Vanitas no Carte – 20 – Juste Comme Vous Etes

This week is mostly an epilogue to the now-concluded Gévaudan arc, with both Vanitas’ and Jeanne’s associates dealing with the sudden reality that the two are now madly in love with each other. But because Noé is a big pretty dummy, he assumes something awful has happened to Vanitas, like a curse.

Vanitas’ half of the episode plays out much like one of my favorite bits from Kaguya-sama: Love is War (as reviewed by Zane) in which Kaguya is utterly convinced she has holes in her heart causing plain old lovesickness; her brain unable to comprehend what the heck her heart is even doing.

When a panciked Noé lists Vanita’s familiar symptoms, Orlok and his attendants throw them both out of his office without explanation—why bother explaining if these two are so dense they can’t see what’s blindingly obvious?

Vanitas runs off to contemplate things on a bridge, wallowing the whole time in unceasing affection for Jeanne. When a man walks past, explaining to his lover the very same symptoms Vanitas has, he still doesn’t quite get it, and runs of in a huff.

While running he happens to trip on a man sitting outside a café, who happens to be Roland, who invites him for a cup of joe and introduces him to Olivier. Desperate for advice, Vanitas asks Roland if he has any romantic experience; Roland says the guy he wants is Olivier, whom women love and men want to be. The two off-duty Chasseurs humor Vanitas by accepting that he’s talking about “a friend of his.”

This “friend” is experiencing this unyielding aching in “their” heart, preventing them from sleeping or thinking straight. But Vanitas is so out of sorts he dispenses with the “my friend” thing altogether. When Roland suggests that from what he’s heard, the woman feels the same way for him, Vanitas believes that to be ridiculous…why would anyone love him?

Meanwhile, back at Oriflamme Castle, Jeanne gives her report to Master Luca, hastening to add she left Gévaudan without learning where Chloé was bound, in case she were questioned later. She also reports that she now knows the sort of person Vanitas is, and how she can’t get him out of her mind. Just as she shines for him, he shines for her, the revulsion totally gone.

Luca can’t believe what he’s hearing, and is also quite a young man inexperienced in such matters, so he drags the blushing Jeanne to Domi, who is just aghast by this heretofore unseen version of Jeanne. Domi can understand her falling for her Noé…but Vanitas? She and Luca take her to the garden to discuss things “rationally”, but the more Jeanne speaks on the matter, the more it’s absolutely clear she loves Vanitas.

She even makes it quite clear she might not be able to stop herself from pouncing on him and consummating their love the moment she sees him again. While older than Luca, this passion is far beyond Domi’s tender slow-burn romance with Noé. Domi, true to her upbringing, says letter-writing is the first step to courtship, but Vanitas and Jeanne have already gone further than that.

Jeanne is also taking after her mother, and the way she kept pushing her dad down until he was hers, like a lioness bringing down a wildebeest. As shocked as Domi is, she is glad to see this side of Jeanne; a Jeanne that doesn’t need to be protected; who got back up after being trodden upon by her past. But her thoughts also go to a darker place without warning…more on that later.

That night, Noé joins Vanitas on the rooftop watching Paris glimmer and sulking. He tells Vanitas that Orlok’s attendants reported a new string of vampire attacks in the city that might spell a new curse-bearer on the loose. Alas, Vanitas is still in no emotional state to think about the next “case study”.

That said, Noé feels he has to say something, and that this time is the right time to say it: back in Gévaudan he met someone (Astolfo) who hated vampires with all his heart. He believes here but by the grace of God—or “the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings—goes Vanitas. He’s just glad Vanitas wasn’t the vampire-hating Chasseur he had to face down in that forest. He likes Vanitas “just the way he is”. And if Vanitas can be liked, he can be loved…and is, by Jeanne!

As for that weird moment when Domi got fixated on Noé in her thoughts, well…looks like she’s the culprit in the nighttime attacks. But it isn’t by her will: she’s being controlled by a young-looking cheerful curse-bearer with short white hair. This person is frustrated that Domi has not brought them Noé, and so is moving on to Plan B: using Domi as bait. Looks like we have our setup for the remaining episodes of the cour.

While the Gévaudan arc was a nifty and action-packed piece of time and reality-bending drama, I’ve been on record as saying I’m just as happy (if not moreso) by looser episodes like this where everyone is simply hanging around. Vanitas’ obliviousness and the reactions of the people he and Jeanne interact with make for great comedy. Of course, as the last moments show, the fun could only last so long…

Vanitas no Carte – 19 – Quelqu’un avec qui se Blottir

The prison Chloé has found herself in for centuries was never entirely of her own making. Its bars were forged in part by her love of her father, and his lifelong devotion to returning her to human form. As much as she loved her father, the human Chloé d’Apchier he loved was gone and could never come back. Because of this, the vampire Chloé always felt alone, even before her father and the rest of the d’Apchiers died.

Astolfo is also in a prison, albeit one that doesn’t also hold everyone else: his anger over being betrayed and grief over the slaughter of his sister and family set him on a laser-stright “Kill All Vampires” path. Noé may have suffered equal or greater torment, but has Vanitas by his side to tell him not to lose himself in that rage, even if he can’t back down.

…But back to Chloé, who only got more and more sympathetic and compelling as her arc progressed. Within the prison built in part by the loneliness of a father who couldn’t accept or love what she’d become, she chose to stay there, but now that it’s crumbling around he she has a choice: stay within its bars and vanish into oblivion, or take the hands of the two people who do love her for who she is—Jean-Jacques and Jeanne—and let them pull her to freedom. Chloé wisely chooses the latter.

As J-J and Jeanne pull her from the black cage, Vanitas uses the book—and begs for Luna’s strength—to obliterate that cage and the false world of endless winter around it, as well as reveal Chloé’s true name: Canorus, “she who makes music with snow flowers.” As the cursed world vanishes to reveal blue skies and patches of astérique flowers, Astolfo finds some relief in the arms of his senpai, Roland.

Chloé finds herself in one of these astérique patches, and her first action is one of anger, slapping and then uppercutting J-J for letting himself get so brusied and bloodied. But once that passes, her eyes fill with tears of relief and joy. The flowers remind her of when she looked up at the sky with lil’ Jeanne, thinking if she could die, it would be on that day. But now she wants to live, and J-J is there to love, accept, and be there for her, warts and all.

Seeing Chloé and J-J embrace, Jeanne’s thoughts turn to Vanitas, and when she finds him, she can’t hold back her relief, gratitude, or joy. Their relationship may have started out fraught, but all Vanitas has done since then is what he said he’d do. She thought Chloé was beyond saving, but he showed her there was another way. He also saved her from the regret of not having saved Chloé befoe. Jeanne celebrates by lustily drinking Vanitas’ blood, and then planting a pure yet passionate kiss on his cheek.

Nobody may yet live happily ever after. There’s the looming threat of Ruthven’s control over Noé to kill Vanitas, Vanita’s spreading affliction, and the consequences for Chloé, Jeanne, and others by the powers that be. But right now, none of that matters. Jeanne’s radiant smile says it all—Everyone can relax, at least for a little while, with the clear blue sky above them the pale blue flowers below, and the ones they love beside them.

When Vanitas and Misha were little, Luna told them that everyone, be they human or vampire, is alone, and most of them go their entire lives never understanding themselves. That’s why they reach out for someone to snuggle with and keep them warm in a cold world; who will accept and love them for who they are, and thus no longer feel as lonely. Chloé and Jean-Jeaques have each other, while Vanitas now has two such someones in Jeanne and Noé.

Vanitas no Carte – 18 – Souhaiter de L’aide

Things start out strong this week, as Vanitas professes his love for Jeanne as he breaks her out of her prison of despair and asks her what she wishes for. The sight of her parents’ heads on stakes instilled in her a self-imposed ban on hopes, dreams, and prayers, but it’s not too late for her, or Chloé. All she has to do is tell Vanitas what she wants…and she wants help.

From there, we’re taken back in time yet again to cover the backstory of—Astolpho Granatum? Is that his name again?—who once had a kind heart and, encouraged by his little sister, even helped a wounded vampire in the woods. His mother told him that his kind streak was a strength and not a weakness, and the fact he and his sister become friends with the young vamp lad seem to bear that out…

…Until the vamp lad and his friends murder and eat Astolpho’s whole family. Ahh, so that’s why he hates vampires so much he’ll try to kill them even if he has no context about who they are or what they’re trying to do…like Noé in the present situation. I appreciate the attempt to make Astolpho’s position more understandable, but I’d be lying if I said an Astolpho backstory was a priority in this arc.

As for Chloé, she seems to be enjoying her new existence outside of her corporeal body, merging with the closed world she created. If everyone in that closed world ever wants to get out, they have to reverse it somehow. That task falls to Vanitas, the only one who can apparently figure out her organ-like Alteration Engine, while Dante and Johann track down his book, which he’ll need to close the deal.

Vanitas’ gambit succeeds, as he manages to play the same tune Chloé used to turn Naenia tangible, thus returning Chloé to the physical world. Jean-Jacques seals the deal by embracing Chloé, telling her all she’s doing to make the world safe for him is for naught if she’s not there to share it with him. Just as Vanitas loves Jeanne, J-J loves Chloé, an won’t allow her to sacrifice herself for his or any other greater good.

Speaking of Jeanne, she comes crashing through the walls of the already shattered library just in time for Vanitas to catch his titular tome and begin the process of saving someone who can still be saved. Whether the drugged-up Astolfo will try to interfere remains to be seen, but I for one hope Chloé isn’t cured of her curse just to be slain by his hand.

Vanitas no Carte – 17 – Voler Trop Près du Soleil

With her fully operational Alteration Engine, Chloé is able to give Naenia a physical form…so she can choke the bitch out for what she did to her beloved Jean-Jacques. As she says, she’s a terribly jealous woman, to the point she’ll change the rules of space and time just so she can get her hands around a solid neck of the non-corporeal devil dwelling on her shoulder for so long.

Naturally, this backfires, when Chloé, in her desperate desire to uncover who Naenia truly is, ends up awakening Naenia’s memories of who she is: the first vampire of the crimson moon, Queen Faustina. The tables are suddenly turned, as Chloé is overpowered, the Beast tamed, her Engine stalled, and her castle and the lands around it shattering into shards floating in a purple void.

In the midst of this chaos, Vanitas falls, and Noé leaps after him, something Jeanne didn’t do when Chloé leapt off the cliff. Naenia’s voice tells him he’ll “never reach” Vanitas and that there’s no hope, but Noé does his best to ignore it, and ends up beside Vanitas once more. They’re soon joined by Roland, who comes out of nowhere with other Chasseurs to protect the unwitting townsfolk.

Speaking of Jeanne, the final act of the episode centers exclusively on her journey from vampire whose loving parents were beheaded as traitors to her conversion into a Bourreau—an unthinking, unfeeling tool. The only problem is, when sent to kill Chloé those thought sand feelings all flood back. When she fails, she’s sent into a long slumber until “the war ends and all can live in peace”.

Jeanne laments that all she can do now is her duty as a bourreau, finishing what she couldn’t finish by offing Chloé. But awakening her from her forced stoic trance is Vanitas, who stands before her and says it’s not too late, either to save Chloé or herself. By restoring Faustina’s body Chloé rent the very fabric of the world. Now it falls to others to try to piece that world back together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 16 – Mettre Fin au Cauchemar

Vanitas no Karte always knows the right time for a moment of goofy levity, such as when Vanitas & Co. discover the same soldiers the beast already slew, leading him to conclude they’re in a looping closed world created by a curse-bearer. Jeanne uses her gauntlet to launch herself into the air and towards Chateau d’Apchier to fight the beast, as is her duty. She wasn’t counting on Vanitas hitching a ride!

As he’s walking in a corridor with Jean-Jacques, Noé suddenly doesn’t feel so swell…turns out his food was drugged. Likely expecting more visitors, J-J wants him to sleep things off until things die down. But first he wants him to drink his blood, so that in case anything happens to him, at least one person will remember not the legends, but the truth of who he and Chloé were.

Noé thus travels down memory lane through J-J’s eyes, as he flees his home and abusive father, gets lost in the woods, and encounters the Silver Witch, only to find that they’re two peas in a pod: vampires who have done nothing wrong but have still been scorned and abandoned. The two become fast friends, and J-J devotes himself to her entirely.

The townsfolk of Gévaudan don’t give up the hunt for the “Beast”, and  Chasseurs and Bourreaus soon come to force the issue. Knowing that Chloé isn’t responsible for the deaths but not knowing who is, J-J decides the only way to protect her is by becoming the Beast. Like Chloé, the scarred and world-weary J-J was all too easy a target for Naenia’s manipulation.

One night, J-J ends up badly wounded, including from his own father, who joined the hunt for the Beast. Naenia lures Chloé out of the castle to save J-J, but the two end up cornered by Jeanne, who seems ready to do her duty here as she does in the present. That is, until she gets a good look at her big sister, her eyes fill with tears, and she hesitates.

The thing is, at this point Chloé wants death, and is happy that Jeanne will be the one to deliver it. When it’s clear Jeann won’t do it, Chloé leaps of the cliff with J-J in her arms, only to be caught by Naenia, who promises vengeance in exchange for Chloé ‘s true name. Now we’re up to speed!

Vanitas, on the other hand, isn’t, but as Jeanne fights the Beast, he finaly reunites with Noé. When he learns that Chloé became a curse-bearer willingly for vengeance, Vanitas deems Chloé unsuitable for treatment—no point saving someone who doesn’t want to be saved, right? But Noé insists, and Vanitas agrees to treat them—provided Noé can inspire his help.

Vanitas reaches the library and finally meets Chloé, telling her he’s there to save her and demanding his book back. In the funniest gag of the episode (and indeed the season so far), Chloé pleads genuine ignorance. She liked the shiny jewel on the book, but when she couldn’t rip it off she just tossed the book…somewhere among the literal mountains of books. Yes, in this arc the titular Vanitas no Karte is naught but a MacGuffin…which rules!

As for what exactly Chloé is doing with her newly operational, keyboard-controlled Alteration Engine, Naenia claims she’s going to use it to wipe Gévaudan and its environs from the face of the earth, a potentially fatal bit of tampering with the World Formula Vanitas cannot allow.

But Chloé, it would seem, had other plans that even Naenia didn’t know about. To whit: Chloé uses a command “Perpetuate Existence” to give Naenia a physical body, which is to say, imprison her within one. Is Chloé officially showing her colors as someone who doesn’t want the world thrown into chaos, but rather wants to end Naenia’s reign of chaos? I am very intrigued to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 15 – Onze Pour Toujours

Noé is outraged to find Naenia, who killed his beloved Louis, lingering so close to Chloé, to the point he lashes out and makes a mess of supper. But having been on this earth for so much shorter a time than Chloé, he can’t hope to understand why she not only doesn’t mind Naenia’s company, but gave up her true name willingly. For the crimes of crass insolence (and wasting food, something Chloé adorably can not abide), Noé is smacked across the room.

He comes to in the kitchen, where he apologizes and introduces himself to Jean-Jacques. J-J lives such a sheltered existence as Chloé’s attendant, he’s never once even shaken hands with anyone…until Noé. Noé makes clear to J-J that Naenia is his enemy, not Chloé, but all that matters to J-J is that ever since Naenia arrived, Chloé no longer cries every day. He won’t let anyone do anything the Naenia that might make Chloé weep again.

From there we launch headlong into Chloé’s history, which began around 1550, making Chloé well over three hundred years old. When she suddenly became a vampire, her father, Lord d’Apchier, gathered mages and alchemists the world over to study the World Formula and restore his daughter’s humanity. They failed, and her father passed away, but his wish to gain the power of God became a legacy that future d’Apchier generations continued to carry.

All the while, Chloé lingered within the walls of the d’Apchier castle, forever eleven. At one point, she met a young(er) Ruthven, who became her first and only friend. Back then, he was on the side of neither vampires nor humans, but sought to end the struggle between them and forge a lasting peace. I gotta tell you, I liked this younger, more naïve Ruthven to the one who has basically brainwashed Noé to kill Vanitas on command!

It’s also thanks to Ruthven that Chloé met lil’ Jeanne, the closest thing to a true little sister she ever had. By wandering off into the forest Jeanne motivated Chloé to finally leave the castle walls and explore the world outside. Jeanne led her to a bed of blue roses that grew even in the snow and frost. But while these new experiences were powerful and tempting, Chloé could not abandon her family or its long-standing mission to complete the Alteration Engine.

One year/decade, Ruthven returned a changed man, consumed by darkness. He lost and eye, and had become disillusioned by the prospect of peace between humans and vampires. Driven by unchecked ambition, he drank some of Chloé’s blood and attempted to use his power to compel her to obey him, such that he could command the power and knowledge of House d’Apchier. He failed and retreated in shame, but the damage was done: Chloé lost her first friend.

She continued her work on the engine for many years, often returning to the flowerbed Jeane had shown her, slowly becoming consumed by lonelieness. Then Naenia arrived, promising not only companionship, but the opportunity for her wish to be granted. All it would cost is her true name, and the Alteration Engine could be completed. Chloé started to experience nightmares that may or may not have been actual waking events of violence. She even dreamt of slaying her beloved Jeanne.

But when we return to the present, apparently all of that torment was worth it to her, as she activates the Alteration Engine situated in the middle of her gigantic library. Perhaps the Book of Vanitas was the last missing piece to unlocking her success and achieving the wish Naenia had granted.

If nothing else, now that we know a lot more about Chloé, I can empathize with her centuries of solitude and suffering, and desire to restore what all those years had undone. Even if he can get his book back, how will Vanitas “save” someone who chose to be condemned for the sake of her family’s legacy?

P.S. As Vanitas, Jeanne, Dante, and Johann make their way to rescue Noé, Dante confesses that he was given a mission by the “Marquis Machina” (a kind of steampunk Dr. Robotnik) to investigate whether the Alteration Engine really existed. Machina’s real name is Sir Francis Varney, who takes his name from an 1840s serial fiction called Varney the Vampire, which influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula and was the first work to depict vampires with sharp teeth.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 14 – Nu au Coin du Feu

Jeanne’s complex relationship with Vanitas gains a new layer as she rescues him from dying of exposure, finds a cabin, and orders him to disrobe. The two sit by the fire together, naked under a blanket. While she’s most often disgusted by his usual arrogance and terseness, she can’t help but find this vulnerable side of him refreshing…even cute.

On the surface, nothing she does for Vanitas is with romantic or amorous intent—even feeding him water with her mouth—she’s just helping to save someone who helped her. But it’s impossible to ignore their history together thus far—all their scenes here are sexy as hell. Vanitas even tells her that they want different things: he wants to save the Beast and she’s been ordered to execute it.

That makes them foes in this enterprise, and she’d be better off letting him die. Of course, Jeanne isn’t going to do that. Instead, she tells Vanitas why she feels responsible not just for getting Vanita’s wounded by a poisoned blade, but for the whole Beast of Gevaudan affair. When she was a little girl, she met the vampire Chloé d’Apchier while left in the care of the Marquis d’Aphcier. Chloé was like a big sister and Jeanne loved her, but that no longer matters: she’s killed scores of people, and must now answer for it.

The reason Jeanne is here is that she failed the first time, but Ruthven gave her a second (and probably last) chance to do it. The next morning, when Jeanne is far more flustered than the fully-recovered Vanitas by the previous evening’s activities, she finds him speaking with Johan, and eventually Dante shows up as well. After threatening both Dhams to tell him everything about this Beast situation, he bids the four of them make haste to the castle to retrieve Noé.

Vanitas is right to worry—Noé wakes up in an unfamiliar bed with the tiny vampire lying on top of him sucking his blood. Despite Chloé being tiny, Noé is so weakened from the battle that he can barely move, leaving him completely at her mercy. If she wants another taste of his blood (and the memories it reveals—though that’s not touched upon here), there’s nothing stopping her…

Except for her attendant, Jean-Jacques, who scolds her for sucking someone’s blood without their consent while also expressing deep loathing for the owner of the other neck she bit. That said, JJ presents Noé with a safe-and-sound Murr and his freshly cleaned and mended clothes. When Noé meets Chloé and JJ in the banquet hall, they’re accompanied by a troupe of musical automatons…along with Naenia.

It addition to being its usual sexy self, this episode of Vanitas added texture to what had initially been labeled a simple mission of kill-or-save the Beast. Chloé is an intriguing potential antagonist, but despite her apparent alliance to Naenia doesn’t come off as pure evil; she was kind to Jeanne, after all.

Instead, as is typical of ancient vampires, she seems to float over everything and everyone, seeking nothing but entertainment and satisfaction out of this scenario…a balm for the ennui of the centuries.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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