For those who don’t already know, I am a high school teacher by trade. Though I have spent 90% of my teaching career in Math (my minor), my major is actually Social Studies, with a focus in history, and I’m still quite the history buff. Hence, I usually eat up series with deep historical roots, so this adaptation of the light novel series Tsuki to Laika to Nosferatu – with its heavy grounding in the history of the early Soviet space program – was practically guaranteed to appeal to me. Indeed, it was my most-anticipated non-sequel of the season. Little that has transpired in the first seven episodes has dissuaded me from continuing to consider it a favorite, though its long-term appeal to me has ended up being at least partly for reasons other than what I originally expected.
The country names may be different, and this may be set in a world where vampires exist as a persecuted minority in Russia, but this story is, at essence, an account of the Soviet Union’s space program as it preps to launch the first human into space. (In our timeline, this happened on April 21, 1961.) Indeed, many of the time frames and details mentioned throughout the first seven episodes are based on actual history, with numerous additional references thrown in. (The facility for training cosmonauts is named Laika, after the first dog sent into space in our world, for instance.) The main departure from real history is that the not-Soviets sought to counter a plan by the not-U.S. to send a chimpanzee into space (which actually did occur in 1961) by sending their own near-but-not-human up first: a vampire. And because the test pilot is only a vampire, she is considered a fully expendable object – to the top brass and most of the true cosmonauts, anyway. But her trainer/watcher, the disgraced cosmonaut Lev, grows to see things differently.
For all of the historical context at work, and for all of the minutiae about the kinds of training that cosmonauts undergo and the stresses the program experiences from unreasonable officials, the relationship between reserve cosmonaut Lev and vampire N44 – aka Irina – ends up being the series’ strongest aspect. Lev is too fundamentally decent a person to safety fit in a Soviet-modeled country circa 1960, and that basic human decency in both word and action is what gradually gets through to Irina. She has plenty of good reasons to hate humans and not trust what Lev is doing, and fully realizes that she may not survive the program (or could easily be disposed of afterwards), but she puts up with it all because she has her own dreams about going to space and the Moon. In Lev she finds both a kindred soul and one of the few humans who would treat her as a human, despite everything that he’s told about regarding her as a mere test subject (sometimes even in her presence). Whether it’s using her name instead of designation (she noticeably reacts when he first does this), looking out for her safety, or exposing her to things beyond her training, Lev treats her like a valued comrade. In fact, it works so well that I must wonder if the base commander didn’t have this exact outcome in mind when he assigned Lev to the task, despite what he says. Whatever the truth of that matter, feelings between the two are clearly developing by the end of episode 7.
The actual production of the series a is a little more uneven. The character designs and animation certainly make Irina appealing and even a little sexy, but they also make her a little too cute; she is adorable in a very moe way, and that doesn’t quite fit the tone of the series. The vampire specialist girl even more glaringly doesn’t fit in the setting, and the music selections are, at times, more light-hearted than seems warranted by the content. The CG used in vehicle animation also sometimes came up short, though the production does better with the rocket animations. The pacing of the series was slow but comfortable through the first six episodes but rapidly sped up for episode 7; honestly, I was surprised to see the launch come not only this early in the series, but only halfway through the episode, with Irina being brought back to Earth before the episode ended. Presumably that means the rest of the series will be the What Happens After content? Certainly there’s still a lot of story to tell, since Irina’s now in an even more precarious position than she was before.
Seeing how the series handles that transition – from building up towards the launch and an actual relationship between Irina and Lev to playing out the consequences of all of that – is plenty enough to keep me watching. While I don’t agree with all of the directorial choices here, the story and characters are plenty endearing enough.
Some Other Series I Am Following:
Mushoku Tensei ep 18 – After two strong family-related episodes about Rudeus, we get one about Roxy going home, and it’s just as strong. I believe the series did mention something early on about Roxy not being telepathic like most of her kind are, but this episode brings the full implications of that to bear, and without using a bullying angle; the other demons of her type just don’t know what to make of her. Loved the way her inability to make the telepathic connection was portrayed, as it really brought home the full impact of Roxy’s comparative disability.
The Fruit of Evolution episode 7 – Yeah, the series is stupid as hell, and the addition of the donkey Lulune only adds a new layer of stupid onto it, but it’s stupid in a fun way. You could rip the series apart critically. The series isn’t far from descending into self-parody, and I am increasingly getting the impression that it’s intentional.
Takt op.Destiny episode 7 – So the (a?) main villain appears. Rather disappointed in this, even as I appreciate more what’s being done with Destiny in a character sense.
The aquatope on white sand ep 20 – “Lost Plankton,” indeed. The end of this episode is something that has been coming all season, and this episode finally put the finishing touches on it. The warning signs were there, and at least some of the people around Kukuru caught enough of them to be concerned, but since no one was seeing the full picture (and Kukuru hardly articulated it herself), they couldn’t provide the support she needed. The production did an excellent job of setting this up; Kukuru’s expression when her boss first spoke to her about the wedding scenario sent a chill up my spine, and even he noticed something was off. The anticipation over seeing how this plays out provides the series a rare cliffhanger and easily its strongest episode of this season.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Great Mankai Chapter ep 8 – I have seen complaints elsewhere about the series descending into “tragedy porn,” and this episode only reinforces that impression. The series is definitely going overboard in that regard, though the developments towards the end about Yuna are interesting. I need to go back and rewatch the second half of the second season to see how this all fits.