing popular students at Miyu’s school, where once again Himiko’s suspicions fall on the enigmatic vampire. Volume two delves a little more into Miyu’s sad, complicated personal history. First up, in “Fragile Armor,” Larva is incapacitated and Miyu asks for wary Himiko’s assistance as an antique suit of armor goes on a rampage. And in the final installment, “Frozen Time,” Himiko follows a hazy childhood memory to a quiet place, stirring revelations of both her own and Miyu’s pasts.
Without the benefit of the source manga to provide context and smooth out the bumps, these four stories can feel a little vague and self-contradictory at times. For instance, in the first episode, Miyu readily grants a grieving youth his wish to forget his pain, yet in the third episode she explicitly states that she hates humans who try to deny their suffering and leaves such a one to his fate. There are also some unaddressed supernatural physics at work regarding the latter episode’s titular suit of armor, which is shown both as realistically human-sized and as big as the houses it’s smashing, even within the same sequence. Barring a few brow-furrowers like these, the vagueness and very limited character development generally work well in combination with revealing details here and there to lend a satisfyingly spooky, uncertain, and open-ended feel to the series overall.
Aside from the optional English dub from the original VHS license, the only extras on this DVD release are a smattering of previews for other older titles and a screen-cap slide show. If you don’t mind the unembellished brevity of this peek into Miyu’s world, this short collection could fit happily on your shelf next to the likes of the Vampire Hunter D features or the sadly-too-short Pet Shop of Horrors series. And with the forthcoming Section23 re-release of the TV series, the OVAs won’t have to be lonely for long.
While thematically dark, Vampire Princess Miyu is more serious-toned than graphic in its expression, so there’s little on-screen violence or sexual content. The eighties aesthetics, subtle narrative style, and lack of humor or much concrete action, however, will probably appeal more to older teens and adults who appreciate the nostalgia and are content to fill in the blanks for themselves.