Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs
True horror films are a rare breed. Both Japan and the U.S. have their share of films that claim to be horror but are actually something else. In the U.S., we have "slasher" flicks that aren't actually very scary but involve a ton of blood and guts and an occasional cat jumping out of the shadows. In Japan, these are matched by "ancient evil starting the apocalypse" shows filled with demons, tentacles, gore, and sometimes sex, but little that actually makes this reviewer feel the willies. But when you find that rare film that gives you goosebumps, like The Sixth Sense or Jacob's Ladder, you've found something special. In the same league are the Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs. With a minimum of grotesquery, Vampire Princess Miyu reminds us of when we were young enough to be scared of the dark and why. It is arguably the best OVA series ever created, and certainly the best in the horror genre.
Himiko is a spiritualist in the same sense that Steve Martin's character in Leap Of Faith was a faith healing evangelist...neither one believes much in what they're doing, but they're happy to take the money of the schmucks they can convince. Himiko is quite content saying Buddhist prayers and chants for those who think they're cursed or whatever...but then she gets a case she can't handle. A little girl seems to be possessed for real, and Himiko can't break the comatose state she's in. Himiko starts investigating the situation and finds out that there's been vampire activity in the area, and she gets curious. But it turns out there are really two hanging around, and one of them is Miyu. A vampiric guardian whose job is to return Shinma, a god/demon spirit race, back to the Dark, Miyu both antagonizes and sympathizes with Himiko. With her mysterious (and extremely cool) servant Larva, Miyu works both sides of the fence, trying to contain the Shinma while making sure she gets her bloodlust satisfied on the side. Although the little girl's fate is determined within the first half hour, the circle of mystery and destiny binding Himiko and Miyu together is explored throughout the four episodes.
Vampire Princess Miyu is one of the only shows where I wouldn't change a note in the entire piece. The animation, though not as fluid as fully developed feature films, is more than enough to convey the story, and there are times when its lack of motion actually contributes to its impact. The music is stunningly eerie, combining ancient sounds and chants from the old temples with synthesized creepiness. The character designs are from an older era, as the show was released in 1988, but they haven't really aged, working just as well now as when they first appeared. I must also compliment the direction on this one. The framing of each shot seems to have been thought out in great detail and precision. I love that this show obviously had a great deal of care put into it.
Without a solid plot, though, all that work would be for naught. However, Miyu keeps us guessing. Until the final shot, we don't have every last piece of the puzzle, and even then, we're left intrigued. Although the stories can move a bit slowly, the pacing makes the corners a little darker, the silences a little more deafening. What I like about Miyu is that the Shinma aren't out to take over the world or to start Armageddon or some other huge scheme. They just want to exist in our world. They thirst for the life force humans have, the metaphysical "ki" that in Japanese thought gives us energy and motion and personhood. And each one has its own quirks and identity; each one spooks us in a slightly different way. The show isn't scary in the sense that you jump out of your seat in fright; it's scary in the way that you might just want a nightlight around for a day or two.
The only thing that keeps me from giving Vampire Princess Miyu my highest rating is that it doesn't have quite that extra something to say it has "100% plus". But most of my A+ ratings are given to shows that just make my spirits soar, which by nature Miyu can't do. It's possibly as close to perfect as a horror show can get for me.
I've put off watching the TV series that spawned from the Miyu manga and OVA series, mainly because of conflicting reviews. But after rewatching the original quadrilogy, I'm going to have to start into the new one here soon. If you have any interest in honest-to-goodness horror the way it should be, you should watch this classic.
Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs -- violence, disturbing (though not graphic) imagery -- A