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There was once a time when vampires were synonymous with horror. All that changed however when a talentless hack, known as Stephenie Meyer, unleashed the literary plague that is Twilight upon bookstores across the globe. These days bloodsuckers are associated with romance as much as they are with terror (although nosferatu continue to instill fear in males, if only due to the risk that their girlfriends will force them to watch Breaking Dawn.) It appears that the undead love contagion has spread to Japan, because Rosario + Vampire revolves around a young human and vampire couple who have the hots for each other. Thankfully, thanks to some shameless fan service and a smattering of comedy, it's actually entertaining (eat your heart out Ed and Bella.)
Tsukune Aono is not a happy chap. After failing his high school entrance exams he is forced to enroll at Yokai Academy rather than waste a year before he can re-sit the pertinent papers. Ah well, it could be worse; I ended up at the less than prestigious Anglia Polytechnic University after flunking my A-Levels. That said, aside from dodgy canteen food, my life wasn't at risk at APU. For those not fluent in Japanese, Yokai is another word for monster and as it transpires the student body of said school is made up of creatures learning how to masquerade as humans to mingle in the real world.
Once it dawns on Tsukune what a fine mess he's gotten himself into, dropping out and waiting a year to find another school suddenly seems like a good idea. Unfortunately for him his only escape is a bus that visits campus once a month. He'll have to keep a low profile and try to survive until then, hoping that no one notices he is in fact a human and not a monster in disguise. Still things could be worse. On his first day he becomes close friends with a gorgeous vampire named Moka Akashiya. Moka is smitten with Tsukune as she's never encountered anyone who wants to be pals with a scary vampire. Her fondness for him is further enhanced by his tasty blood which she cannot resist sampling via some playful nibbling of his neck.
Potential risk of anemia aside, Tsukune actually settles down well in Yokai Academy and decides to stay after making a number of friends. He joins the school's newspaper club whose members include Moka and a bunch of other cute girls who are clamoring for his affections (I guess dweebs are popular with monsters of the opposite sex.) Tsukune is able to mingle with his monstrous classmates, as pupils have to adopt the appearance of humans, given that revealing your monster form on school grounds is forbidden. Near the end of the series however the disciplinary committee gets whiff that Tsukune is an outsider from the human world. If his identity gets exposed the punishment will be death. Gripes that's way harsher than the detention I used to get for not doing my homework.
As with most harem leads, Tsukune is a bit of a loser. That character archetype is to be expected in a show like this otherwise the comedy wouldn't work. Half the fun is seeing him get flustered when girls throw themselves upon him, as opposed to making out with them which most guys would do if given the chance. His personality makes sense given the situation he is in. Not only is he a poor student struggling to adapt to high school life, but he is naturally skittish around his class mates - given that most of them would gobble him up if they found out he is human. One thing in Tsukune's favour is his caring personality. His sympathy for others is what turns a number of gals giving him grief in the early episodes into his biggest admirers.
Although numerous girls would love to get into Tsukune's pants, it's pretty clear that Moka is his main squeeze. She's normally a sweet and innocent pink haired lass that melts your heart. When the rosary around her neck is removed however her dark side is unleashed. She transforms into a silver haired vampire who literally kicks arse. Most of the episodes in this season one box set revolve around a student (or member of faculty) giving Tsukune agro. Inevitably things get out of hand and the antagonist gets dispatched by Moka pulling off moves that would put Bruce Lee to shame. When the dust settles a talking bat appears (who also acts as the show's narrator) declaring how many seconds the episode's fight lasted followed by the ending credits shortly thereafter.
If vampires aren't your thing the show has you covered with three other girls catering to the tastes of your typical anime viewer. First up is Kurumu the succubus who is blessed with the oversized boobs Japanese cartoons are infamous for. Out of all the girls she's the most forthright in trying to seduce Tsukune, be it with her hypnotic eyes or erm other assets. The lolita quota is satisfied by Yukari, an underage witch who has been skipped ahead a few school years thanks to her genius intellect. A lot of jokes have her bickering with Kurumu, who teases her for having a flat chest. Finally for those who like silent chicks (I'm guessing most married men lumbered with nagging wives lol) there's Mizore the ice demon. She has a reputation for being a stalker which leads to gags were she startles people by appearing out of nowhere (such as behind a tree or even under a table.)
Rosario + Vampire ended up being a pleasant surprise. It was a show I had avoided, as I mistook it for a romance series, but as it turns out the focus is squarely on the comedy. Whenever things turn mushy it gets played for laughs such as the recurring theme of Moka/Tsukune getting interrupted whenever they gaze lovingly into each others eyes (complete with a cheesy romantic tune in the background) and scenes were the girls feud over who should hook up with Tsukune. I find some harem shows get annoying as all you get is the girls chasing after one guy, but thankfully Rosario + Vampire doesn't overdo that particular routine. It even adds some limited action to the mix. Normally the fights are restricted to a couple of minutes per episode, but towards the tail end of the series you get extended scenes were the cast get to utilize their super powered combat skills.
In terms of sound the voice cast did a good job and the soundtrack is catchy, if you like J-Pop. I was less impressed by needless singing during some episodes though. It just seemed like a short music video was injected to pad out a thin plot. Visually speaking this is a good looking show, which will have pervs drooling over the gorgeous character designs that fall victim to gratuitous panty shots. It's a shame however that the animation quality dips in parts. You can tell the artists took shortcuts with certain backgrounds and the lack of effort put into drawing some of the subsidiary monsters. One of the worst offenders was episode ten during an action packed duel featuring a witch named Ruby. The art style was all over the place so even my untrained eye noted inconsistencies in how the characters were drawn from scene to scene. Those segments felt like something you would see in a nineties or older cartoon, not something made post the year 2000.
There's nothing particularly original about Rosario + Vampire, but I enjoyed it all the same. Due to the episodic nature of the series and its repetitive gags it's not something I would advise marathoning in one go, but it's fun to experience in short bursts (maybe one or two episodes a night.) As far as comedies go I would give it four stars. I think it would be unfair to judge it as anything deeper than a sitcom given how wafer thin the plot is, content to stay within the realm of supernatural high school hijinks. There's no character development to speak of and with the exception of the last few episodes there isn't an overarching storyline. No story and weak character development? I guess this anime does share some similarities with Twilight... thankfully it doesn't suck (well apart from what Moka does to Tsukune's blood.)