Vlad Love – 12 (Fin) – Interview with Vampire Girl A

The Vlad Love finale begins with one of its typical pop culture tangents, this time with Maki talking about the 1994 film Interview With the Vampire, which not only affirmed her inherent fujoshi nature and that of countless other young women, but was about the sorrow and suffering of vampires, so often the baddies (Other contemporary works working with its themes include the anime Shiki and the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive.)

Maki wants to interview her own, real-life vampire, but when she goes to Mitsugu with the idea, even promising to protect Mai’s identity, Mitsugu demurs, not wanting Maki to make waves in her “happy little life” with Mai. Maki wonders out loud if Mitsugu’s true issue is she’s scared of what she might learn about Mai. Grudingly, Mitsugu agrees to let Maki ask Mai, and Mai is excited to be interviewed.

The problem is, Maki’s non-confrontational interviewing style means she doesn’t get much from Mai, other than her insistence that she was raised not to be picky about blood and would never insist on her preference (the blood of aggressive men)—at least not until they (meaning vampires) “win the war”. During a dinner break, Chihiro-sensei drugs Mai and intends to use hypnotherapy to bring her memories to the surface.

It’s a dastardly, profoundly unethical choice, but we’re talking about Chihiro, who’s had no qualms throughout this series about drugging (and slapping!) her students and stealing the blood of all her past lovers. The truth is, Mitsugu probably is scared of learning more about Mai’s past, but she allows Chihiro and Maki to press on.

Chihiro puts Mai into a semi-conscious trance and we learn how she, her father and birth mother were driven from their home when they were attacked by humans. Mai recalls an entire world consumed by flame. They eventually arrive in a fine house in a different part of Europe, but they’re tracked down once more, and this time her mother is murdered.

Mitsugu doesn’t want to continue, but again Chihiro hits her with the fear card, and the next session begins. Mai and her father arrive in America, and settle in a plantation in the south not unlike the one in Gone with the Wind —AKA “that long-ass movie”. Her father soon introduces her to her first friend: Caroline Irene, or Carreen, and the two soon become as close as sisters.

Then one day her father announces the true reason he brought Carreen into Mai’s life: not merely for companionship, but a live human on which to practice her vampirism. Up to that point, Mai had lived off of her father’s blood, but vampires, like raptors, must learn to hunt their own prey. Hidaka Rina pulls out all the stops with the entranced Mai’s narration throughout this episode—it’s truly some of her best work.

When Mai refused to use Carreen in this way, her father punished her with fasting. Mai suffered unspeakable suffering as a result, until her hunger led her to Carreen’s room, and she ended that hunger, killing her friend in the process. The pain and shock of these resurfaced memories cause Mai to scream out, startling Mitsugu, Chihiro, and Maki, and the “interview” ends there.

The images of Mai’s memories throughout the hypnotherapy sessions are some of the most gorgeous Vlad Love has yet presented, and are given that much more weight by the fact there’s a distinct reason for showing them other than they look cool. The images, in turn, are enhanced by Kawai Kenji’s haunting score. One cannot dismiss the fact that Chihiro extracted Mai’s memories without her consent, but because she did what Mitsugu could not, Mitsugu has gained a deeper understanding of her dear friend.

Now that she has, does Mitsugu run from that knowledge? Of course not. Later that night, as Mai cheerfully leads the others in calisthenics, Maki says she won’t be using the footage she shot after all, while Mitsugu assures Chihiro that she doesn’t have to worry about Mai, because she’s not alone anymore. She has her, and her blood brothers and sisters.

Chihiro sternly tells Mitsugu that one day Mai may drink her blood, and she’d better be prepared. Mitsugu, no stranger to blood, promises she will be. The beaming smile Mai wears at the end while clutching Mitsugu’s arm is something Mitsugu will do anything and everything to protect, and she’s not alone in that commitment either.

I must say, I didn’t expect Vlad Love to get so serious and dramatic on us, but as with typically comedic show like SKET Dance, by doing so it churned out its best outing. Some of the early eps were a bit too heavy on indulgence and audience-winking and too light on substance, but that wasn’t an issue here, with gags taking a backseat to Mitsugu and Mai’s happy little life together, complementing the drama rather than drowning it out.

May their happy little life continue as long as Mitsugu lives, and then, someday before Mitsugu gets too old, perhaps Mai will turn her into a vampire so it can continue beyond that!

Vlad Love – 11 – Undead Bait

Here it is: the Vlad Love Beach episode. When the Blood Donation Club requests a “training camp” trip to cut loose, Chihiro brings up the club’s utter lack of a budget. No problemo; Kaoru finds a steal of a deserted tropical island vacation: just ¥10,000 (bout $90) per person.

Unfortunately, the low cost means they travel by boat, and end up in a homage to The Great Wave off Kanagawa with crippling seasickness; only Mai seems to be having fun. However, they do eventually make it, and the summer sun, white sands and blue sea deliver as advertised.

As the sun sets, everyone save Nami (who goes for a solo swim in the ocean) check out their dilapidated accommodations, which are in such a state due to the immense age of the innkeeper and sole employee, the tiniest of obaasans. When Jinko searches the beach after sundown, Nami is nowhere to be found, save her swimsuit, which means wherever she is, she’s nakked.

The obaasan innkeeper tells them the legend of a Fishman who for five hundred years has been visiting the beach on hot summer nights ever since he and his true love, a beautiful young human woman, were separated. Maki goes on a Creature of the Black Lagoon tangent, but the group decides to head out to the beach and lure the Fishman out, and rescue Nami from his clutches.

After Kaoru dancing erratically in fishgirl cosplay yields no results, everyone agrees, and Mai volunteers, to be the blonde bait sea creatures seemed to love so much in the movies. Tied up like Andromeda as an offering to Cetus, the Fishman emerges from the waves: a hilariously awkward giant beast with the head and body of an eel and muscular human legs—more Trogdor than Gill-Man.

When Katsuno cosplaying as Perseus is smashed under the Fishman’s foot, an 80% charged Franken is activated and transforms into Hulk Mode. In his somewhat lest than three minutes of operating time, he’s able to give the larger Fishman a German suplex, knocking him out cold. The battle is too brief and uneventful to be deserving of the cool poster that flashes on the screen.

Back at the inn there was a running gag of the tiny old innkeeper’s yelling literally bringing down pieces of the inn. It’s revealed she was the woman who fell for the Fishman 500 years ago, and the sight of him unconscious leads her to let out a scream that causes the entire island to explode, ripping everyone’s clothes and giving everyone fluffy perms.

The final loose end is Nami, whom Mitsugu had completely forgotten about as she’d been too busy worrying about Mai. Turns out she’s fine too, as the fisherman’s daughter emerges from the Fishman’s mouth naked but otherwise unharmed and unfazed. The group lines up on the beach to watch the Fishman swim out into the sunrise.

Vlad Love – 10 – The Incredible Cyber-Franken-Kong

I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

In a return to “conventional” Vlad Love, Chihiro-sensei introduces the new transfer student to the night class: Franken Yasohachi, an immense part-robot, part-golem who must be plugged in to operate. Mai also recognizes him as…her fiancée. Needless to say, this is problematic for Mitsugu. Mai tells the story of how this came to be, starting with when she once ran away from home to escape one of her awful previous step-moms.

While picking petals to determine whether to kill her, lil’ Mai is approached by Franken offering her a single flower. While initially startled, Mai is charmed by his face and accepts the flower, which in vamp society is how one proposes marriage. The night class soon learns their new transfer student has the brains of geniuses both scientific and musical and the body of an olympic athlete. He can even heel-toe an AE86 Trueno GT-Apex!

But even with a newly-installed battery, Franken can only operate unplugged for three minutes, and charging back up takes three hours—almost as slow as the GM EV1. As such, during off-hours he’s stored in a closet, while Mitsugu gets to hang out with Mai. Mitsugu is happy it’s a quiet night, seemingly oblivious to the giant electrical storm outside that brings Franken to wireless life.

Woozy from her blood dinner, Mai mistakes Mitsugu for “Daddy” and wants to share her closet with her for the night. Mitsugu swallows hard and decides to see how this will play out, but the scene is interrupted by the suddenly berserk Franken, who is a bit too aggro in offering Mai another flower. Mitusu and Mai escape on Mai’s umbrella.

During their escape, Franken is hit by lightning again (a one in 9 million chance!) and transforms into a Hulk-like green rage monster who starts stomping and smashing his way through Minato, Tokyo. We’re treated to some cool cityscapes as the JSDF scrambles apaches, while Franken-Hulk climbs Tokyo Tower like King Kong climbed the Empire State Building.

After an interminable call with a half-asleep Chihiro who can’t be otherwise bothered, Mai and Mitsugu learn how to switch the monster off: land on his head and twist the bolt on his head, and he goes out like a light. The city is saved from total destruction (again), and the dynamic duo of Mitsugu and Mai were the ones to save it.

Franken is returned to his closet, unplugged and insulated to prevent further power surges. The flower meant for Mai remains in his hand, wilting away. Who knows if we’ll see Franken again, but he was a fun new member of the class while he lasted.

Vlad Love – 09 – Nuts and Bolts

Going into this episode cold, I spent half the time wondering what the heck was going on and why there was little to know animation, and the other half luxuriating in the atmosphere of its unrelentingly hard-boiled, war-torn art style. And I think, like most who watched this, the whole point was to not quite know what was going on, but to simply let it all wash over you.

I say this because a message at the very end explains what the heck was going on: this entire episode was an homage to the works of rarely-translated avant-garde cult cartoonist Tsuge Yoshiharu. From 1955 to 1987 he was active in the world of gekiga—the precursor to modern graphic novels about mature themes.

His most famous work is Screw Style, which on its face has a simple plot: a boy washes ashore with an artery in his arm severed by a jellyfish, and he wanders war-torn Japan searching for a doctor. The original story is based on a dream Tsuge had during a rooftop nap, which tracks: everything is surreal and dreamlike.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Oshii Mamoru was both inspired and influenced by Tsuge’s work. Oshii was 17 when Screw Story was first published in 1968, serving as an allegory for his disaffected postwar generation (Oshii was also born just six years after the atomic bombings).

In place of the WWII-era machines of war, there are B-2s in the sky and Type 16s on the ground, and later, a Nimitz-class in the sea. For the boy, Oshii inserts a topless Mitsugu, who is desperate not necessarily to save her life, but to save the precious blood which belongs to Mai from flowing out of her arm and going to waste.

The homage—and general strangeness—fits the style of Vlad Love like a glove. Indeed, for those who’d seen the gekiga style without knowing what it was, the series’ backgrounds have always been done in this style, albeit with lighter color palettes. As Oshii cycles through three other Tsuge stories, the rest of Vlad Love’s cast have cameos.

Mitsugu finally meets up with Mai at an inn, who serves her castor oil in water instead of sake (since Mitsugu is underage) and mentions a delinquent (Satoru) who comes by the inn every day to terrorize her.

Mitugu’s odyssey leads her to a gynecologist (Chihiro). It’s heavily implied they sleep together, and Chihiro repairs Mitsugu’s artery with a metal bolt and valve. Mitsugu and Mai sail off with the sun and wind at their backs.

As I said before, I wasn’t clear what was going on for most of this episode, but I still liked it. It’s not only evidence of Oshii’s love of Tsuge’s work, but also a sign of his complete and utter creative control, a rare thing indeed in any form of entertainment. Vlad Love itself would not exist if Oshii wasn’t Oshii, much like The Snyder Cut wouldn’t exist if Snyder wasn’t Snyder.

Speaking of which, The Snyder Cut is a far superior film to the grotesquely cynical vivisection that was the theatrical Whedon cut precisely because of the strength, clarity, and purity and commitment of the artist’s voice. His unmarred vision shines through in every frame, no matter how dark and muddy those frames get.

This singularly bizarre and beautiful episode of Vlad Love taught me about the existence of Tsuge Yoshiharu, Screw Style, and other gekiga works. And it did so while existing as a unique piece of art all its own, integrating its characters and themes with the decades-old classics to which it paid homage. But I’m glad Oshii saved the explanation for the end, so I wouldn’t be influenced by the episode’s context out of the gate.

Tsuge hasn’t published a comic in 33 years. Ours is a world in which all art is borrowed or embellished version of what came before—an ongoing conversation across time. It’s episodes like this that keep that conversation going, brining awareness to younger generations so that they can make their own contributions. No doubt the next episode of Vlad Love will move on to, as John Cleese said best, “something completely different.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 08 – The Hematologist’s Lament

Chihiro describes her daily battle as school nurse, Blood Donation Club advisor, night class instructor, and researcher, while gazing at the moon and grasping a bottle of blood marked “Memories.” An intrigued Mitsugu tells everyone to call in sick for night class, and once Chihiro heads home, they break into her office to locate the blood.

Thanks to transfer student “Franken”, who is a giant robot who apparently isn’t supposed to transfer for two more episodes, they break the lock, but Mitsugu is electrocuted when she touches the cabinet. Chihiro appears, knowing the kids wouldn’t be able to resist the intrigue of her bottle of Memories.

Since everyone is eager to know what exactly the bottle contains (even though it should be clear from the label), they gather ’round Chihiro as she lights up a cigarette or seven and uncorks that bottle, regailing them with a tale of youth, infatuation, betrayal and heartbreak…none of which seems to have anything to do with the blood!

Young Chimatsuri Chihiro, being smart in hematology but dumb at life, falls for one sketchy character after another (literally—they’re typically sketched out with pencil or ink!), who either empties her bank accounts with excessive dating actitivies or just plain leaves her Casablanca-style.

It must be noted that Chihiro should at all times be considered an unreliable narrator. For one thing, there’s no way steam locomotives ever ran regularly in her time! The bit about her falling instantly in love with people who deliver her dinner is a nice nod to the beginning, when it’s Mitsugu with cup ramen.

While her story intentionally drags on and repeats itself, and it’s generous to even call this episode half-animated, as it’s mostly flashbacks slideshow format, I still enjoyed the episode. It set itself apart from the others by being relatively calm and relaxed, and its gags and pratfalls are in service of actual character work, albeit of questionable provenance.

Also, while it’s little more than a bunch of stills, those stills are gorgeously rendered and accompanied by a suitably weighty score that really sells Chihiro’s lamentations, even if her students all fall nod off before she reveals the “Memories” bottle contains a blend of blood she drew from the various men in her past while they were unconscious.

Vlad Love – 07 – Vla Vla Vland

Vlad Love goes from the “cultural festival play” episode to the “let’s make a movie” episode, with Maki as the director and Mai, Mitsugu and Katsuno starring (Katsuno also fronts the more than $4K budget). Maki’s vision is a promotional video for the Blood Donation Club that is also a homage to French New Wave director Nicolas Truffant.

Needless to say, chaos reigns. Maki has the lingo and bearing of a film director down, and she also knows her cinematic history and can rear-project a driving scene with the best of ’em, but the shoot itself is an unqualified disaster from start to finish as Chihiro insists they film the whole thing in five days. Those days are marked by title cards reminiscent of The Shining. Also, Kaoru’s cat runs away, and the backup cat doesn’t give a shit about milk.

While Maki seems to have recurring dreams about being a little girl surrounded by everyone staring and judging at her (probably a reference to something), in the end those dreams are justified, as the final product is a mess. Unlike the first Star Wars, even editing couldn’t save Meet Mai, but Maki isn’t even there for the premiere—she’s scarfing down a bento on the Shinkansen.

The episode was hurt by having to follow up the best one yet, as well as being the second straight involving a production with a demanding director. Mitsugu and Mai barely say or do anything, and there are so many jokes and asides there’s no room for anything else—including much of a reason to care! Still, as always, Vlad Love looks great, even when it’s little more than empty calories.

Vlad Love – 06 – The World’s a Stage, Not at Stake

The title above is essentially the thesis for my review: by not involving combat aircraft or blowing up entire cities and simply focusing on something, Vlad Love’s quirky hyperactivity can be distilled into something competent, approaching greatness. Nothing like a good old class play to lend structure and purpose!

After the inaugural night class roll is called, Chihiro gets right to the point: they’re going to put on a show. Kaoru suggests an adaptation of the disk version of something very similar to Castlevania—an inspired choice not just because of the vampire theme but because earlier video games were so wonderfully elemental.

Mai is the final vampire boss/love interest, while the hunter is played by Mitsugu, with Nami, Kaoru, and Katsuno playing level bosses. Maki relishes filming a “making-of” docu.

The most controversial assignment is Sumida Jinko as director. Her Ultra-Type-A blood ensures a production fraught with tension and drama, as she immediately treats everyone as if they were professional stage performers and crew.

Every major cast member has something to do, and each voice actor is clearly having a metric fuckton of fun—looking at you, Kobayashi Yuu…Sasha lives on in Nami! The show puts a welcome fun spin on its beloved insets by having Jinko pop out of her windows to kick and push others around.

A tough day of rehearsal ends with a rarity these days—a scene with Mitsugu and Mai actually alone, staged like the yuri romance it should be, only for Jinko to interrupt with some midnight whippin’ lessons.

Before anyone knows it, it’s showtime. To its credit the rehearsals don’t go on too long, allowing the show itself room to breathe. Of course, there’s a crisis just before the curtain rises: Mai is suffering from anxiety-fueled acute anemia. She needs someone’s blood, and because things are so hectic, Jinko is chosen as the donor without thinking about it too much.

The play actually starts relatively smoothly, with just the right amount of following the script and improvising. I liked how Mitsugu had to exit stage left and run down steps, through corridors beneath the stage, and up steps to enter stage right…because it’s a sidescroller play!

Once Mai takes the stage, it’s clear she’s operating under the influence of Jinko’s perfectionist Type-A blood. As such, she decides to play her own role, ignoring the script. An enraged Jinko runs on stage to scold her, but Mai attacks her, and the curtain has to drop, and Chihiro manages to tranquilize Mai.

Jinko is beside herself and starts bawling from the fiasco that has unfolded, but Chihiro tells her to listen to the crowd: her play isn’t the disaster she thinks it is. The cast and crew walk out for their curtain call, and by the time the crowd is chanting “Jinko, Jinko, Jinko”, Jinko is holding back tears of pride and joy, which come after a veritable Odyssey of complex facial expressions.

This was the best episode of Vlad Love yet, and it did it by not biting off more than it could chew and simply capitalizing on the immense voice talent at its disposal. It’s the first episode where Jinko is utilized properly and Hikasa Yoko gives the Type-A stickler texture and appeal as her character transitions from outsider to “one of them”, them being the Blood Donation Club’s collection of big ol’ weirdos. Most importantly, this episode had a satisfying share of Mai x Mitsugu moments. Well played!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 05 – Bleed the Parents

First, I must issue a correction: Vlad Love doesn’t forget everything that happens from week to week. That said, it forgets quite a bit, or at least hand-waves it away. That’s fine; this show is on drugs; who am I to pick apart its whimsical relationship with logic and reason?

Brass tacks? Yes, Mai might have transformed into a dragon and leveled a city, but more importantly (to the show at least), Mai has been outed as a vampire. While all of Mitsugu’s classmates might’ve had varying motives for involving themselves with Mai, they must now band together to protect her.

To that end, Dr. Chihiro crosses her legs Basic Instinct-style to the board of directors and gets approval for night classes at school, which Mai, Mitsugu, and everyone else will begin attending. They’ll also all be included in the Blood Donation Club Chihiro advises, despite Mitsugu objecting to male members. Type-A Jinko joins too, meaning all four major blood types are now represented.

It feels like the episode will continue with the night class plot, it changes gears when Mitsugu notices more bats than usual flying over her house, and she finds a huge package has been sent to Mai from Romania. Turns out it’s her father, Gilles de Rais, who is grateful Mitsugu is taking care of his daughter, and is also a hugger and garlic-lover.

At the (apparently rebuilt) gyoza restaurant, Gilles orders ten of everything, while Mai is singularly focus on one thing: her “ugly bitch” of a stepmother who is the reason Mai left home. Still, this is the first time in a while Mai feels like an actual character with consistent attributes, as she’s not under the influence of a any particular type of blood.

Their dinner is interrupted by the sudden and unannounced arrival of Mitsugu’s archaelogy professor dad, who in a neat twist is a famed vampire hunter in the mold of Van Helsing. Venerable veteran Nakata Jouji voices her dad, lending depth and gravitas to a fairly two-dimensional role (naturally, he and Mai’s dad go together like gasoline and flame).

Add “Van Helsink’s” desire to drive a stake in Gilles’ heart to Chihiro’s intention to draw at least two liters of Gilles’ blood, and the resulting volatile situation results in the second destruction of the gyoza restaurant, complete with Mitsugu and Mai fleeing an explosion Hollywood-style.

Back at home, Mitsugu and Chihiro try to calm the two fathers, but when Gilles lists all the secondary-to-tertiary family members Mitsugu’s dad has already staked, and Mitugu threatens to kill the rest of his family, the two nearly come to blows once more, until Chihiro sedates them. Then Mitsugu has to sedate Chihiro when she tries to draw blood from Mai’s unconscious father. One wonders where all those huge syringes come from…

The next morning, Chihiro and Gilles are gone (the latter being shipped back to Romania), and Mitsugu’s dad remains strongly opposed to Mai continuing to stay in his house, let alone being his daughter’s friend. Mitsugu rightfully declares that someone who barely ever present in the household doesn’t all of a sudden get to set its rules, nor can he dictate with whom she can be friends.

Her dad races off to Europe to intercept Gilles, continuing their interminable game of cat-and-mouse. But his words—about Mai being an “enemy of humanity” and that no good will come of being friends with her—stick with Mitsugu. There’s a look of disbelief, but also doubt. What if her father, no stranger to vampires, is right?

This was some welcome drama and character development in one of the most grounded and coherent episodes of Vlad Love to date. I just wish the fathers, like all the classmates, didn’t reduce the ever-important Mitsugu/Mai time to the bare minimum.

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?