Vanitas no Carte – 08 – The Lord’s Eternal Blade

When they’re in the royal castle where the Queen herself dwells as a guest of Lord Ruthven, Noé is like a giddy kid, while Vanitas is all business. Indeed, he wears out their welcome right fast when he insinuates that Her Majesty could be the cause of the curse-bearers. He even goes so far as to question why she’s become a hermit, and even ask if she yet lives!

This almost gets him killed by Ruthven—with Noé and Jeanne almost dying simply by being in the same room as Ruthven’s wrath—but Lucius, whom we learn is one of the highest ranking members of the court, is the only vamp who doesn’t become overly enraged. Indeed, Luca acts as though Vanitas stumbled upon the truth…because he kinda did: the Queen is not doing so hot!

Vanitas and Noé are kicked out of Altus and suddenly we’re back in Paris, with Vanitas wrapping up his report to Count Orlok and his servants (who also lose it when they learn how rude he was to Her Majesty). It’s a neat way to transition to the Next Case, which involves missing vampires.

Noé’s dhampir (half-vampire) associates Dante, Johanna and Riche report that it’s the doing of the church’s anti-vampire army, the Chasseurs. They all take a trip into the famous and haunting Paris catacombs hoping to find the captured vamps, but they find nothing but a tourist trap. We also meet one of those chasseurs, who seems to have a soft spot for Vanitas, considering him a victim being hounded by the vile vampires.

However, the only vamp hounding Vanitas is Noé, who decides of his own volition to accompany him on his investigation. Noé is amazed that Vanitas knows his way around the super-secret catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is a wonderful adventure deep into the bowels of the ancient city, eventually ending up in a special fancy ossuary containing the remains of slewn vampires.

It’s there where they meet Sixth Paladin Roland Fortis, who is initially a big dumb happy puppy, like the male version of Sarasa in Kageki Shoujo!! He takes Vanita’s quickly improvised story about getting lost, and Roland says he himself is lost, adding to his dopey cred. I myself was fooled until Roland very emphatically asks Vanitas to come over and take a look at something.

Roland ends up shoving him into a cell, then unleashes a flash grenade that renders Noé blind and nauseous. He declares that no vampire who walks through these hallowed halls can leave alive. Will Roland stand down when he learns he’s in the presence of Vanitas, and hear him out regarding not killing Noé? We’ll have wait until next week to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 06 – His Lordship’s Guests

We learn the amorphous distorted-voiced monster isn’t named Charlatan, but is someone named Naenia who is merely part of Charlatan, when Noé is broken out of his jam by Vanitas, while Luca is protected by a no-longer-thirsty Jeanne.

The three-monster team of Charlatan decides to skedaddle before “The Queen’s Fangs” show up, and Domi rips her dress to provide protection for Vanitas while he deals with the remaining curse-bearers in the palace. One of them, a young girl, is to far gone, and Vanitas has to turn her to ash.

Here little old me I thought Domi was flamboyant; turns out she’s scared shitless of her big sister Veronica, who is the aforementioned Queen’s Fangs. Easily wearing three times her mass in fabric and a black fox mask, she unilaterally decides that the stinky mortal Vanitas is responsible for this fiasco, and decides to literally put him on ice.

Nothing and nobody can stop her and her crazy eyes…except the timely arrival of one Lord Ruthven, who cracks her mask with one tap of his pimp cane, then chides her for such an “unbecoming show of power.” Just like there’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a stronger vampire, huh?

Ruthven is ready to dispense some quick justice upon the on-ice Vanitas for turning the little girl into ash, but Noé comes between them and calls Ruthven out for not knowing remotely the whole story. Rather than angry, Ruthven is amused, but also chastened by the young buck.

He introduces himself a a member of the Senate in service of the Queen, then melts the ice to free Vanitas. But after his ordeal with Naenia and the attack from a Veronica who was not holding back, Noé finally collapses from exhaustion.

In his dream Noé’s tucked into bed, holding the hand of his Teacher, and curses himself for forcing his hopes and ideals upon Vanitas and feeling betrayed when he didn’t live up to them. The Teacher clarifies the mission he bestowed upon his student: not to determine if the book of Vanitas is a threat, but to meet those whose paths cross it, and judge it on his own terms—terms in which the Teacher clearly trusts.

When Noé wakes up he finds Vanitas perched atop a clock tower like a gargoyle, sulking. When Noé mentions how sometimes Vanitas looks like he’s “given up on something”, Vanny pulls a knife on him and says he wants nothing to do with him. Noé comes back by saying he’s never remotely liked him.

But as the sun rises between them, Vanita’s anger turns to more brooding, and Noé, feeling like he just might understand his companion a bit more, gives Vanitas a cool smile and says he’ll be remaining by his side for the time being. This comes as no surprise, as we know someday Noé will kill Vanitas…or will he?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 05 – Getting to Noé You

Charlatan takes hold of Noé and instigates a trip into his memories; specifically, back to when “Teacher” (not “Master”) brought Noé to live with his two grandchildren, Louis and Dominique in a mansion not too dissimilar from Bocchan’s. The siblings quickly become his first and dearest friends. The three of them, in turn, befriend four kids from the nearby village.

We’ve seen flashes aplenty of Louis—though I assumed she was a girl due to being voiced by one—but here we finally meet the kid, who while withdrawn and aloof does find comfort and even occasional joy in both Domi and Noé’s constant company. The three are inseparable, even sharing a bed during a thunderstorm, and during the blue moon the Teacher seems to indicate to Louis that he brought Noé there to raise him to eventually befriend someone like Vanitas.

That’s key, as Louis is isolated because he is a curse-bearer-in-waiting. He believes Dominique was born to replace him as the heir to the de Sade clan. Things take a turn for the super-dark when one of their village friends is scheduled to be executed, but goes berserk, leading to Louis beheading her to save Noé and Domi. However shitty his situation, he never blamed his sister and adpotive brother for it.

But when Louis himself succumbed to the curse, the Teacher steps in to behead him—right in front of Noé, who could not do what Louis wished and kill him himself. Left with nothing but a chest full of hand-carved stakes, Noé falls in despair for not being strong enough to save Louis or even put him out of his misery.

It’s Noé’s misery and regret upon which Charlatan feeds and tightens its hold on him, ready to curse him as he did Louis. And after reliving his tragic past, Noé definitely seems to be in a bad way…until Vanitas, having not been sucked dry by Jeanne—and possibly even made stronger by her drink—arrives just in time to disperse Charlatan and rescue his new friend Noé.

While lengthy flashbacks can sap present momentum, in this case it feltjustified, as we lacked the full emotional context of Noé’s relationships and motivations. We learn how close he got to Louis and how that made him reluctant to get too close to Vanitas. We see how adorable and sweet Domi was (Kayano Ai is so good at voicing the younger, more innocent versions of her characters), but how Louis’ fate and her family’s plan transformed her.

Finally, we understand why the Teacher sent Noé to befriend Vanitas, as the Teacher seems to be the rare vampire who understands the true value of those born under the blue moon. But then if Vanitas can save the vampires from the curses of Charlatan, why is Noé destined to kill him? Is that the Teacher’s ultimate plan for him, or does it just…happen? For that, we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 04 – No Time to Be Choosy

After a pretty but clinical infodump about how the exploration of “World Formula Theory” led to the alternate coal known as astermite, the alternate Paris known as Altus, and the alternate humans known as vampires, we get something a lot hotter and heavier, as Domi offers Noé the blood in her neck and Noé does not refuse it with a boyish blush, but goes in and drunks deep.

Domi probably preferred that Vanitas was on the other side of the wagon door when Noé fed on her, as in the middle of the masquerade ball, she manages to separate Vanitas from Noé and locks him in her sadist torture chamber. She wants to know what he’s really doing with her Noé. Far from frightened by all the spikes and chains, Vanitas is wearing his usual fox-like smirk, loving every minute of this.

Rather than spook him, Domi’s heavy handed tactics inspire him to declare who he is, what he is, and what he plans to do with all the vampire bigwigs at the ball, adding that he looks forward to them experiencing the humiliation of being saved by a human who inherited the name and book of the Blue Moon vampire.

His impromptu speech does not go over well, with Domi’s sister Veronica ordering him killed. But in just an instant the chandelier upon which he was perched falls to the dance floor, and Vanitas is whisked away in a princess carry by Jeanne, following her master Luca’s wishes to meet Vanitas and Noé again.

Unfortunately neither Vanitas doesn’t just have angry, rich, murderous vamps to worry about: Charlatan has crashed the ball in tripartite form, turning numerous vamps into curse-bearers and basically setting up a gift-wrapped scenario in which Vanitas can prove his haughty boasts by healing the bearers. With Noé busy protecting Luca from Charlatan, Vanitas has a little room to work.

He also has Jeanne, who is extremely hungry, and acting suspiciously like a curse-bearer, though not all veiny and demonic like the others. Needing muscle to back him up in Noé’s absence and with no other convenient necks around, Vanitas decides to conduct a new experiment on himself by allowing Jeanne to suck his blood.

She warns him her fangs may be the death of him, but he repeats his claim to have fallen for her, and bids her bon appetit. If Noé drinking Domi’s blood was steamy, Jeanne drinking Vanita’s is downright smoldering, aided by the otherworldly pinks, purples, and reds of Altus.

Jeanne takes a brief pause, but then goes back to Vanitas’ neck for seconds, and he declares that “this isn’t half bad.” Let it never be said Vanitas can’t be sexy as hell right after being goofy as hell!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 03 – Blood Laid Bare

Vanitas looks like he was in trouble when he was up against Jeanne the Hellfire Witch, but he employs his usual boisterousness to buy sufficient time for Thomas Berneux paralysis to wear off so he attacks Jeanne for him. Then, with his associates and a neutralized Jeanne, and Orlok’s butler and maid bearing witness, transforms Berneux back into a human.

After that Vanitas turns his attention to Jeanne, who insists she can still fight. He then employs another gambit: having Noé nab Luca and cover his mouth, making it look like he’s a hostage. Vanitas revels in his correct assessment that Luca is Jeanne’s weakness, then wall-slams and kisses her in her weakened state which, well…kissing people who can’t physically resist you ain’t cool!

At least it’s not supposed to be cool; everyone makes it plain Vanitas is a big ol’ jerk. He’s definitely a rascal; you could also call him a scoundrel and I doubt anyone would complain. As for Berneux, he doesn’t last long in his restored human state, as he’s seemingly killed by the one who turned him into a curse bearer to begin with.

Back at Orloks, Amelia’s execution is “postponed” for the time being, on the condition that she works, and Noé and Vanitas live, at a hotel he owns in the city so he can keep an eye on the three of them. Now that he knows the Vanitas no Carte isn’t bunk, he’s loath to let go of such a valuable curse-bearer-exorcising resource.

As for Berneux’s demise, Vanitas chalks it up to “Charlatan”, a monster (possibly a vampire) of dubious corporealness who has been going around town creating curse-bearers to expand his whimsical parade of death and destruction. Noé, revealed by Orlok as a member of the Archiviste Clan, has the ability to read the memories of those whose blood he drinks.

He does just that with Amelia to confirm how she was changed into a curse-bearer, and…goddamn, is it an unsettling, fucked-up little sequence. He wakes up screaming from watching Amelia’s memory of Charlatan glomping her head. But now that he knows who’s responsible, Noé isn’t going to rest until the shithead’s dust.

If that means having to continue to put up with a jerk like Vanitas, so be it. Not long after his memory-reading session with Amelia, his betrothed childhood friend Dominique de Sade struts in, dazzling the stage like a Kill la Kill character. Kayano Ai gives a playful arrogance to the role, and her little steampunk droid Kreisler (or Chrysler, if you prefer) provides a steady cloud of rose petals for added effect.

We learn that “Domi’s” gramps is Noé’s teacher, and that the House of de Sade is known for its rude behavior, but also the power and wealth to back it up. Domi wants Noé to be her escort for a masquerade ball in Altus, the city ruled by the de Sades. No doubt she wants more than just a date; she overheard the situation with Charlatan, and there’s people she wants Noé and Vanitas to meet.

Noé, Vanitas, and Domi reach “the barrier”—elegantly and ominously described as “the product of an experiment gone wrong long ago, or so it’s said”—the bridge between regular, mostly-human Paris and “Altus Paris”, which is frankly way more badass looking with its blood red sky lined with spider web-like lines and towering castle (no doubt the domain of the de Sades).

Humans cannot cross the barrier, but Vanitas is different. He can make the crossing as long as he’s touching a vampire while he’s doing so. He actually took quite a risk in simply leaping into the barrier without telling anyone. Noé just so happened to be close enough to take his hand and catch him, and Vanitas probably expected him to do that.

These three colorful characters in an even more colorful setting should make for an excellent, intrigue-filled fourth episode. Until then, this outing very successfully established the threat (and creepiness) of the Parade of Charlatan, as well as Domi de Sade’s general awesomeness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 02 – A Matter of Application

I’ll admit it: I missed the airship this week. They didn’t show as much of it as I would have liked even last week, just as they don’t show quite as much of Steampunk Paris as I’d like. That said, what we do see impresses “country bumpkin” Noé once he and Vanitas are released from jail on the orders of Count Orlok, a vampire charged with maintaining the human-vampire balance in the city.

While Orlok claims the Book of Vanitas to be a bunch of hooey, he’s also stolen the book, and intends to execute Amelia and “rake Vanitas over the coals” for his role in abetting her escape. Noé, clearly has strong feelings about “curse-bearers”, or vamps born under a blue moon based on flashbacks involving a childhood friend who became one.

Noé is having none of Orlok’s games, and smashes his desk to splinters with a kick to get his attention. He insists the book be returned to Vanitas so the two of them can apprehend a vampire who has been murdering humans in Paris, bring him to Orlok, and show the count firsthand how the book can save vampiredom.

After a conversation on their target, one Thomas Berneux, over rooftops with those awesome airships floating impossibly in the sky, the two soon find Tommy in the middle of trying to take his next victim. Noé gives Vanitas the opening he needs to use the book to temporarily paralyze him. Everything is going smoothly…until two new faces arrive.

They are the pint-sized Luca and his “chevalier” Jeanne (clearly taking after d’Arc), who are convinced Vanitas is using the book to create curse-bearers, not cure them. Clearly they’re misinformed; while the book can be used for such a nefarious purpose, Vanitas uses it to heal, not harm.

The thing is, even Noé is no match for Jeanne, who isn’t interested in talking things through, so the pair have to make a run for it. But as much as he claims to dislike Vanitas, as long as he keeps committing “resoundingly righteous acts” such as saving Amelia, he’ll keep protecting him with his not inconsiderable vampire strength and speed.

There were a couple nice bursts of action and Vanitas and Noé continue to be a hoot to watch, it can be hard to keep track of the show’s ever-expanding glossary of names, positions and terms, and thus hard to get too deeply invested. It’s as if Vanitas no Carte is so intent on setting up its many and varied game pieces on its ornate board, it forgot that the game actually has to start at some point!

Vanitas no Carte – 01 (First Impressions) – Airships and Airheads

Bones usually does a good job, and Vanitas is no different: it’s a slick, classy, attractive, crowd-pleasing steampunk vampire caper with airships and a healthy sense of humor and great sense of comic timing. It can also be dark and bloody and downright distressing when it wants to be. Vanitas, like its namesake antihero, can and does essentially do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and does it with the utmost style and swagger.

It is also super playful with its reveals in its first episode. I assumed the crowd in the opening were in a town square, only to pull back on a massive ornate airship straight out of Final Fantasy. I was pretty sure the white-haired Noé was a vampire, but that fact is only revealed for certain when it has to be, which is when Vanitas goes after him for protecting Amelia, another vampire who spends much of the episode not feeling so swell at all.

Noé may be a vamp but he’s also a good dude, and whether Amelia is a vamp or not he’s not about to let Vanitas get a clear shot at her with his knife. Another reveal comes when we learn that not only is Vanitas not bent on destroying all vampires like his namesake, but he’s not even a vampire—he’s just a human who is extremely hard to kill thanks to the book he carries.

The show looks great from start to finish, the action and magical artwork is seamlessly integrated, and Murr the Cat is cool. Everything about this production screams consummate professional. The classical music adds more class, and the ED absolutely WHIPS. In fact it’s one of the best anime themes I’ve heard since Dororo’s OP. Its smooth, slick, futuristic production perfectly compliments Vanita’s brassy retro aesthetic.

Vanita’s last trick is framing the entire opening episode as an entry in Noé’s memoirs, which he ends by saying that despite how chummy they seem to be, Vanitas will one day die by his hand. The show can be pleasantly goofy at times, but it’s declarations like that that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m in!

Rating: 4/5 Stars