Vlad Love – 04 – All Concerned Parties

In a particularly chaotic episode, Mitsugu is captured by the president of the Torture Club for allegedly getting to close to Nami, the Dance Club president, whom he is stalking. Due to their mutual interest in Mai, Karate Club president Kasuno teams up with Nami to free Mitsugu, who packs a bag for Mai, who is apparently no longer safe in her home.

The pair head to Dr. Chihiro’s “house”—more of a mad scientist’s lab—only for Chihiro to have a predatory ulterior motive for harboring Mai. After Mitsugu sedates Chihiro, every other member of the cast shows up in sequence, demanding answers about who Mai is.

Kasuno and Nami end their brief alliance and their respective clubs “fight” each other, all while Maki films it and Kaoru runs around cosplaying as a Chun Li-like character. The Disciplinary President Jinko then shows up, demanding everyone stop breaking the rules.

The sudden surge of characters interacting means Vlad Love relies far too heavily on sliding inset portraits of characters talking and reacting, such that the episode at times looks more like a PowerPoint presentation than animation. There’s so much of this it borders on ludicrous—nay, it is ludicrous!

Then Mai drinks some very suspect blood from Chihiro’s vast collection and transforms into Salamander, and world-ending dragon, and starts destroying the city with her fire breath while Chihiro has a lengthy, meandering, and seriously unfunny monologue about how she came upon the blood.

From there Mitsugu and her classmates fade away and the focus shifts to a kaiju movie-style sequence in which military command center instructing fighter pilots to attack Dragon!Mai. This sequence is very sluggish, full of throwaway characters worrying about being sued for copyright infringement—an old, played-out joke that just won’t die.

Speaking of dying, once the fighters are authorized to open fire, the resulting battle over the city is cool-looking, though it also results in the death of Mitsugu and all the other characters in a massive explosion. Once again, the story ends up in the papers, and we can look forward to everything resetting back to a measure of normalcy next week.

Once again, the surfacy spectacle is occasionally diverting, but it’s hard to care about anything or anyone when everyone is doing little more than yelling at or slapping each other, and nothing that happens ever matters. Mai becomes an unthinking force of nature, while Mitsugu becomes just one more victim of the destruction. Once again I’m forced to ask: where is the vlad love in Vlad Love?

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

Vlad Love – 02 – The Blood Defines the Drinker

It’s been over a month since the first episode of Vlad Love,but five more episodes have arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day. I just wish the episode had a little more vlad and love and less of Mitsugu’s classmates. The opening act takes place entirely within the confines of the nurse’s office, which grows both stale and claustrophobic after a while.

She’s been able to recruit a fair number of students to donate blood, but the vast majority are horny boys. Mitsugu makes it known she doens’t want Mai to drink boys’ blood, as it could adversely affect her loveliness. Only three girls end up donating, each representing a different blood type that reflects their personalities—though Nurse Chihiro insists there’s no scientific proof of that.

Mitsugu takes the three girls’ blood to Mai, and much to her consternation, Mai can’t help but drink all three bottles, perhaps due to pent-up hunger. Sure enough, with each blood type she drinks she exhibits the same characteristics of the donor, thus proving Nurse Chihiro wrong. The only apparent side effect of mixing the blood types is that Mai jumps from one personality to the next.

Hidaka Rina clearly has a ton of fun voicing all these different Mais, culminating in her singing karaoke on the table before collapsing from overexersion. She begs her host for more blood, but as Mitsugu is thawing her last pouch, Mai finds and drinks the blood of a 2,000 year old Mesopotamian demon, which had resided in one of the archaeological artifacts in Mitsugu’s house. Mai starts “buzzing” and eventually fires eye lasers at a wall, busting out to go on an evening “stroll”.

The stroll consists of Mai using her vampire umbrella to fly across the nightscape as the morning sun begins to rise. Mitsugu grabs on for dear life and is initially terrified, but eventually calms down, as she is, after all, in the arms of a surpassingly cute girl.  Mai eventually “runs out of gas”, sending the two plummeting back to the earth, and because this is a show where physical harm has no lasting effect on anyone, Mitsug survives the fall, though she and Mai end up in the literal lion’s den of the local zoo.

Much to Mitsugu’s surprise, Mai is able to talk to the lion and other animals (likely due to the demon blood), and she releases them to join her on her stroll, resulting in a rampage that makes the newspapers. As Mitsugu celebrates the fact she can create “the ideal girl” by tailoring Mai’s blood diet, Mai sleeps one off on a pile of zoo animals in the kitchen.

While it has some pacing issues and much of its comedy is trying too hard to be zany, I can’t deny I’m glad Vlad Love is back, from the moment I saw it’s OP, which is the season’s best by far. The show doesn’t look or sound or act like any other show airing, which is enough to celebrate its existence, while the winning central queer romance is as rare and refreshing as, well, a donation-addicted chimera-blooded protagonist!

Vlad Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Not-So-Fresh Blood

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.

Owari no Seraph 2 – 10

owa2_101

Here we are at last: the long-awaited, extended reunion between Yuu and Mika, and I have to say…I was not disappointed. While other events took place on the margins, this is all about them, essentially a two-person play, with Yuu’s philosophy winning the day, at least for now.

Mika, absolutely feening for blood, takes the still-unconscious Yuu into a grocery store where little kids are hiding out. It’s all he can do to stop from popping one of their heads off and drinking the insides. But being called a “monster” by that kid is enough to stop him. He still has a measure of control, but it’s weakening.

owa2_102

After a brief chat with Asuramaru, Yuu wakes up, and Mika pounces on him as well. The difference is, Yuu doesn’t react the way the kid did. In fact, when Yuu figures out his blood will save Mika, he offers it willingly. It’s the least he can do for his family. Mika is appalled; he’s spent all this time resisting drinking human blood to avoid becoming a full, immortal vampire, and now Yuu is essentially telling him to toss aside the rest of his humanity to essentially scratch an itch that will never go away afterwards.

owa2_103

But you know what? Yuu doesn’t want to hear it. He’s not going to let Mika die, and even if Mika becomes a vampire, that won’t change the fact that he’s family and means everything to him. So Mika gives into Yuu’s kindness and practicality, and drinks deep. It’s an pointedly sensual scene. After drinking, Mika’s eyes turn red, but he remains essentially Mika. But he’s also still alive, which is all Yuu wanted. Mika thinks it’s not normal, but Yuu offers, who cares? What matters is they’re together again.

owa2_104

After being separated and being cared for by Guren, Yuu forced himself to survive (as the kids hiding in the store continue to do). He was driven by revenge but also lived in hope someone who needed him would one day come around. That someone was Mika, who wanted to save Yuu today but ends up being the one saved. He realizes Yuu has become much stronger than he was, and it gladdens him.

That doesn’t free Mika of his intense distrust and hatred of humans, but he can’t stop Yuu from returning to them, even at the edge of a sword. If Mika gets in the way of him and the rest of his family, he’ll push him aside. But he’ll also welcome assistance. Mika admits Shinoa and the others saved him, and agrees to help, but will only help save the four of them. That’s enough for Yuu; they can negotiate the details later.

owa2_105

As Shinoa & Co. arrive at an ominously empty airport with no vehicles to assist their retreat, Mika and Yuu drive to their location, and Mika takes the drive as an opportunity to tell Yuu what he’s been meaning to tell him all along, which he hopes will finally sway him to his line of thinking: they, the Hyakuka kids, were subjects of human experimentation furthered by the vampires and Demon Army. The humans who started the experiments ended up screwing up and killing off the world’s adults. Yuu knew he was a subject, but didn’t know about the apocalypse it caused.

See, says Mika, this is why you can’t trust humans. Instead, he wants to pull a U-turn and run away with Yuu to someplace far away; another paradise where they can be happy and free together. But again, Yuu shows how much he’s grown; even moreso than Mika. There is no paradise awaiting them out there. There never was. The last time they tried, their family was killed, and all they had to show for it was the present situation.

There’s no place else to run. And while some humans, like Kureto, experimenting on Shiho’s sister Mirai to produce the Seraph of the End, aren’t to be trusted or relied upon to not end the world (or what’s left of it), Yuu is still a human himself, and there are other humans he does trust and love who need his help. They, along with Mika, are why he’s survived this long, against all odds. So he won’t run away; he’ll run to them.

9_mag