After failing his high school entrance exam, Tsukune Aono faces falling behind the rest of his classmates and taking a year out. However, after his parents pick up a flyer for the suspiciously named Yokai Academy, Tsukune ends up enrolling there and is happy to get his high school career off to a start, despite his poor grades. However, as he finds out to his surprise on his first day, Yokai Academy is actually a boarding school for monsters! As most monsters like to kill and eat humans, Tsukune now must be incredibly careful not to reveal himself as one, but he doesn’t get very far before exposing himself to vampire girl Moka Akashiya, who cannot resist his human smell and quickly sucks his blood. Thankfully, Moka is a nice but lonely girl who is in the need of a friend, and she quickly warms to Tsukune, despite him being a human. Now the subject of her affections, Tsukune finds himself pulled into a wacky world of vampires, succubae, snow women and witches, who aren’t only out for his blood, but also for what’s in his pants!
Adapted from the popular harem rom-com manga by Akihisa Ikeda, this release collects both seasons of Rosario + Vampire in a single package, and while they are part of the same series, they are very different beasts in terms of presentation and storyline.
The first season is a more formulaic monster-of-the-week affair, where each episode throws a different monster at Tsukune, Moka and their odd bunch of friends, where often the only way to save the day is for Tsukune to fall into Moka’s chest and pull off the rosary that seals her true form as a super powerful vampire.
While a monster-of-the-week series can be fun, I struggled to get into a lot of the early episodes here, as the rinse-and-repeat nature of both the action and the perverse humour quickly becomes stale. There just isn’t a lot to the plot apart from Tsukune building up his harem of monster girls, which means it has to rely on its fanservice to deliver a lot of the entertainment, as they all inexplicably fall head-over-heels for him after Moka in her super vampire mode gives them a beating.
With Tsukune being a blank slate for the viewer to project themselves onto, he’s just not a very compelling character to watch, with a dull, one-note personality that shows very little growth over the course of the series. He may be a good guy at heart and will always stick up for his friends, but he’s also an insufferable doofus with a lucky pervert aspect that produces your typical boob grabs, falling into chest scenes, and lots of panty shots.
I found our bunch of monster girls to be a lot more interesting though, as they have both a cool range of abilities as well as specific hang-ups that are tackled later in the story. Moka having two separate personalities, with one being cutesy and naïve and the other being stoic and wise (and a little hot-headed!) presents an interesting contrast and a dilemma for Tsukune in deciding which side of her he likes the most. Kurumu the succubus is a nicer character than she first appears, as even though she employs frivolous use of her large breasts to try to seduce Tsukune, she at least values her friends more than her nature, and develops a fun rivalry with snow woman Mizore which explodes in the second season. Mizore’s ice powers often come in useful in battling the other monsters they encounter, alongside 11-year-old witch Yukari’s magical powers, which can certainly be put to better use than bashing people on the head with buckets that materialise out of thin air.
There are some problematic elements however, particularly with characters such as Yukari, who is often over-sexualised for her age and is treated as the token loli character who is not only trying to seduce Tsukune herself but has one of the older students pining over her. There’s also PE teacher Okuto Kotsubo, who tries to outright rape Mizore, and Hitomi Ishigami, who turns her maths tutoring classroom into a full-on BDSM dungeon when in her Medusa form. While a lot of this is intended to be funny, it often just comes off as creepy and in bad taste.
Thankfully, things do improve towards the end of this first season, with the battle against Ruby the witch and her plant monsters, and the plot around the Security Committee trying to take down the Newspaper Club that Tsukune and the gang are members of, being much more involved and sees the cast thrust into life-or-death situations. It’s a case of what could have been as when it has a real through-line for the story, it actually works quite well, but when it is relying on its harem battle hijinks it often struggles to hold itself up.
The second season, however, swaps the monster-of-the-week formula for a stronger focus on being a harem romantic comedy, and it honestly works a lot better, giving us silly storylines that work well to develop the cast of characters, even if they do follow a lot of the typical genre tropes. A lot of this is thanks to the introduction of Moka’s younger sister Kokoa, who drives a lot of the comedy as she tries and fails to bump off Moka’s pink-haired sealed form so she can get her original older sister back. A school trip to Kyoto, for example, sees the cast get into a conflict with a gang of delinquents, only for the leader to turn out to be Kokoa, while another episode sees her pet bat (who is also the series’ narrator) enter the school as a transfer student and hypnotise everyone into becoming his adoring fans. There are some nice moments for the other characters too, particularly focusing on Kurumu and Mizore’s deep-seated rivalry which extends even to their own parents, while Yukari finds out that being grown up is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Animation for the series is handled by Gonzo and varies wildly in terms of quality. Early episodes feel particularly low budget, with heavy use of still frames and an over-reliance on simplistic fanservice, as it shovels in copious panty shots every few frames. However, things do improve as the series progresses, with the final couple of episodes in Season 1 looking generally okay as we see some decent action sequences. Season 2 is a lot more consistent and is generally what you would expect for this type of series, although it never has to match the first season’s big final battle set piece. Still, I wouldn’t say that this is a series that has aged particularly well, as I’ve certainly seen more modern ecchi anime look a lot better than this.
It shows its age in the dialogue too, with a rather blunt and simplistic script despite a high-profile Japanese voice cast featuring the likes of Nana Mizuki as Moka (Symphogear, Naruto, Persona 5), Rie Kugimiya as Mizore (Fullmetal Alchemist, Jujutsu Kaisen), and Shuuichi Ikeda, who gives the unmistakeable voice of Gundam’s Char to the leader of the Security Committee, Kuyou. The subtitles for the series are fine, although they do localise some of the Japanese monster names such as “zashiki-warashi” down to just “ghost” or “monster”. The English dub is fine and delightfully cheesy to match the series’ themes, featuring popular and notable US voice actors, with Todd Haberkorn voicing Tsurune, Alexis Tipton and Colleen Clinkenbeard voicing Moka’s outer and inner forms respectively, and a supporting cast including Monica Rial, Cherami Leigh, and even Christopher R. Sabat.
The soundtrack, composed by Kouhei Tanaka and Shiroh Hamaguchi, isn’t much to shout home about and not one I’d listen to on its own; however it is full of audio cues that become jokes themselves as they are used for specific scenes, like when Tsurune and Moka are staring romantically at each other. The opening and ending themes for the show, sung by Nana Mizuki, are pretty great however, and will be instantly recognisable by those who may know her for her more recent work such as in Symphogear.
MVM’s release of the series features all 26 episodes across 4 discs, with extras including both clean endings, the clean opening for Season 2 (oddly, Season 1’s opening is missing) and trailers. Unfortunately, I did have an issue where the first disc got stuck at the end of Episode 8 and wouldn’t proceed to Episode 9 without manually changing the episode in the menu, while the menus themselves have some horrible white text on a pink background which makes them very difficult to navigate.
Overall, Rosario + Vampire is a tale of two halves, starting out as a poorly executed ecchi monster-of-the-week show that slowly evolves into an enjoyable but average harem romantic comedy as it moves into its second season. With how dated the show feels, it’s a difficult one to recommend if you haven’t seen it before, as there are many better examples of this genre now, but if you enjoyed the show back in the day it might just be worth a revisit for some of the later episodes if you can grab it on sale.