Well this was long overdue. As the chief engineer of the hype train that was Lilium among the overseas fans, as well as being the translator on the English subs, I probably should have gotten to this sooner. Better late than never I guess.
To start with, this is just an opening review. No major spoilers, just my op ed on what this is about and why people should watch it. I'll go into details with subsequent posts - and there will be other posts. I love this musical too much not to have a ton of things to note about it.
Without further ado, let us proceed. Beware the walls of text - they're the walls of this sanatorium, the Clan.
Once, vampires were said to have the gift of eternal life.
But we have lost that gift.
When the time comes, like all other living beings, we fade and die.
So, what do we have here? A play about vampires? Before I go any further I'll gladly admit that when I first heard the premise months before the musical, it was equal parts "ooh" and "ew" to me. I blame Twilight for the latter reaction. Case in point, my friend and I subsequently referred to Lilium as "that sparkly vampire play" to the day we decided to fly there and watch it for ourselves. After which, no sparkles were ever mentioned within spitting distance of this musical ever again. It has a way of swallowing all light and regurgitating what's left of your soul after it has been drained dry.
So yes. Vampires. What can you possibly do with vampires? Everyone knows it has been done to death. To death, hah, if only. Turns out you can do more with it if you just strip away all the usual preconceptions, like the weaknesses to garlic and sunlight, and crucially, the immortality. To whit, the vampires of Lilium are basically humans who need to drink blood. Human lifespan, no known strengths or weaknesses (unless you count feats of athletic ability I guess - see Cherry and her Matrix-fu of bullet dodging), and no real physical characteristics we are informed about, but for two important differences: the Chrysalis (or Mayuki, for the Japanese purists), and Initiative (mind control, more or less).
So we have very un-vampirelike vampires. Even the blood drinking is played down here -- except the fact that they did end up drinking more blood than ever advertised, ironically. But no spoilers, I promised!
What about the setting then? We are locked into a single location: the sanatorium, Clan. Located deep within a forest where it never stops raining, the Clan is an asylum for young vampires in their adolescence, which for vampires is known as the Chrysalis. Unlike human beings, vampires in Chrysalis undergo far more volatile mood swings which can result in them being extremely unstable mentally and emotionally. This is why the Clan exists: to segregate them from humans so that neither side can harm each other. Or so the spiel goes.
Before we go further though, let's go through some of the specialist terms used in this musical.
Chrysalis: Vampire adolescence, characterised by wild mood swings, possible delusions and a greater likelihood of acting on those delusions, plus apparent forgetfulness. Those with really severe symptoms are sent to the Clan we see.
Initiative: Willpower and control, exclusive to vampires. To take someone's Initiative you have to bite them, and the bitten party is compelled to obey the one who bit them. There are many implied layers of control involved, and while it is not mentioned in Lilium proper (TRUMP, the prequel, goes into more detail about this), Initiative works only between vampires, not on humans.
The "medicine": Medicine taken by the vamps at the Clan to suppress their Chrysalis symptoms.
As mentioned at the beginning, the opening quote leverages heavily on immortality. Something the vampires once had, and was then lost. Immortality is the central vehicle driving the play; how people react to it, how it changes them, and the attitudes surrounding life and death. Pretty deep for an idol production starring vampires actually.
It gets better. Another central theme is identity and memory. At the very start of the show we are presented with a mystery: there is a girl named Sylvatica, and she has gone missing. No one remembers her except for the protagonist, named Lily (played by Sayashi Riho), as well as the enigmatic girl named Snow (played by Wada Ayaka). The mystery leads us further down the rabbit hole, questions are asked that shouldn't have been, and revelations occur almost independently of the main thread, because even while Lily searches for Sylvatica, the rest of the Clan is not static. Events move on, even if nothing seems to change, people do, in fact, take action to affect their surroundings.
The interpersonal interactions tease at a greater meta story. There's a lot more going on that just isn't said, and the 2 hour run length of the musical feels shorter than it actually is. Having watched the prequel, some gaps are helpfully filled, but there's always a sensation that there's more behind the facade. The story is rich with metaphor and meaning; who is the aggressor, and who is the victim? Is the victim blameless? Does the aggressor deserve pity? Does it make anything more right or less wrong? Many shades of grey lie here within a morality rubbed raw. What is the right thing to do?
Terrible choices are made throughout. Terrible, in all senses of the word. There are things in there, where, on second thought, are actually more horrifying if you consider the implications. Emotional, irrational decisions are undertaken; can you forgive those who made them, or will you judge them via your own morality? Who is more right? But if both parties are wrong, where do we go from here?
The disappearance of Sylvatica, the forget-me-not, is the catalyst that sparks the hidden embers of change. Her true presence is thematic, even if the actual character doesn't really show up much. Her presence permeates the entire show, until the grand reveal. And what a reveal it was.
How to explain to people why they should watch it if they haven't already? Firstly, this is not a typical idol production. Sure, we get some comedic moments to lighten the atmosphere at times, but by the end of the show I was caught up entirely within the world Lilium projected. It has a compelling story that forces you to consider what you would normally think is right and wrong. The prize of immortality too, is held up like a mirage in the wind. Seek and ye shalt not find, but the poor bastard who never wants it gains the cursed chalice. The cycle repeats, like the snake eating its tail - Ouroboros.
Don't dream within a dream
Dreams can only truly blossom in reality
Purity and innocence. Illusion and lies. The chaste and the corrupt. If these are themes that fascinate you, watch Lilium. It's a beautiful dream, or a wicked nightmare -- who knows?
If ever I should say to the moment
Stay on! You are so beautiful
Yes, dream on with me. It's too lonely to go on alone.
Note: I'll take questions in the comments section and answer them as best as I can. Stay tuned while I start picking apart the world and characters of Lilium next time!