To the outside observer, one might suspect that Japan has developed a bit of a thing for vampire stories. The completion of the home video release of the Vampire Princess Miyu television series in March is just the tip of the iceberg. The Master Mosquiton '99 TV series enjoyed a position of prominence on TV not long before that, and Madhouse is currently hard at work on the remake of the classic movie, Vampire Hunter D. Production I.G. continues to press the fusion of computers and traditional animation forward with its own work on Blood. One might almost suspect that the market for vampires could be saturated. But there's more.
Night Walker is a 12-part TV series that aired in the wee hours of the morning. Still not completely out on LD, the story centers around Shidou, a "good" vampire who is helping the humans fight against evil spirits known as the Night Breed. These spirits, some millennia old, seek to interfere with human lives and ultimately possess their bodies, gaining power in the process. Shidou, only a hundred or so years old, seems to be fighting them to try to atone for sins committed in his past. Working with him is Yayoi, a special agent for the government who willingly gives her blood to Shidou and thus spares him the terrible choice between victimizing the innocent or going insane. Also in the picture is Kuuni, a friendly (and rather small) demon who hangs around with Shidou, and Riho, a schoolgirl who begins working as a part-time office assistant at Shidou's private investigation firm. And who, at least at the beginning of the series, doesn't realize that anything abnormal is going on...
Despite the glut of vampire series, Night Walker is refreshing in a number of ways. First, the series doesn't burden itself down by trying to justify and live up to the "common" conception of what vampires should be like. It freely grabs the elements that add to the story and simply bends or ignores the "rules" that don't. Night Walker also has a very nice set of character designs: doubly impressive since it was animated by AIC, a company whose once-proud animation has become badly tainted by the El-Hazard bug that it helped conceive. Night Walker also has a somewhat exotic release schedule: 1,5,2,6,3,7,4,8,9-12. It appears that the first four episodes (which have somewhat better art) were originally intended as OVAs, and that the series was expanded into a TV series slightly later (putting one OVA episode per disc).
The most telling aspect of all vampire stories is invariably the angst associated with those who must prey on the very humanity they were torn from. The viewer will have to decide for himself whether this show handles that aspect well, and lamentably, we only have the time now to show the first episode, but I hope that it will serve at least to pique the audience's interest in what I find to be an extremely promising, satisfying show.