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.

Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – 11

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When first faced with their clubroom predicament, courtesy of the scheming Aoi (who thinks she’s doing the Shepherd’s good work), for a moment I wondered “Gee, why don’t they just use their superpowers to get rid of the excess members? Then I remembered this wasn’t InoBato. ;)

Kyoutarou also tells everyone to look on the bright side: the Happy Project is still alive and kicking and they’re all together, so who cares about a clubroom? This is true, but it’s also refreshing, as so many other club-focused anime make the loss of their venue seem like the end of the world.

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Kyoutarou tells Nagi about losing the room, but she either forgets, or specifically wants to hang off of Kyoutarou and ask him what he wants for dinner to torture Tsugumi, who does not like hearing the words “Nagi” and “last night” in the same sentence.

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When the StuCo (really Aoi) schedules a celebrity alumnai-fueld symposium on the same day as Minafest, and the club brainstorms their next move, Kyoutarou receives a vision of the future in which a stage light falls on Tsugumi’s head, apparently killing her. With that, everything concerning the club room, Minafest, or the harem situation falls by the wayside for Kyoutarou. All that matters is changing that future.

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Over a Nagi-prepared repast of pre-packages shumai, Kyoutarou tells Nagi he wants to become a Shepherd. Yes, even after everything Nagi did to get him to hook up with another girl. If he’s not a Shepherd, he doesn’t have the power to stop what will happen to Tsugumi. From his perspective, it’s better for her to forget him than for her to be dead. I can’t say I disagree with him. Set aside, for now, is the Shepherd Boss’ implication that between Kyou and Nagi only one can become a Shepherd.

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When the boss starts erasing Kyou’s book, Tsugumi, on the phone with Tamamo and talking about him, senses something is amiss when she can’t recall something she had deemed unforgettable. She races to Kyoutarou’s in the rain, where Nagi is conveniently absent that night, and tells him she doesn’t want to forget him, planting a big ol’ smooch on him.

After showering (from running in the rain), Kyoutarou tells her he has to do this, and she begs him to take her with him. He tells her everyone will forget her if he does and asks if she’s okay with that, and she turns the question back around on him. “It’s for the best,” says Kyou, not mentioning this is the only way to save her life. “I hate Shepherds,” Tsugumi says, crestfallen. “Especially Kakeis who have become Shepherds.”

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The next day Kyoutarou receives and urgent call from Kana telling him something’s wrong with Senri. He races to her house to find Senri dressed like a nurse and Kana dressed as a bunny, and they totally ambush him with their feminine wiles. He manages to fight them off and get an explanation, which is that Kana read on the internet that this was how you kept a guy from going away.

While yes, this scene was a bit excessive, it did reinforce what Kyoutarou will be giving up when he becomes a Shepherd. It also shows that while Senri and Kana can put on the charm, the two come on a bit too strong to be serious contenders for his heart. I appreciate the teamwork, though…as I’m sure a part of Kyou does.

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Back at school, Tamamo demands an explanation from Kyou, not for his recent visit to Senri’s, but for a newspaper article about him “selling his body” to the StuCo in exchange for making Minafest an official event. Kyou assures them it’s just another one of Aoi’s tricks. He’s not going anywhere…at least for now.

Senri visits Kyou on the roof (while Nagi stays out of sight), and tells him she’s decided to sing at Minafest, not for the sake of anyone but him and the other Happy Project members. Asking him if this was a future path he saw, he responds that she chose it all on her own. Senri makes him close his eyes again, but this time she kisses him…on the forehead.

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The rest of the club finds out about Senri singing, and the rumor spreads throughout the school, increasing interest in Minafest. Tsugumi and Senri even go on the school radio to promote it, and Senri takes the opportunity to ask Miyu to be her emcee, in an effort to repair their relationship (that Senri is going to perform heartens her pink-haired friend).

Aoi hears of these countermoves but isn’t concerned; she’s confident she’ll be proven right in her belief (fueeld by texts from her “shepherd”) that the library club shouldn’t exist. Meanwhile, it seems President Mochizuki may be on to her subordinate’s treachery.

Aoi may not even be totally wrong, though, as Kyoutarou can’t seem to find a path where Tsugumi won’t get killed at Minafest…even though finding one was precisely the catalyst that led him to become a Shepherd in the first place!

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Sword Art Online II – 07

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In this calm-before-the-storm episode, SAOII puts the action on hold and takes the time to reflect on the present emotional states of Kazuto and Shino, painting the coming rematch as must-win for both of them. If Kirito loses, his chances of facing off with Death Gun diminish greatly, now that Death Gun is far more than the target he was hired to investigate.

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While outside of the MMO where he gets to shoot and slash and take his mind off things, in the real world Kazuto is haunted by his titular “crimson memories,” or rather the lack of detail in them. After putting on a brave, reassuring face for both Asuna and Sugu (a face they don’t quite believe), it’s Nurse Aki who finally gets to the heart of his torment: because he forgot two of the faces of the men he killed, he believes he’s a monster who doesn’t deserve to be saved.

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Aki can’t do much more than offer hugs of increasing intensity, but hugs can be immensely effective in moments such as this. I particularly like how Aki admitted she had no idea what it must’ve been like to kill in SAO, but as a medical professional she deals in life and death all the time, and sometimes someone has to die for someone else to live, and someone else has to choose, and live with that choice.

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Neither I nor Aki can believe that Kazuto is the monster he claims, simply because a monster wouldn’t suffer like he is. And as Aki says, people have a right to save themselves by balancing their guilt for the people they killed by remembering the people they saved and protected. It’s a burden to be acknowledged and carried, not a pyre upon which to immolate oneself.

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Shino is in a bit of a tough spot as well. Her time spent with Kirito in GGO has changed her; she’s even making a gun shape with her hand in the real world, something she never could do. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, he’s helping her become stronger. Meanwhile, Kyouji confesses to her in both worlds, wanting her to go back to the way she was; a selfish notion, considering how much we know Shino didn’t like the way she was.

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Continuing his campaign of acting like a very suspicious motherfucker, Shinkawa Kyouji makes Sinon even more uneasy—not the best thing to be when you’re in the tournament of your life—but Kirito is just as uneasy. These are two people whose souls have been wounded by the lives they’ve taken, and both have chosen the BoB as the venue of their redemption, if there’s any to be had. But only one of them will move on.

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Persona 4: The Animation – 14

This episode rewinds back to the beginning of Summer vacation, only this time tells it from Yu’s point of view. A fox directs him to a part-time job tutoring a smart but unsociable boy, which leads to a job assisting with daycare, in which he accidentally breaks a $800 mecha toy he must then pay for. He also takes an mugged elderly woman to a hospital, where he meets a flirty but jaded nurse. He helps all of them in different ways, which explains all of the mysteries introduced in the last episode.

We were left last week with more “huh?s” than “ohs”, so we’re glad this second part explained everything that went on with Yu. It was quite a summer vacation, in which he touched the lives of numerous people for the better. Action, comedy, romance, drama…mom-on-mom smackdowns – all were on display in a very dense and bustling episode. As long as you’re okay with the fact this two-parter had next to nothing to do with Persona and could have been a part of any slice-of-life non-fantasy anime series, it was very well done. It all holds together brilliantly, and even if a few details are a little absurd, they were fun rather than dubious.

This episode didn’t forget about anything that happened last week, and wove all of the storylines he creates as summer progresses with surprising deftness. Every person he meets and who and what they are matters, and none of it would have worked without him knowing them. But on top of all this excellent weaving is the conclusion that all of this was a means for the fox to replace the umbrella Nanako lent him, which was destroyed by wind and a truck. The Fox met Yu, got him to take the job, and everything was set in motion. This was definitely a case of the means being more entertaining than the ends we saw last week.


Rating: 3.5