The success of the Nintendo Switch comes in part from the beloved launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Yet finishing that game, Switch owners often wonder what to buy next, “something like” BOTW; but nothing is quite like that fantastic game, and the best recommendation they hear is Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Also a fine title, but quite a different creature. Thankfully and a bit strangely, if anyone just loved, and is looking for “something like” Toaru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) and side-story Toaru Kagaku no Railgun (A Certain Scientific Railgun), I can point him directly to Strike the Blood.
Part of the allure of A Certain Magical Index is the attractive setting in Academy City, a scientifically advanced metropolis largely peopled by students. Strike the Blood—initially a 2013 broadcast anime of 24 episodes, plus 21 direct-to-video episodes over OVA seasons Strike the Blood II and III, and the OVA specials Kingdom of the Valkyria and Disappearing Holy Lance—the has its own unique setting, Itogami Island. Blending high technology and formidable magic, the artificial archipelago was build 300 km south of Tokyo using both modern science and occult powers, and serves as a special habitat for demons and researchers, although many other people live there too. An upbeat and happening place, Itogami’s very existence is threatened, again and again—to the extent that viewers may wonder whether building an island in conflict with the natural order was a mistake—yet love for their unique home moves our protagonist and his friends to defend it arc after arc.
Who is our protagonist? Like Koyomi Araragi, Kojou Akatsuki has a life-changing encounter with a vampire; also like in Bakemonogatari, this decisive experience is already in the past when the anime begins! In another parallel with Index, Kojou has memory problems, so exposition of what happened is limited at first, but we do know that he’s now the Fourth Progenitor, the most powerful vampire in the world. For now though, he’s keeping his head low as a student when one day, he notices he’s being followed by a middle school girl. After running into two lecherous demons who thought hitting on her was a good idea, and the first of many panty flashes in this very ecchi series, she fends them off with her stylish magical lance Sekkarou. After Kojou makes her let them go after they learn their lesson, she reveals herself to be Yukina Himeragi, a Sword Shaman sent by the mysterious Lion King Organization to keep an eye on the new Fourth Progenitor, and even kill him should he pose a threat! Thankfully, Himeragi’s very good-natured, and keeping an eye on her assignment means moving in with him... means the beginning of a harem anime series.
Strike the Blood has a fairly strong arc structure, with Kojou, Himeragi, and others confronting distinct antagonists every few episodes. You won’t have to wait long to meet a real favorite, who made me feel just compelled to sell this anime as of a kind with A Certain Magical Index. As in Index, European Church affairs make themselves felt in a cutting edge Japanese city, and a certain Combat Deacon makes his way to Itogami to right a claimed sacrilege.
Speaking of combat, as a vampire Kojou has enhanced strength and senses he can use in physical combat, and is immortal with injuries healing quickly. He can also summon familiars—portrayed as nonverbal, luminous mythical beasts—to fight for him. But at first, he has trouble getting the familiars to obey him. This dovetails excellently with the ecchi and harem aspects. On becoming a vampire, he’s (understandably!) hesitant to drink human blood. Yet, on being aroused, he begins to crave blood in earnest, and as his observer, Himeragi duly gives him her neck. The vampire sucking blood is often interpreted erotically, including in other harem anime. But unlike in, say, Rosario+Vampire, where Tsukune’s blood is just Moka’s favorite beverage, drinking blood is seen as a grave move; better yet, Kojou drinking a girl’s blood is a sure way to rile up jealousy in other members of the harem! It is a great stand-in for sex, such that one can imagine a “harem ending” where Kojou gorges on all the girls’ blood, one after the other! But that hasn’t happened yet... OVA releases are ongoing, with Strike the Blood IV beginning in April. These oral infusions of blood strengthen Kojou’s powers, allowing him to command his familiars and unleash them on foes.
Yet even this steamy symbolism can be overshadowed by the more traditional ecchi of the program. The intensity of the NSFW is one big difference vs. A Certain Magical Index, and true to the series’ intentions, character designs are a tad meatier in Strike the Blood. In addition to compromising situations and sightings of undergarments, full nudity becomes more common as the anime goes on, so it’s no wonder that after the first season, all new releases are direct-to-video. Sometimes the fanservice does get to feel forced; more than once, girls just happen to be chatting about something topical as they’re undressing in the locker room, yet I think it is nicely done throughout, so ecchi lovers will appreciate Strike the Blood, with the usual proviso they keep the door closed.
Harem romance is not to be underestimated, however, and attention is likewise devoted to the less sensuous joys of companionship with the girls special to Kojou. The Fourth Progenitor himself embodies those other furtive male desires, to be compassionate and helpful when friends are in need, and Strike the Blood has showcasing the bond between our protagonists down to a science. There’s a very noticeable leitmotif, a simple musical cue, that plays whenever Kojou and Himeragi are decisively confronting a foe. After a few times, you’ll know a few sentences ahead when Kojou will say, “This is my fight!”, and when Himeragi invariably corrects him, “This is our fight!”