In the darkest of nights, where ghouls and vampires prey upon the souls of humans. Investigating cases of brutal murder and demonic possession is a detective uniquely suited to this line of work.
But pretty-boy Shidou Tatsuhiko is no normal man by any means, but an ancient vampire using his powers to protect the human race from the predations of the Night Breed. His allies include the beautiful government agent, Yayoi, who is immune to the effects of vampire bites; Guni, a small imp-like being who provides surreptitious reconnaisance as well as a nasty shock bolt; and Riho, a high-school girl whose parents have fallen victim to the Night Breed.
Faced with the reemergence of his sire, Kain, as well as rising activity by the Night Breed, Shido must choose whether to continue following the path of his human heart ... or fall to the urges and desires of his vampiric curse while facing down his own horrifying past.
I'd be remiss in calling NightWalker a normal vampire show, because it isn't. However, despite interesting characters and a beautifully atmospheric setting, the direction and execution of this show really prevent it from being an above-average series.
That's not to say NightWalker is instantly forgettable. From the opening (featuring a beautifully moody track from the oddly named Visual-Kei group Buck-Tick), it's quite obvious that Nightwalker was attempting something different as one of the earlier "midnight anime" to air on Japanese television. Baroque images of swooning maidens and menacing vampires grace the cover. And the hero of the show, Shidou, should easily figure in many a fangirl's fantasy. Even I have to admit he's pretty good-looking.
Unfortunately, it's obvious after the first four episodes that NightWalker was a very troubled production. For starters, there is a very apparent change in both direction and character design, as characters suddenly change hair length and eye color, while what had been deemed "important plot points", such as the oft-mentioned "Golden Dawn" are dropped completely in favor of "monster-of-the-week" stories. Worse is the change of the usage of blood, which after episode 4, becomes a safe-for-television purple glowing substance.
And while overarching story arcs never seem to come to fruition, the characters save this series from mediocrity. Shidou is consistently interesting (and well-acted), and his camaraderie with Yayoi oscillates between hilarious and sensual. But the real unsung hero of this show is the high-schooler, Riho, who undergoes a dramatic personality change from the beginning of the story to its end, which is well-portrayed (at least in the Japanese). Guni, of course, is fairly typical mascot material, occasionally sniping in with a snide comment, but more often, appearing simply as window dressing.
Some of the better material in this series touches upon the effects of living "an eternal, unchanging life" and the ramifications therein. Several episodes are Serlingesque suspense stories with twist endings, but it's just as often another round of sock-the-zombie. Very frustrating, and while the ride is entertaining, the ending leaves you asking for more ... because it really should've been a better series - while failing to resolve a few hanging threads, like several one-shot characters who vow to return, Shido's relationship with Kain, and the whole "Golden Dawn" thing from the first four episodes. At least it doesn't end without rearranging some of the relationship dynamics in interesting ways.
Technically, the animation is also a mixed bag. The first four episodes are very well-animated, but there is great variation with the other eight, ranging from average to several degrees below that. Nothing blaring, though blatant chiaroscuro is often a hint of a dwindling budget more than a sense of artistic quality. And the music changes to moody to chintzy at the drop of a hat. And the treatment of the genre itself (the vampire mythos) is just as haphazard, with Shidou mentioning his inability to tolerate sunlight in one episode, then walking in broad daylight protected only by stylish shades in the next. Of course, it makes sense that a non-Christian vampire wouldn't be affected by crosses, though, just as in its younger (and even more stylish) cousin Hellsing, there's a whole lot of pivotal scenes in churches.
Robbed of excellence by spotty production and inconsistent writing, NightWalker just misses its chance to be an archetypal vampire anime. However, it's still an interesting and entertaining show worth picking up on DVD, and you'll be wanting more of it when it's done.
Beautifully atmospheric until it turns silly and mildly schizophrenic, NightWalker still manages to be worth watching. But there just isn't enough of it. Add one star if you love vampire shows. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: The first four episodes were almost too hot for television, with nudity, sexual tension, and violence pushing the edge of what was then acceptable. (Contrary to popular belief, Urotsukidoji is NOT network material even in Japan!) Later episodes tone down the sex and violence a bit, except for a trick ending which may bother more than a few viewers (but justify the suspicions of most). Sexual situations and innuendoes, fairly graphic violence, adult themes, and language justify this as a sixteen and over title, though it's not as racy as Hellsing.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (12/12)
NightWalker © 1998 Itsuki Ayana / AIC / BeStack / Bandai Visual Mitsubishi Corp
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