Miyu looks like a polite, soft-spoken girl of about thirteen or fourteen, wearing a ribbon in her hair and old-fashioned Japanese clothes. However in fact she's a vampire, with an ongoing mission to seek out and destroy Shinma (a invented word that combines the Chinese characters for "god" and "demon"). She chooses to go to school like an ordinary girl and even knows people who would claim to be her friends, but her private life involves darkness, depravity, murder and every imaginable kind of horror. This explains a lot.
Vampire Princess Miyu was one of the first anime I watched and it's still a favourite. It's basically a horror anthology series, with Miyu as the linking thread of the stories. Sometimes she's a major character and at other times she barely features, only turning up at the end to destroy that week's Shinma, but I always wanted to see more of her. She's amazing. To digress for a moment, it's possible to write terrific one-dimensional characters (Dickens did it a lot), but often the best dramatic tension comes from being stretched in two directions. Buffy is both a Californian bimbo and a vampire slayer, for instance. However Miyu has three sides: a young girl, a vampire and a Shinma-hunting avenger. All three aspects provide different motivations and there's no way of knowing which will be ascendant at any time. I found her terrifying and fell in love with her all at once. She's gentle, polite, well-spoken and mostly compassionate, yet personally I'd sooner tangle with Hellsing's Alucard. She can be breathtakingly callous, is capable of presiding over massacres and occasionally eats the people you think she's going to save. She thinks they're going to a land of infinite happy dreams. Maybe she's right, but they still end up pretty darned dead.
Opinions differ on which version of Vampire Princess Miyu is best. Popular opinion appears to be that the OVAs are masterpieces and the TV series is a lesser cousin, but personally I watched the TV series first and found the OVAs disappointing. Admittedly I'd been looking for them for ages and was an excessively happy bunny when I finally tracked them down. The first three episodes were okay... vaguely diverting, but just spooky-ish "movie of the week" stuff. However the fourth episode was top-drawer Miyu, a reminder of how harrowingly nasty this show can get when it decides to pull out the stops. It's basically an origin story in which Miyu ends up killing... mmm, I'll let you find out for yourself.
The OVAs have tighter writing and more expensive animation, but they keep Miyu herself more at arm's length. She's a shadowy presence being sought by the spiritualist Himiko Se after their paths cross in part one. The TV series gives us a better look at Miyu herself, which is more my cup of tea since since I find her compelling. Admittedly often she's not the main character of her own series. These are horror tales, usually focusing on their latest Shinma's human targets and how they're really the victims of their own folly, cruelty or weakness. It can be chilling, poignant or just desperately sad. This series takes sadistic delight in the diversity and invention of its downbeat endings. It's a very human series, taking a long hard look at the human heart, which is why it works for me. Miyu can be a cold, distant figure sometimes, but in the context of stories like these it's hard not to build up empathy for her.
The manga, incidentally, is superb. It's made me feel ill on the train to work, which is quite an achievement. Its visuals are fluid and sometimes impressionistic, with lovely black and white artwork of a kind you rarely see in the American comics industry. Western comics these days are usually drawn to be coloured, or to be precise coloured in. Vampire Princess Miyu isn't like that. It can have loosely sketched frames, more like an sketchbook rough than our normal idea of finished artwork, with a beautifully drawn eye jumping out of a swirl of lines.
A side-note for the politically incorrect... Miyu has a guardian, a seven-foot-tall handsome demon man called approximately Lava. I can spell that in Japanese because I've read the manga, but don't ask me what might be the best transliteration into English. Listening to the Japanese pronunciation, you could make a case for Rubber, Larva or even Lover. The official licensed DVDs chose "Larva", but if you've got a dirty mind it's hard not to hear something else.
Incidentally Larva is mute in the OVAs but can remove his mask and speak in the TV series. Continuity is fluid in Vampire Princess Miyu. Her origin is different in all versions (including the manga), both with respect to her true age and the little question of whether her mother or father was the vampire. Even Miyu's personality can change depending on what version you're watching, though perhaps that's not surprising given the three contrasting elements of her character. The OVAs' Miyu is more childlike and playful.
Vampire Princess Miyu annihilated me. It's sad, at times almost hard to watch. Most of the stories have some kind of downbeat ending and you just know the series won't conclude with jolly celebrations. However I couldn't stop watching it. As an aside, the TV series could almost be viewed as an evil subversion of the magical girl genre, with monsters of the week and even a talking animal sidekick. This is what Sailor Moon would be like if you killed her friends, drained her blood and made her occasionally eat people. Cool. It's deceptively hard to create a good non-anthology horror series, since your lead character should ideally be sympathetic and compelling and yet also unpredictable and scary. On that score, Miyu's the best I've ever seen.