Shiki Tohno sustained a life threatening injury as a child, and due to that incident he was sent away from the Tohno household and was given to a relative to be raised. Years later, when Shiki is in high school, the head of the Tohno household—his father—dies, and he is ordered to move back in by his sister Akiha, who is the new head of the household. However, Shiki holds a huge secret. Ever since that injury, he has been seeing lines on objects, and only with a special pair of glasses is he able to stop seeing them. (Source: ANN)
Before there was the multimedia behemoth that is the Fate/Stay Night franchise, a game company by the name of Type-Moon gave us Tsukihime, a story of vampires and life lines that would later become an anime series, missing a lot of the more adult/eroge aspects of the original visual novel. I can only imagine how the anime would have benefited from more eroge material.
Nonetheless, as a primer to how Type-Moon operates pre-FSN, it's not a bad way to spend your time. It's a charmingly dark and strange vampire story that will keep your attention based on its endless series of mysteries and puzzles.
The first episode echoes the opening of Fate/Stay Night in so many ways, from the main character being a high school student who doesn't live with his parents and has suspicious friends to the surprise meeting between the MC and the strong blonde woman who will later become their weapon and guide through all the madness. For Shiki, it's Arcueid, a vampire and True Ancestor who meets Shiki as you do - by being killed by him and his magic knife.
Like in FSN, we quickly meet the key players of Tsukihime by the first episode's end: our main character, Shiki; Arcueid; Shiki's sister Akiha and her maids, Kohaku and Hisui; Ciel, who likes swords and speaking cryptically; Chaos, the only dead apostle vampire introduced so far, and his weird demon dogs.
So far, Shiki is about as exciting as a wet blanket. His face lacks emotive expressions, his personality is so bland I wonder how he has friends, and he often switches between two modes: scared and underwhelmed but confused. The one time he does show emotion, it's learning about a school friend's death over the news. He punches things, yells at Arcueid and questions their modus operandi when it seems like it involves doing nothing. It's his strongest moment, outside of when he finally uses his line cutting ability successfully.
By contrast, Arcueid is absolutely fascinating. She's a riddle wrapped in a mystery coated in delicious chocolate enigma, and her popping in and out of Shiki's life makes her interesting. She has the ability to throw things around with her mind and explode dog heads with her hands. On Tsukihime, she is one of the several female bad-asses who could take on Shiki in a head-to-head battle, especially since Shiki hasn't gotten a solid hold of his line sight.
The other lady who has a history of being risky with swords is Ciel, Shiki's oddball classmate who has seemingly affected his memory, says vaguely threatening things with a smile, and has now popped up twice with her sword but not doing anything of great consequence. Even her first nighttime encounter with Shiki was erased from the boy's memory. I don't know what Ciel's deal is, but I want to know more. She's totally weird! She needs more screen time!
The color palette for Tsukihime is muted and dark, a lot of cool blues and reds that give it a sombre feel. I wish there was more pop to it, at least with the blood, but it works for what Tsukihime is trying to be: a horror anime with an unconventional mythology. Therefore, everything is covered in half-shadows, silhouettes are commonplace, and what light there is comes through filtered, almost dusty.
What works for the anime more than the visual novel are the character designs. Type-Moon visual novels have a habit of having wonky artwork, but Tsukihime manages to side-step it by making them cleaner, especially with the faces. At least the original artwork isn't on a Higurashi level of anatomical oddness. Some of the best artwork is in the opening and endine sequences. The image of a long-haired woman – I assume its Arcueid? – falling off a tower is one of the most striking of the series so far. Thanks, JC Staff, for not pulling an Earthian with this, i.e. going enough off model that it doesn't hold the visual aspect of the original work.
Its quick pacing also makes Tsukihime extremely watchable. The only scenes that threaten to drag are when Shiki is at school and talking to his class friends, and that's only because those characters outside of Ciel haven't been developed enough to actually make them interesting. But by episode 3, we have a brief history of the vampires and how they tie into the string of murders in town, we see Shiki's ability in action and have a good idea of how it came into being, and we have met and defeated our first mini-boss in the form of Chaos. This show isn't content staying still for long. There's a lot of plot to burn through and character dynamics to explore before the curtain finally sets, and it knows that all too well. After all, it only has 12 episodes in total to do so.
After the third episode, Tsukihime has answered quite a few questions but a lot of the most important points are still in the dark. I still don't understand fully Shiki's childhood, how his abilities actually work, or how the vampire system operates (how the hell is Arcueid walking around at day when Chaos hasn't?) but I am confident in Tsukihime explaining these things before the end.
Tsukihime hasn't scared me yet despite its blood and violence and occasional moment of gore, but it has kept my attention through all the weirdness. At this point, that's enough to carry me through this show. I just hope that, at twelve episodes, Tsukihime can adequately cover the main points of the visual novel without losing anything important.