It's a Takashi Miike TV series about vampires. It's okay rather than great, but at least it's trying to say something.
Firstly, it's a sequel. Earlier that year, Miike had made a TV series called "Heavenly Girl Man", although that had had no vampires. ("Man" is the character's name, by the way. I don't think it's meant to mean anything.) This sequel's Japanese name is "Heavenly Girl Man NEXT", which had been puzzling the dickens out of me since I hadn't been able to work out how that could possibly translate to "N-Girls vs. Vampire". It also explains a lot that this is a sequel, because Man (Ayana Sakai) is capable of beating up a mob of boys single-handedly and this series never explains how or why. She doesn't have superpowers. She's an ordinary human. She just happens to be really, really good at fisticuffs, which I presume would have made more sense if I'd been watching all my Japanese TV in order. She also appears to have luminous pink blood, which is another thing that made my head hurt.
Ayana Sakai hasn't had a high-profile career, incidentally, but as it happens I've seen almost all of her movies: Boogiepop And Others
, Battle Royale II and Devilman
. She's okay and likeable.
The story appears to be bog-standard vampire stuff. The vampires do standard vampire things, like throwing back their heads while feeding in order to show their bloodstained mouth to the camera. (There's some eccentric vampire lore, but it takes a while to discover this.) They're pretty, especially the boys. They have the usual fangs. At one (early) point I was under the mistaken impression that Miike was being so old school that he'd created bloodsuckers with no characterisation. Similarly the plotting has no real surprises, even if our heroines' decision for the finale is pretty extreme, and one could reasonably claim that it's a TV series built from recycled materials.
However this would ignore some peculiarities and the thematic angle.
Most obviously, it's about the gender divide. The lead vampires are women-hating men who go around biting beautiful female virgins. That's text, not subtext. They have psychological issues, e.g. abandoned by their mothers and grew up in an orphanage. Note also the scene where the dominant vampire gets another one on his knees, unzips and then tells him to suck him.
Meanwhile what's being said about the girls is even more savage. They flock around these pretty boys and beg to be allowed to join the "model agency". Becoming a vampire makes you beautiful! Who cares that it also turns you into an inhuman monster who rejects her friends? The male vampires, for the most part, only choose willing victims. Furthermore there's a sex angle, because of that virgin thing, which is what the show's really talking about thematically. Miike doesn't linger on it, but these schoolgirls talk about enjo kosai and some of them are clearly having sex with clients for money. Others though don't want to throw away their virginity even though doing so would (probably) make them safe from the bloodsuckers. (There's also a scarcely believable scene in which a father tries to rape his daughter to keep her safe, which is played for laughs and is best forgotten about.)
This is taken to still greater extremes by biology. Female vampires only live for 500 days. They're not beautiful forever, but until they start vomiting blood and crumbling into dust. They're second-rank vampires, you see, whereas their male master is a Saint Vampire.
Other oddities of vampire lore here include being immune to sunlight, but helpless in the face of roses. Yes, roses. They can also teleport, grow wings and (in some cases) turn into a giant glowing crucifix when they die, which ascends to heaven (?) and makes twinkly golden rain for everyone standing underneath for the rest of the scene. Oh, and their minds can be affected by piano music. This isn't quite at Hong Kong Hopping Vampire levels of wackiness, but it's not a million miles off.
As for the production, Miike uses day-for-night filming. Ouch. There's one scene where I ended up quite liking it, mind you, for the green underwater effect it gave. There's no nudity and the horror is tame, although I liked the circle of vampires around a victim on an altar. There's a bit of Buffy in the Boss Vampire's make-up job at the end. I think the problem with this series from a Miike auteur point of view is that everything about vampires is hackneyed and he doesn't have the freedom to push the boundaries since this is television. It thus comes across as more of the usual nonsense, treading a fine line between camp and taking itself seriously. The actors are surprisingly okay, with only one really bad line reading (plus one facial expression from a child actor) in all of its 160 minutes, but it doesn't have the power that could have lifted it up to be something special.
The meat of the story is Ayana Sakai and her vampire opposite number, Takashi Nagayama. Has he sung in a band? Do you need to ask? The two of them have an interesting relationship, since they're both interested in the well-being of a small boy who's being bullied. (Nagayama comes from the same orphanage.) They can talk about stuff. I liked their mutual development a lot.
I also like the gender politics. It's a girl-dominated story, with the men being at once objects of desire and bloodsuckers. Our heroines are a varied, well-drawn bunch who don't need rescuing, but also are often far from perfect and aren't immune to real-world issues (enjo kosai).
I quite liked this. I didn't love it, but there's plenty in here to think about. Miike throws in jokes, some inappropriate (daddy) and others that are self-mocking. There's a Van Helsing type who goes around asking if we believe in the existence of God and keeps getting kicked in the nuts. (There's quite a lot of fighting, all of which involves girls. This series is a million miles away from Buffy, but it still feels as if it owes Joss Whedon a debt.) The finale is a bit silly, but I appreciated it not just being a punch-up and I liked the fratricide and suicide. I was also obscurely disturbed by that boy following a girl on the train and sniffing her. Overall, I don't think anyone would call this series brilliant, but I wouldn't call it a waste of time either.
"There are lots of girls who wouldn't mind what happens, as long as they're pretty."