Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Season One, Part Two Review

Seraph of the End Season One reaches its conclusion with the latest Blu-ray from FUNimation. Part One was good, not perfect, but still did a solid job establishing the setting. The concept of humanity being wiped out aside from pockets of resistance almost always makes for a compelling story. The ending of Part One introduced new concepts to the table and another dimension to the human/vampire conflict. Part Two explores these concepts in detail while advancing the overall storyline. With the characters already established, the rather poor pacing found in the beginning of Part One is almost non-existent here. There are some lackluster elements, such as Yu being more on the mediocre side when it comes to protagonists and an out of control climax. There’s still of course a lot more to like than dislike.

The first episode (technically Episode 13) establishes a couple of things for the story. Before we dive into them, one thing of note is Mitsuba’s characterization. We’ve seen some emotion from her in Part One, but here in this episode it might be her best scene. She’s given a promotion, but says to Yu, “I don’t deserve a promotion, I’m a failure.” This is referencing events in Part One. The writing sometimes fails (we’ll talk about that soon) but more often than not it succeeds in delivering genuine emotion from the characters.

One of the biggest scenes in Part One was Yu running into his old friend, Mika. We know of course that Mika is a vampire which makes Yu want to do something about it. In this episode Yu is doing research on the possibility of turning a vampire back into a human. This is fine, but what happens later with Yu and Mika makes this scene moot. Not only that, but what happens later is the single worst moment of the anime. We’ll address it soon, but first it’s worth mentioning that Episode 13 also introduces a major player to the board, Kureto.

As Yu sees his friends being tortured by Kureto for information, the viewer knows something is going on behind the scenes with the humans. Perhaps the biggest scene of Part Two is Kureto telling Guren his master plan: after taking out the vampires, he wants to destroy all the remaining human pockets of resistance and put the world under one government, the Japanese Imperial Demon Army. This is a fascinating backdrop because it changes the face of the war from “good humans against evil vampires.” The writing for Kureto is very good as he borders from someone genuinely concerned about the future of humankind to deranged sociopath. The scene in the climax with him saying that if God is their enemy they’ll fight Him fully established Kureto as a character with a superiority complex. He is a character begging for backstory the anime sadly hasn’t given. Hopefully if there is a Season Two we’ll see that.

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Speaking of Guren, the writing does an excellent job making him complex and likable. All throughout Part One it was the opposite. Part Two changes things by making him in contrast to Kureto’s “anything to win” mentality. Perhaps the best part is the flashback to when Guren took Yu in. It did an excellent job showing how the relationship between the two started. Guren showcases some of his best moments in the second half of Part Two in his tag team battle with Shinya (perhaps the best new character in Part Two) against Crowley. The big plot development with Guren in the final two episodes is a bit sudden, but should be interesting to see fleshed out if there’s a second season.

Easily the best parts of Part Two are when the Moon Demon Company venture out into the streets to take out the Nobles. The action scenes are excellent as well as the soundtrack. The music was very good in the first part, but here it’s even better. The most engaging sequence is when Guren’s and Shinoa’s teams attempt to take down the Crowley. There’s an incredible amount of tension in these scenes as we see everyone outclassed by Crowley. Crowley is one of the best written characters and may be the most compelling antagonist of the entire anime.

Like in Part One, there’s an ongoing subplot with Mika. Here in Part Two his main goal is to find Yu and take him someplace away from everything. The main thing I personally found engaging about Mika’s plot was his constant inner struggle to not give into his vampire side. There are a few instances where for a second the viewer thinks he’s going to, but then he doesn’t. It’s an excellent part of the story…and then it’s all for nothing.

The sequence with Mika battling his way through Moon Demon Company soldiers to get to Yu was engaging. The episode “Yu and Mika” is supposed to be the big payoff one for viewers, the culmination of everything since the haunting very first episode. For a bit the episode is great, until Yu basically forces Mika to drink his blood. Mika repeatedly tells Yu that he doesn’t want to be a vampire forever. If he does drink human blood, there’s no going back. As stated earlier, Mika spends the the show fighting his desire to drink human blood. Despite this knowledge, Yu continually insists that Mika drink his blood, thus condemning his best friend to be a vampire. Yu should have honored his friend’s wishes in this case, even if Mika was severely weakened and needed the blood. This scene was brutal and it was hard to be engaged with Yu in anything afterward.

The climax is a mixed bag unfortunately. The build up to it is excellent and provides a sense that a grand, final showdown is about to take place. The actual battle is all over the place because it introduces too many new elements to the field. We have a gigantic demonic monster appearing out of nowhere, an angel, and Guren’s plot development among other things. The core humans vs. vampires story was lost in all of this. Everything is thrown at the viewer without much explanation which hurt the effectiveness of the climax. The biggest crime however might be the under-utilization of Queen Krul. She was established as the vampire leader of Japan and main antagonist in Part One, but here she barely does anything. By the end, she can’t even be called the main villain anymore. The writing really dropped the ball with her.

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Overall, Season One of Seraph of the End isn’t perfect. Part Two has a few problems preventing it from being truly fantastic. Despite these things however, the show is still extremely engaging from beginning to end. The biggest theme is family. Sometimes family isn’t by blood. As seen with Shinoa’s brother and Mitsuba’s sister, sometimes blood relatives are less family than those friends that are close to you. While Yu isn’t an amazing protagonist, most of the other characters are well written. The final episode sets some things up for a presumable Season Two. Seraph isn’t the greatest anime, but still one worth checking out.

7.5/10

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Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign Season One, Part One Review

Seraph of the End has been compared to Attack on Titan quite a bit. The comparison is certainly justified. On the onset the two shows appear very similar. The ongoing plots center around a resistance attempting to survive and take back the Earth from a challenging threat. This kind of story is nothing new, but is always a blast to see what kind of unique spin a writer/director can put on it. Instead of giant monstrous zombies, this time we have, as the subtitle puts it, a reign of vampires. There are quite a few things so far stopping Seraph from being an all star show such as the first season of Psycho-Pass. It is however still an engaging entry in the ongoing Shonen library.

 

It’s not that difficult to start something out engaging. The hard part is continuing and living up to that very first episode. This is something Seraph struggles with: continuing to deliver the emotion and intensity from its first episode. “The World of Blood Legacy” is a perfect example of how to start a story with this kind of plot. It begins on an average day. Then the adult population starts to fall due to some kind of virus. It’s atmospheric, genuinely scary, and grabs the viewer’s attention right away. The twist is that the virus has not affected anyone under the age of 13. All the kids are put in vampire strongholds, which are basically concentration camps. We’re introduced to our main character Yūichirō and his adoptive family soon after the virus hits. Yū is bitter, but in this situation it’s justified. The relationship between him and his family is organic and the viewer feels for them. It’s impressive when any type of media can establish true emotion in less than 15 minutes.

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The turning point of the episode is when Yū’s best friend Mikaela devises a plan to escape the stronghold. The viewer roots for these kids to escapes, and can feel their dread when they walk into a trap. As each of Yū’s friends are stabbed by the vampire known as Ferid, the viewer is thrown in a loop. It’s hard to believe, after having these characters introduced, seeing them die off one by one. This is the emotion I was referring to earlier, which is one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime. The viewer can see the sadness on Yū’s face as the only family he’s ever known is destroyed right in front of him. What also adds to this is the fact that Mikaela gives Yū the go ahead to escape. Once again, the viewer can see the emotion as the main character has to decide whether to stay with his family to the end or escape and not let their sacrifice be in vain. Yū’s heartbreaking run into the outside world accompanied by a chilling soundtrack was greatly effective. In those last few moments we were given the perfect setup. We have the reason why he wants to slay all the vampires.

Well, as stated earlier, the rest of Part One doesn’t quite live up to that emotional setup. There are a few reasons for this. Episode 2 has a big time-skip as we see Yū in what is apparently a part of Japan that is not infested with vampires. This episode shows that everyday life is still going in. School, people getting ice cream, etc. The first episode gave the impression that everything is bleak and the humans are on the losing side. The status quo set in Episode 2 was poorly established. The main character is tasked with “making friends” in order to join the vampire extermination. It seemed like most of what was going on was just to stall for time until the main conflict.

It’s understandable what the show was trying to do: development for the main character as he’s given a new family. In some aspects this works. But, the way the story progresses just doesn’t mix with the first episode. We actually have school bullies, making fun of a 0 school test score, and meaningless arguing all the while the world is in complete turmoil. The show is aiming for the usual Shonen-like feel combined with a very dark situation. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and maybe some feel differently. I personally think the story would have benefited from a more serious tone and focused more on the “take back the world from vampires” plot than the main character’s school adventures.

 

Yū ranges from slightly engaging focus to unlikable. He’s nothing we haven’t seen before and many would compare him to Eren Yeager. Unlike Eren however, there are quite a few things in the 12 episodes stopping Yū from being a likable focus. He’s often a complainer, (though interesting enough but probably unintentional he represents the viewer’s thoughts of why most of the stuff is relevant to the conflict at hand) and being downright mean, such as stating to the class, “You can become vampires for all I care.” He never quite recovered from that line. Not only that, but his quest for power was annoying to watch. This is not to say the writing did an outright terrible job with him. Development is still not bad, and finally at the last episode he seems to have emerged as a likable focus.

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I don’t want to keep bringing up comparisons with Attack on Titan, but it’s almost impossible not to with Yoichi. He very similar to Armin, to the point where you can almost interchange them. Unlike Armin’s organic friendship with Eren however, the friendship between Yoichi and Yū  was very forced. The former is introduced in Episode 2 and by the end he’s calling Yū his best friend. This was very awkward and even cringe-worthy to watch. The writing tried too hard to establish the friendship early on rather than develop it. A lot of the focus is also on Shinoa. Her playful personality was fun. (Though parading around with the main character’s 0 test score was a bit much.) Her backstory with her sister is interesting and hopefully in Part 2 we’ll see it expanded on.

Later we’re introduced to Shihō  and Mitsuba, which makes up the team you see on the cover. The group forms rather suddenly, and the chemistry takes awhile to build. By the last episode they’re fun to watch together, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of them. To talk about the two briefly a bit, Shihō isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. What stops him from being painfully generic is the touching backstory with his sister. Still, it feels like he’s only there just to hurl one-liners at Yū. Mitsuba is more interesting. At first it seems like she’s a rather strict leader because that’s just her character. She’s given tragic backstory which explains her decisions in the present day. If it’s one thing Seraph is good at, it’s delivering quality backstories.

Aside from the main character’s arc, much of story is focused on Mikaela. At first I thought it was a mistake to bring him back after seemingly being killed in the first episode. (Since it might have taken away from the sacrifice.) But what the story has done is something that perfectly parallels what the main character is going through. Mikaela’s story is the most fascinating and engaging part of the show. As Ferid (whom is a pretty solid character as well) puts it, “You hate vampires and now you’re starting to hate humans. I’m curious as to which one you will choose.” Mikaela’s character is truly complex because while we know he’s not a villain, he’s also not quite the hero either as we see his thinking is  a little unhinged in the last couple of episodes. His encounter with Yū was expertly done with an extra emotional touch. I’m really looking forward to seeing this conflict take a bigger role in Part Two.

The battles are very well done. Episode 2 had a fun fight in the school room. Unfortunately after that there’s a serve lack of important battles. The best one is probably when Mikaela runs into Guren. As it stands, there aren’t any hugely notable battles, which should hopefully change in Part Two. Besides the vampire story, there’s a subplot involving demons. The humans apparently make contracts with demons for “Cursed Gear,” which gives the user a weapon powerful enough to slay vampires and monsters. I suppose it’s sort of like in Naruto with specific characters having an entity within them. This plot has only been briefly explained sadly. Another (though less notable) plot point is the pills Shinoa has the team take. This steroid/drug aspect was definitely not needed and could have been written out. The final two episodes delivered a couple of shocking plot twists, one of which makes the viewer question the morality of the humans. This should open some very interesting plot lines for Part Two.

As for the main antagonist, Krul the Vampire Queen is definitely a fun character to watch. Unfortunately she isn’t given much to do. In fact, she never comes into conflict with the humans in the 12 episodes. The viewer is left wondering how powerful she is. At the very least, the flashback to her enticing the newly vampire Mikaela to drink blood was pure villainy at its finest. Also, the idea of a vampire council is interesting since it means she isn’t the sole leader. Hopefully in the next part that aspect of the story will be explored more. Another interesting villain, Crowley, also doesn’t get to do much. That could be the point however, since it makes the viewer especially excited for Part Two. The soundtrack is strong throughout. The theme song in particular is one of the best I’ve heard in awhile.

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Overall, Seraph of the End starts out with excellent promise, but becomes not too much different than other Shonen shows. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, and there’s definitely fun to be had throughout the 12 episodes. But, it’s hard not to think how much better it could have been if it contained the same amount of emotion, darkness, and intensity of the first episode. The main character isn’t particularly great, and much of the early school scenes feel like filler. The friendship between Yū and Yoichi was very poorly established. The positives still compete with the negatives of course. The vampire backdrop is engaging to watch unfold. Mikaela is an excellent character, and probably the best part of the entire thing. Even though Part One had quite a few rough patches, the final episode makes sure to excite the viewer for the remainder of Season 1.

7/10