I tend to be drawn to simple anime premises. Takagi teases Nishikata, Tanaka is listless, Titans Attack, etc. Along comes Vlad Love, which immediately impresses with its gritty retro visual splendor and also delivers a devilishly-simple premise: Girl who loves donating blood meets a vampire.
The Girl is Banba Mitsugu, a refreshingly quirky female protagonist in a role where a horny guy is the norm. Sakura Ayane voices Mitsugu with gusto and dynamism, as does Hidaka Rina, whose performance of the vampiress Mai Vlad Transylvania runs the gamut from cutesy and formal to yakuza bombastic.
The stinger starts like a Hollywood action movie: a SWAT team opens up a cargo container to find a creepy doll. Mitsugu’s first scene ends like one too, as she “rescues” Mai from surly nurses in a bloodmobile that then promptly explodes for no reason.
Upon learning Mai is a hungry young vampire who left Transylvania due to clashing with her father’s 49th wife, Mitsugu takes her home and feeds her the bag of her blood she had in the fridge (Mitsugu really likes having blood drawn).
Mitsugu becomes entirely smitten with the beautiful foreign princess, and can’t help but leer when Mai quickly strips for a shower, or peek when she curls up in the closet to sleep. With her dad at work abroad, no mom mentioned, and no friends introduced, it seems Mitsugu is lonely and eager to share her home with someone anyway.
The question of how she’ll keep Mai fed is equally simple: Mai simply has to take it easy with the blood-drinking (enough to survive, not enough to kill Mitsugu). Mitsugu’s character design, with her wan complexion and bags under her eyes, as well as Mai’s blood-high attitude, suggest this won’t be easy.
Mitsugu visits her high school’s nurse Chihiro—who is not only totally inappropriately dressed for the job, but also has a side-hustle collecting rare blood. She also slaps the shit out of Mitsugu on multiple occasions, which is played for comedy, as is an instance where she’s just suddenly naked. While I appreciated the body diversity on display, it was still more random than funny.
We learn Mitsugu has neither A nor B nor O blood, but is a “chimera” with blood that contains qualities of all three types (a real life thing). That makes her unsuitable for donating blood (cruel irony) but perfect for, say, a thirsty vamp. Nurse Chihiro suggests Mitsugu start a “blood donation club” to collect blood not just for Mai’s consumption, but for her collection.
There were quite a few attempts at comedy that somewhat inelegantly clanged to the ground without their intended effect. The dearth of smart comedy isn’t a dealbreaker (especially for a show that looks this good), but was definitely distracting and affected my score.
It’s at this point that I should probably mention for those who don’t know: Vlad Love is written, created, and directed by thee Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell fame. On the one hand, there’s no doubting his bonafides when it comes to anime production.
On the other, he’s older than my dad, and I say this with nothing but love in my heart: My dad’s jokes are laaame. So is a lot of the comedy and various attempts to “shock” in Vlad Love. There’s a tryhard quality to the writing and directing that spoils an otherwise gorgeous production.
For good or worse, this is Oshii’s show, and there’s no reason to think he didn’t have complete creative control. Vlad Love doesn’t resume until February 14th—Vladentines Day!—so we’ll have to wait a while to determine if it’s a show I’ll hang on to this Winter.