Series Review: Lunar Legend Tsukihime

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Visual novel conversions are quite common in the anime world. It makes sense, a lot of the time; the content's already there, without much need for original work. And the characters typically already pander to the mostly male anime audience; whether it be improbable body shapes, lolicons, or just straight-up moe characters. And there's already a proven audience; the people who bought the original visual novel and are dying to see it in animated form.

But, for those animation studios who decide to make an anime out of a mostly serious or emotional visual novel, it's hell on earth. While playing to the lowest common demographic in more ecchi/lighthearted conversions (like, say, the first halves of Shuffle or D.C.) may be easy, making a visual novel with an actual story "work" is very hard.

Why? It's the simple concept of most visual novels; one guy, many girls. While it's not always as dirty as it sounds, the framework goes as such and as a result there's not one canon storyline to work off of.

There may be a main storyline, one heroine who is placed above the others, but still one obviously cannot ignore the other harem members and their stories entirely. And such resides the complexity of visual novel conversions in that a studio has to work to flesh out and unify the story as much as possible without straying too far from the original work, lest the fans be forced to take up their arms (although that seems to happen about anything, eh?).

And that is why Tsukihime is simply one of those visual novels that Does Not Compute into anime form.

Certainly I appreciate the efforts to make an excellent story into an excellent show, but in the end, Lunar Legend Tsukihime falls far short of the mark...even when you give it credit for trying to make a workable story out of things.

(Spoilers for Tsukihime anime and visual novel post-jump.)

Tsukihime is even more of a twisted story hellhole than most tear-jerker, plot-driven visual novels, in that the events for each character's storyline often overlap and conjoin. While each character in a show like Kanon has an almost completely different secret and story to tell, in Tsukihime lots of characters are connected and linked in ways that make it nearly impossible to tell in a fluent motion.

Shiki cannot simply take his turn with each of the girls, learn their pasts, cry a bit, and then move on before ending up with Arc. There are too many time paradoxes that would have to be worked around if each character was explored in depth.

In some scenarios Nero shows up, in others he doesn't. Sometimes Roa plays an important role, sometimes he's dead before halfway. To learn more about Ciel we'd have to have the fight at the school against her at night; and in her path Arc becomes the end villian, in a sense. If we learn anything important about Kohaku she'll pretty much steal the show. If the character's plot points are combined, essentially the anime loses a strong focus.

And so it's perhaps a bit wrong to criticize the anime so sharply for following Arc's True End and very little of much else. Sure, they could have made it work, but at what price? Sure, Arc's True End is "boring" in comparison to pretty much every other true end, but it's fulfilling and it works very well as a standalone.

But the problem is, the anime tried too hard to not be a standalone. It introduced aspects from other characters' paths: Akiha's red hair. Ciel's immortality. Sacchin moeeeeeeee~ Satsuki's entire story.

And it didn't close these threads. The side storylines are either ended unfulfillingly, or ignored entirely.

We never find out why Ciel didn't die.
We never find out why Akiha's hair is day glow red.
And in the end, Satsuki gets a cop-out of the "oh, I was sick so I didn't get turned into a vampire" regards. This, and all the other aspects, was a plot foreshadowing that never got cast into the light.

The end result is that first-time watchers are confused, and seasoned veterans are annoyed at the lack of elaboration. Even at the ending, it's never explained why Arc appears and dissapears. It looks like she's simply a ghost, appearing to say goodbye one last time, which is true and yet so, so wrong at the same time.

This is one of the major gripes of the Tsukihime fanbase, is that while many aspects of Lunar Legend Tsukihime seem plausible, compared to the actual content it's a drastic alteration.

Arc's running away from Shiki. Her unsmiling face making Shiki take responsibility for killing her. Ciel eating spaghetti. And, infamously, Nero getting wiped in less than three minutes, with not a single on-screen attack landed by Shiki.

Certainly there are explanations that could be made to explain these situations. "It was for dramatic effect." "It was to show Shiki was just that powerful." "It's a minor detail." But, the point is, it's still wrong.

It's not errors you can just wave your hand and make disappear. Part of this may be the fault of the rest of Tsukihime, in that it does, like mentioned, leave almost as much stuff out as it gets wrong. So there's no shining aspect of the story to point to and say "Yeah, but this makes up for it."

The one memorable aspect of the show was the music, and many a good scene make it did. "Justice" (protip: there's a Stepmania file for it) is an epically awesome fight song, and the piano and violin pieces do well to add emotion as well. The choral, instrumental OP is very dramatic (if not a bit abstract) with a feel that matches the anime. But as much as I rant about how good music can make a good series, it can't carry a series as far as a better story could have.

Graphics are a bit of a controversial factor. They look good, yes, but they look like guys. That's the simple argument about the art style. It's very dramatic, and it fits the show's mood very well, but sometimes I think the characters just look strange; for example, Akiha crying in the final episode.

Also, recycled animation is one of my pet peeves, and when I can notice it that's a bad sign. For reference, see Arc and Shiki talking in episode 3, where Arc puts down the same tea cup about 4 times.

Other than that, Tsukihime's biggest enemy is it's visual novel. 50 hours of gameplay sometimes just can't compress into a 12 episode (6 hour) show. There's too many threads to tread to make it a truly great show, and so the anime took a shot at integrating as many as it can, but fell flat a bit by putting a little too much on its plate.

It's tough to review Tsukihime from an objective perspective, but I feel that it could still work as a dramatic, mildly haremesque show that puts a major focus on action and character relationships. In a sense it's like another show with that outlook, sola, in that both are good shows, but there are obvious flaws and errors that will leave first-time viewers confused. The difference is that sola has no other content (yet!) for people like me to distort reviews with.

Tsukihime, from a Tsukihime fan's perspective, is a show that kind of hurts to watch, mainly because you know it's So Much More. It's not as bad as to pretend it doesn't exist (cough), but it's one of those things where I would recommend to skip it and just follow the visual novel instead; or, at least, to watch that anime before the visual novel. The anime takes a nice boat shot at making the visual novel work in a linear fashion, but the sort of alternate-universe telling of the 5 stories of Tsukihime (same events, different story) dooms the show to a sort of mediocrity among visual novel conversions.


P.S. Although, perhaps my bias is a lack of knowledge of other sources for visual novel conversions; many of the famous ones (Kanon, D.C., Shuffle, etc) remain unpatched.

P.P.S. Not to contradict the argument of "keep it simple", but I'm really dissapointed that they didn't really manage to fit in any of the Far Side story at all. The maids come off as rather unimportant and side-characterish when they're really the backbone of the story.


I think this will always be the case with TYPE-MOON projects, simply because Kinoko Nasu writes incessantly complex stories. It's pretty typical with any book or such with very intricate storytelling to not adapt well into a motion picture, short of being handled by a savant director, and Katsushi Sakurabi is no savant. You can pretty much copy-paste the criticism for the Fate/Stay Night anime.

Flipping things around somewhat, some visual novels like Kanon (and it's eight-years-later analogue Sola) make the jump fairly well, and we can place that down to the fact that Hisaya Naoki style storytelling is at its heart an incredibly simple affair, and everything comes down to how well the writer/director can believeably incorporate the (argueably deux ex machina-esque) plot devices of miracles, or dreams, or whatever the order of the day is.

So simplifying the point somewhat, the visual side of things is already taken care of mostly. Just join the various CG stills together with animation (or copy it scene for scene if it's School Days) and try not to screw up in the process. So that leaves us with a novel, and all the pitfalls the come with adapting a book. Of which there are plenty, as history has shown us numerous times.

For what it's worth, I was less unimpressed with the storytelling in the Tsukihime anime adaption than I was with the Air TV series. But then again I'm not much of a TYPE-MOON fan, but am a huge Key fan...

I gotta tell ya, before this show I have never seen any Gothic related anime, and after this one I haven't been satisfied with any that I have seen. Because this anime, although confusing at times, has great mood and music. I really like Arc and her seiyuu, Nabatame Hitomi, she's sassy, cute, strong, and yet vulnerable. the music is excellent and the animation is top notch. My only complain is that it's too short and too much left unexplained. I've never played the H-game so I have no clue that it's even more complex and intricate than the anime.

"Tsukihime, from a Tsukihime fan's perspective, is a show that kind of hurts to watch, mainly because you know it's So Much More. "

And that seems to be the problem that I see from people who've played the game. From my perspective, as someone who saw the anime first and is only now just playing the game, the series was decently done. And the main points (seemingly just whooping up on Roa w/out much backstory, and Shiki's romance with Arc) I thought were done pretty well, though many plotholes aren't covered. I actually didn't mind the character designs though I like the TYPE-MOON designs, and I think the designs for the anime fit the mood better. If there was one thing I really liked about the anime, it was the ambiance that it built up and sustained throughout. I'm sure that the game has much more to offer from what I've seen playing it, and the manga also covers more things than the anime, but for what it is, it isn't bad. I guess people wanted more. :P

Carl: Good point on Nasu's writing; it is pretty confusing at times. The whole "VN = book = adaptation hard" concept makes sense as well.

I will have to look closer now when I rewatch AIR TV, though. A lot of people say it's a relatively weak telling, maybe because it's only 12 episodes, but being my first eroge/VN anime I didn't really catch a lot of details.

Ray: Mmm, the voice actors for Tsukihime didn't strike me as anything out of the ordinary, but I never really got too attached to those. Also, I'm victim to hearing the Melty Blood character voices first.

And I'm going to sound like a broken record, but, play it. :P

TheBigN: I think it's kind of like baby chicks getting attached to a mother (oh, the analogy!); fans will probably like and get used to whichever form of Tsukihime they are exposed to first. Which is why you like the anime designs more, and why I prefer the game's, and why a lot of people just can't get along with the anime. XD

You're right in that the ambience of Tsukihime is very well done though.