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.

HenSuki – 02 – Kohai Master

Keiki flatly turns down Sayuki’s request that he make her his pet—he’s just not sure if he’s into S&M, and probably never thought about it. But that doesn’t stop her from hanging around him, even in the library, where she gets too close and draws the ire of their mutual kohai, Koga Yuika. When Keiki admits he took Sayuki out for a parfait and performed a romantic wall slam, she’s angry, but he can cure that anger by taking her on a date.

Keiki does everything right thanks to some pointers from his little sister Mizuha: Arrive early, compliment often, go to a movie she likes, have a relaxed lunch, match her pace, let her shop till she drops. He even has the opportunity to rescue her from some leering mall trolls. Yuika gives Keiki a pat and kiss on the head as thanks and then falls asleep on his shoulder on the train home. All in all, it’s a wonderful first date for the both of them.

Yuika always kept to herself in the library and was hard to approach (which he chalks up to her mixed heritage, which…okaaay), but he was persistent in his friendliness and kindness, and her suspicion and “ice in her eyes” gradually melted away to the point they’re now much closer. But is she “Cinderella” who included a pair of underwear with her love letter? The jury’s still out.

What becomes painfully clear, however, is that Yuika is not like Sayuki, and she does not want to be his pet. In fact, when she asks him to meet her in the library storage room, she reveals that she wants to be his master, and wants him to be her slave. As an incentive, she removes her underwear and offers them to him. When he doesn’t immediately take them, she punishes him by stuffing them into his mouth. Yikes!

Suffice it to say, this development comes as something of a shock to Keiki. He was so enchanted by their conventional date, he would have been content if he died the next day. Instead, he finds himself passed out in a closet with Yuika’s underwear in his mouth, and a commando Yuika sitting astride him. They’re tricky, those tides of fortune!

Hensuki – 01 (First Impressions) – A Short Leash

Kiryuu Keiki gets to hang out with three cute girls in the Shodou Club (four if you count his imouto, which he doesn’t), but he wants a girlfriend. So imagine his shock when he finally receives a love letter from a secret admirer…along with a pair of underwear.

From there, Keiki tries to investigate which of the three girls (excluding his sister) could be the “Cinderella” to his Prince: the cool, mature senpai Sayuki (Taketatsu Ayana), the adorable blonde kohai Yuika (Hidaka Rina) or the approachable classmate Mao (Nomizu Iori).

In his interactions, the girls exhibit what could be construed as signals indicating they are the culprit, in addition to having feelings for Keiki beyond mere friendship, but nothing concrete until Sayuki happily accepts a date offer he accidentally makes when thinking out loud.

When he asks Sayuki straight up if “she has a secret” she’s not telling him about, she flees, and spends the entire next day at school very obviously avoiding him. Mao suggests he employ the “wall slam” tactic (much more effective in anime than IRL), which he does when he spots her walking home.

He tells her he knows her secret (assuming its the note and underwear); when she asks if that means he dislikes her now, he tells her it’s quite the opposite; after the initial shock, he was glad. Mind you, he makes no mention of what he’s talking about.

The next day, Keiki reports to the clubroom as requested, Sayuki makes him close his eyes, and when he opens them, she’s wearing a collar and leash,  exposed her bra, and asking to be Keiki’s pet. That’s when Keiki knows he’s in for something a lot stranger than he bargained for!

Hensuki is another show that would probably benefit from being 12-13 minutes instead of double that; the “investigation” drags on too long even if it’s also meant to introduce the main players. While a decent-looking, this show is utterly by-the-numbers and generic except for the twist at the end, which doesn’t definitively answer the question of who gave him their underwear.

This will be the story of a guy whose female acquaintances each have their own unique kinks, which they’ll reveal to him because he’s a kind and understanding dude. It is notable that the show so far exhibits a particularly soft touch when it comes to its ecchi element. But where this goes from here—and whether and how the premise can be sustained for 12 episodes—very much remains to be seen.