Sunday, January 22, 2012

RH Plus (live action TV series), via Crunchyroll

This show is based on a manga series with the same title. The manga is not legally available in English, as far as I can tell, and I have no idea how similar the live action series is to it.

Synopsis:

This series stars four vampires who live together in a mansion and tend to see each other as something like a family. The eldest is Kiyoi, who acts as the group's surrogate father. He's been taking care of Ageha since Ageha was little. Ageha is the cute one in the group. He tends to get jealous whenever anyone seems to monopolize Kiyoi's affection or time. Masakazu is supposedly smart and in college (or a college graduate?), but his attention is easily snagged by pretty women, and he often blows off work in order to go on group dates. Makoto is the newest addition to the group. He's quiet and serious, and it is revealed that, when he was little, his mother left him to become a prisoner at a church, saying that she had given birth to a monster.

The mansion's upkeep is funded by jobs given to the group by a mysterious man known as "Mister." Mister and Kiyoi seem to have some kind of history, and Mister closely resembles a man who was once very important to Kiyoi. The jobs tend to be dangerous ones that the police either can't or won't look into themselves, and Kiyoi has the power to accept or reject them as he sees fit.

Review:

The description of this show on the Crunchyroll website confuses me, because, in the earlier episodes at least, this series is clearly shounen ai. Ageha seems a little too eager for Kiyoi's attention, Makoto stares at Kiyoi just a touch too long, and it's a long while before any other possible explanations for Ageha's rage explosion over Makoto getting hurt present themselves. I'm sure I would have loved all of that in the original manga on which this series was based. Unfortunately, it didn't translate too well into live action form, so it's probably a good thing that the shounen ai aspects mostly disappeared later on.

Some might be more pained by the show's cheap special effects, but I cringed more at the bad acting (just to be clear, I didn't think all of the acting was bad, and some of the actors were pretty decent). I found Naoya Ojima (Masakazu) to be the worst offender, although it may not have been his fault – it may just have been that his character was most prominent in the “humorous” scenes, and one of the things this series failed at was being funny. I have a feeling those humorous scenes were ripped straight out of the manga. The problem is, what works in manga is painful to watch in a live action show.

The worst episode by far was episode 3, in which Masakazu attended a mixer and found whatever charisma he might have possessed completely eclipsed by that of Konoe (Rei Fujita). I enjoyed watching Konoe be cool and confident, but, next to him, Masakazu's horrified/upset facial contortions looked even more unnatural. During the scenes where Masakazu was supposed to be drunk, I winced as the horrible acting continued, accompanied by his blusher-covered cheeks. I almost quit watching the show after that.

For some reason I continued – even as I shook my head at how bad some parts of the show were, it managed to be strangely addictive. Still, if it were possible for me to have read the manga instead, I probably would have.

The world-building in this series was inconsistent. I was never quite sure what vampires were and were not supposed to be able to do. For instance, early on in the series, at least one of the vampires was able to move super fast. Then, later on, that ability was apparently forgotten about. A big deal was made about the guys having to remember to make themselves show up in mirrors, and, in the final episode, they didn't initially show up in a camera's viewfinder. However, in another episode, the guys had to disable a security camera – if they had wanted to avoid detection, couldn't they have just allowed themselves to not appear on the camera?

Vampires seemed to have no problems with walking around in sunlight, and, despite the occasional line stating that vampires need blood, the guys seemed to do well enough on tomato products alone, going hunting (which strongly resembled cruising for girls) only because they enjoyed it. Why did the guys like tomato products so much? Red foods in general didn't seem to satisfy them, or the cake in the one episode could have been a perfectly normal strawberry cake rather than a tomato cake (ugh). Tomato products are no more like blood than strawberries or cherries.

In addition to weak world-building, the series also tended to neglect a lot of its characters. I didn't really understand why Misaki was around for more than just the episode in which she was introduced. She didn't add anything to the show, other than to make me wonder at the sanity of the other characters – she's a crazy girl who kidnapped Makoto and tried to force him to turn her into a vampire, and yet, after her initial appearance, everyone forgot all of that and tolerated (or even invited) her continued presence in the mansion. I'm guessing her fanatical devotion to Kiyoi was supposed to be funny and cute.

Kiyoi got a few episodes hinting at and then explaining his tragic past. So did Makoto. Even Ageha's past was touched on a bit, albeit mostly in a quickie voiceover. Masakazu, on the other hand, was just there. I think he was supposed to be the series' comic relief, but, since I didn't find him particularly funny, his complete lack of backstory just made me wonder what the point of his existence in the show was. Konoe didn't have any more of a backstory than Masakazu, but he was less painful to watch and was clearly not part of the main cast, so I didn't mind as much.

The final three episodes, in which Makoto's father appears and we learn more about Makoto's past and how he came to live with Kiyoi and the others, are, in my opinion, the best episodes in the series. Unfortunately, some of the earlier episodes are so mediocre that a lot of viewers might not make it as far as episode 11. Are those final three episodes good enough to watch the series just for them alone? I don't really think so, but it was still nice to finally see the vampires acting like vampires (super-powered fights! blood!) and find out more about Makoto's past (boatloads of angst! repressed memories!).


Watch-alikes or Read-alikes:
  • Princess Princess (manga) by Mikiyo Tsuda; Princess Princess (anime TV series) - This series also has a nearly all-male cast, with shounen ai elements. I know that a live action version of the series exists (the actor who played Konoe is in it!), but I haven't seen it. I've written about the first volume of the manga.
  • Weiss Kreuz (anime TV series) - Another series starring a group of guys with double lives who must occasionally take care of dangerous tasks. This series was renamed Knight Hunters for its U.S. release, which baffles me.
  • Vampire Knight (manga) by Matsuri Hino; Vampire Knight (anime TV series) - Another series in which several of the main characters are part of an adoptive family. As the title states, it also has vampires. I've written about the first season of the anime and the first volume of the manga.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Those who know this series would probably be surprised to find it on a list of read-alikes/watch-alikes for a vampire TV series. Kare Kano is a contemporary romantic drama that, on the surface, doesn't have much in common with RH Plus. However, I think Makoto and Arima (Kare Kano's male lead) have a lot in common. Both of them grew up in an abusive, emotionally damaging environment and ended up with a lot of baggage and parental issues to get over.

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