The fifth volume of Lunar Legend Tsukihime is a slowing-down and a summing-up, a way for both the creators and the audience to catch their collective breaths. There’s nowhere nearly the level of action found in the previous volumes, but now that I think about it, LLT’s action has always been relatively sparse. A series this dark under the skin benefits from being slowly paced; a lot of bang-bang back-to-back action would just make it rushed.
To that end, the only real action in the whole of this volume is right at the end, with most of the book taken up by two things: Tohno delving into a key portion of his childhood, and he and Arcueid spending a day together and growing that much more … well, if not close, then certainly empathetic. If it weren’t for the fact that one of them (Tohno) carried inhuman powers courtesy of his bloodline and the other (Arcueid) was a centuries-old vampire, they’d be out on a date — something Arcueid and Tohno both realize during the course of things. Maybe it wouldn’t be all that hard for either of them to pretend everything was normal, and just live as if nothing was different …
But they can’t do that, and they both know it. For one, Tohno is convinced that his current nemesis — Michael Roa Valdam-Jong, the “Serpent of Akashi” — is someone he should know. It’s one of those things he can’t quantify; he just knows it. Same with his feeling that there was another member of the household when he was a boy, a dim figure at the periphery of his memory. Tohno’s sister isn’t forthcoming with any information about such a thing — some families have skeletons in the closet; this one has whole boneyards. Then Kohaku, one of the housemaids, helps him unearth one of those skeletons by bringing him to a part of the house where he’s never been before.
Make that one he doesn’t remember being in before, but which spurs back to mind a whole slew of things he had left behind. Among them is the terrible possibility that the boy he remembered was someone he had killed — by accident or on purpose, it’s not clear, but there is just enough there for Tohno to feel haunted. This is not what his sister wanted to have unearthed, either, and she entertains the very real possibility that she might have to put her brother out of his misery to keep him from turning into something horrible and uncontrollable.
All this grimness is offset by the time that Arcueid and Tohno spend with each other, an episode which takes up most of the book and establishes a markedly different feeling. In fact, “feelings” seems to be the whole theme of this part of the story — mainly, the way Arcueid has allowed herself to experience more human emotion, something she’s typically shunned. “Maybe I’m broken,” she speculates, and Tohno wonders if this has all been for the better or not. For her to be that much more human also means she’s that much more vulnerable … something which is hammered home once and for all at the end of the book, when her bloodlust rises and Tohno once again feels compelled to destroy her.
It’s a great place for a cliffhanger, especially after so much of the book before it has been relatively placid — although, for Lunar Legend Tsukihime, that means even the quiet scenes have menace and dread churning just below the waterline. I’m actually liking that a lot more than the action, come to think of it, if only because it’s a hard thing to sustain for so long.
Art: Tsukihime’s artist Sasakishonen draws on a few different art styles for the material depending on what’s needed. Tohno and the other girls in his life are portrayed in a style that’s cute and soft-edged. Then there are the darker elements, like Tohno’s dream massacre from the last volume that turns out not to be a dream at all, portrayed in the hard-edged, blood-spattered way they ought to be. Normally I don’t respond well to a story that knocks together such divergent styles — I didn’t like the way Kurohime seemed divided against itself in this regard, for instance — but the darkness that seems to be underpinning everything in this book makes it all work.
Translation: Aside from being presented right-to-left, effects are translated directly on the page without themselves being retouched, and — something I don’t see often — whenever text is on top of other things in the frame, it’s been translated with text next to it rather than through retouching. The translators have also included the occasional cultural note about honorifics (which have also been maintained). The bump in quality that we got with volume 2 has also mercifully persisted — the printing is not problematic at all this time around, and only the occasional typo gets in the way of the fun. No bonuses this time around, though, except for maybe the color frontispiece.
The Bottom Line: This is a series about the slow burn, not the big bang — about how dark secrets come out over time and change lives. I generally like that better than trying to club the reader over the head with fights, especially when it’s done right, and here it’s done right. Even if you’re an existing fan you might balk a bit at how things slow down, but it seems to all be for a good cause.