Content Warning: Blood
What’s It About? Meet Ange Yuki, a lonely boy with no family and no future… that is until one day, he travels to Tokyo’s Harajuku to see his favorite artist. It’s there that he witnesses an intense musical battle between bands Eclipse and Lost Eden, and also discovers a secret about himself beneath the Scarlet Moon.
If you’ve read any of my reviews thus far, you might’ve noticed Fall 2021 is my loose cannon review season. I’m throwing all caution to the wind, letting my hair down to flow in the breeze. I’m free as a bird without a care, and so far… well, at least it’s been entertaining, am I right? (Well, okay, Muv-Luv Alternative was… decidedly not entertaining, but you get my point.)
That said, I want to kiss past me, because “Beautiful vampires gathering in Harajuku to sing and perform Japan’s take on Eurovision and American Idol for Immense Power” is something that current me is Very. Into. To the point that I screamed when I found out what this series was about.
So, before I actually turn into dust or better, collapse into the arms of my new musically-inclined vampire coven, let’s get into episode 1, “Guilty Cross”
Episode 1 starts off as so many anime do: in Tokyo at twilight. The time of day when vampires reign, I’ve now learned. It is here that we meet protagonist Ange Yuki, a boy who is notably quite lonely. Thankfully, he’s got the power of music on his side, which is partially why our story is set in Harajuku.
You see, Yuki has come to Harajuku to see a concert. However, he never gets to that concert. Instead, as he’s making his way around town, he encounters Eclipse (stylized as ECLIPSE), a vampire idol group on a “Conquering the World” tour. What ensues is a battle of fangs, chords, and idol skills the likes of which this world has never seen.
And naturally, all of this is sung beneath the Scarlet Moon, an entity which watches over the vampires as they fight in the Visual Prison of Harajuku for blood, and most importantly, power. And naturally, our boy Yuki gets swept up right into the middle of all of this glorious, fangy idol boy mess.
Animation-wise, Visual Prison isn’t fine art: it’s pretty average. Not necessarily easy on the eyes, a bit of gratuitous CGI here and there: you know how these shows go. The music performances are in CGI which like… is just what to expect these days, I guess. Basically every idol series has the performances in increasingly better CGI, and actually, Visual Prison’s music sequences look pretty good. Shoutout to my new man Dimitri, who’s the hottest character so far. I’m full-out fangirling for him, especially when he says the word “footrest.” God, what an absolute mood.
What does stand out (in terms of the animation) is the character designs, which I personally feel came for my throat. They snatched my proverbial wig, ripped my hair from the roots, and just revealed to me that the 14-year-old chaotic bi that resides in my heart is making a strong return. They made me long to go running through a thicket at midnight in a white gown with my arms thrown wide to embrace the vampires before me. Y’all, it’s that good. I’m talking long-haired vamps, eye-patch vamps, bishounen vamps, fangy bois, fangy fembois. It’s got every single thing I crave, and let me tell you, I am in Visual Prison’s thrall, even if things don’t always make sense. (More on that later.)
Musically, this is… okay, so this is definitely idols, and just like Selection Project, I didn’t expect that. But. But. But. Once again, I remind you this is vampire idols (and sometimes they have fucking wings!) so like… it’s a whole new game y’all. This is a level of idols: there’s rapping vampire idol boys, dramatic vampire idols boys, rock vampire idol boys… god, it’s so good. And while the music is admittedly a bit generic, I’m fully ready to dig deep and open up my entire wallet for this franchise.
This is a mess of a premiere, and honestly, if you’re not watching it, then you’re missing out. It’s full of hot, chaotic bi vamps, all of whom wanna sing and compete for that delicious, tangy power, which like… heck yes, y’all. I’m here for a sprawling cast of vampires who have nothing better to do with their time than singing and being hella extra. While I remember so few names because… Vampire Idol Units with so many boys, I’m still into each and everyone of them. They’re all my favorites, no questions about it.
Now, one thing I didn’t touch on is that there’s a bit of eroticism because… blood drinking. It comes around midway, and actually, serves as a plot trigger for our intrepid, but plain, main character who is, of course, also a vampire. Really, that’s the only notable thing here: otherwise, you’ve kind of got your bog standard premiere (a la I-Chu, which… I couldn’t help comparing Visual Prison to initial) only… vampires.
Now, this is where my customary Idol Anime Disclaimer™ comes in because, of course, this may not be enough to hook you, largely because well… you may not like idols. And honestly because this opening to the Visual Prison franchise isn’t the most cohesive thing. In fact, very little is explained, which leaves a lot of plot gaps.
And as with many idol anime, there’s nothing regarding the industry here. And while I’m staunchly for feminist critic, I also think there’s a time and place in this trashfire of a pandemic to just… sink into things. Plus, like, here’s the thing: a lot of idol anime (read: most, if not almost all) are just never going to have that conversation about the IRL industry. I’m not going to say it’s okay, but I am going to say that I acknowledge that Visual Prison probably isn’t going to break the fourth wall and have a serious conversation about how masculine bodies are treated in the idol industry either.
It’s kind of as I always say: idol anime have hooks, but those hooks aren’t always interesting unless you’re a fan of the genre. In fact, I already know a lot of folks aren’t going to watch Visual Prison because they’re not fans of the genre, find it uninteresting, and just wanna watch something else, which like… fair. Idol anime isn’t for everyone; and while Visual Prison is inexplicably good, it might not hit like say, Hypnosis Mic did for non-idol fans, or even like Zombie Land Saga has done for anime-fans who are very much so not idol anime fans. And that really is okay because like… you do you.
I’ve tried my best to stick to that ethos ever since I reviewed Lapis RE:LiGHTs, which is another anime that merged idols and a gimmick and still wasn’t going to have wide appeal. In that case, it was magic, which helped and held back the franchise at times. And while I’m a bit worried that the vampirism of Visual Prison might one day be a literal visual prison, I also feel like the franchise is so steeped in the vampiric nature of its sprawling cast (once again, so many boys) that it’ll probably be able to whip the plot into shape while indulging viewers in its very beautiful cast of visual-kei vamp boys. Time will tell, of course: there’s a lot of plot that needs to be developed, which I’m sure will happen fairly quickly over the next two or so episodes.
I’m gonna declare it here so someone can put this on the official Wikipedia: this is gonna be one of the top idol series this year, merely because of its concept. It’s a brilliant fun idea, mashing up two very dramatic genres into a premiere that, while not the most eye-catching at times, is a bloody romp through multiple insert songs that drip 2000s visual kei energy. Heck, this might actually make my Top 5 for 2021, which like… what a thing that would be.
Also, because Vampire. Idols. I mean really, need I say more? I’m sure I could, but I’d much rather offer up a bit of a TL;DR. So…TL;DR?
Visual Prison is a fantastic romp of a time, smashing together vampires, Japanese idols, and chaotic, messy hot boys fighting in Harajuku for power into an unforgettable premiere that, while not for everyone, has an audience, and that audience is me. Give it a try if you’re looking for a quirky take on the idol anime genre, otherwise, you might consider bouncing back to this once you’ve fleshed out your watchlist for this season, especially if you’re looking for something to reawaken the darkness inside of your heart.
I pledge thineself to the entire cour, come what may. I can’t say that for everyone because, well… I’m just me and I’ve gotta uphold my title of AniFem’s resident idol fan. But, if you’re on the edge of saying “yes” to Visual Prison, allow me to offer some advice: give thine self over to our new, visual-kei vampire lords: bear thine throat and let thineself fall into the dark abyss of their love because let me tell y’all, they’re here to take you on one hell of an inexplicable ride.