Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 02 – Vampire’s Kissu

This second outing’s segments add more nuance, context, and even turnabout to what was largely a one-sided, antagonistic first episode. For one thing, Nagatoro doesn’t make her senpai cry once! Still, in the stinger, she upsets his zen-like art room calm by hula-hooping in, a veritable Tazmanian Devil of energy.

Nagatoro playfully invites him to find the right moment to jump into the hoop with her, but when he actually tries to do so, ends up accidentally catching a glimpse of her underwear. It showed that she’s not always certain or prepared for how her senpai will respond to her teasing…which is clearly part of the fun for her.

When Naoto buys the newest issue of Big Boob Vampires, Nagatoro catches him making a lewd face. I’m not sure what Naoto was thinking even bringing such a book to school, let alone whipping it out in a room Nagatoro frequents, but after a physical stalemate she embarrasses him with dirty talk and snatches it away.

But here’s the twist: while BBV definitely has some pervy bits, it turns out she genuinely loves vampire stuff, and agrees with him that it’s pretty well written! This builds on her harsh but constructive criticism of senpai’s own manga, but also confirms the two have a shared interest.

When the electricity of the school goes out all too conveniently, a tomato juice-sipping Nagatoro starts to ponder what it would be like to be a vampire, showing Naoto her larger-than-average canines and insisting he let her bite his neck. When she mounts him, he says others might get the wrong idea about “things and stuff”, but it’s his post-yakisoba garlic breath that gets her off him.

Within seconds, she pounces on him again, but awkwardly, and her hand lands right on his crotch. For once, Nagatoro is precisely as flustered as Naoto, as she definitely didn’t mean to put her hand there. But she makes lemonade with crotch-grabbing lemons by congratulating Senpai: he got “accidentally lucky”, just like the MC of BBV!

On their walk home (during another lovely sunset) Nagatoro slowly lurks and stews behind Naoto, asks if it was the first time he was “touched”…as it was most likely the first time she touched. She gets in position to grab him again, only to go for his ribs before bidding him goodbye.

As he tries to read the vampire manga at home, his real-life interactions with Nagatoro that day intrude upon his thoughts. She may not have actually bitten his neck or drank his blood, but she’s gotten under his skin for sure…as if he were in thrall to a vampire.

The next day, Nagatoro interrupts his drawing session to play a game to determine if they can guess the precise location of one another’s nipples. There’s a funny cutaway to her in traditional archer’s garb hitting two bullseyes, followed by swirling her fingers around his nipples.

She doesn’t expect Naoto to even try to do the same to her, but he does agree to try, and the closer he gets to her, the more nervous she gets, until she gets a text alert and runs out of there. Naoto can’t see her face as she leaves, but she’s clearly flustered again; her tomfoolery getting her in over her head once more.

The final segment represents the first time since Nagatoro and her three friends were introduced that Naoto was observing her without her being aware, meaning he gets to see a different side of her. This time, she arrives at the same family restaurant he’s working on his manga, joined by one of her girlfriends and two guys. It’s clear her friend is trying to set her up with one or both of them.

Naoto stays hidden, and watches with relish, expecting Nagatoro to tear both guys a new one. But to his shock, she doesn’t tease either of them; rather, she firmly puts each of them in their place: the first guy for being a pretentious musician, and the second guy for bringing up groping a girl’s boobs when they’ve just met.

Nagatoro’s friend is disappointed she scared them off, but as Nagatoro says, “it’s just that those guys are boring.” Meaning she saw no point in messing with them. You could say that just as Naoto is in her thrall, when it comes to having fun with a boy, no one but her thrall will do.

As he walks home, bathed in gorgeous purple and pink light, Nagatoro ponders what looks to be a very distinct possibility Nagatoro toys with no one but him. Right on cue, Nagatoro appears and slaps him on the back, asking what’s up. Thankfully, she never noticed he was at the family restaurant. I wouldn’t have particularly liked that, since there would’ve been no way to tell if she’d adjusted her behavior knowing he was watching.

Instead, Naoto got the real unvarnished Nagatoro. She begins by teasing him for his unique and “creepy” silhouette, then goes on calling him “squiggly”. It seems like he’s about to ask her why she only toys with him, but decides not to, and she just calls him gross over and over as he denies it and tells her to stop.

I thought this was an improvement on the first episode, as some of Nagatoro’s pranks backfire, while she inadvertently demonstrated that the only guy she seems to pay any attention to is him. It may rarely be the kind of attention he wants, but there’s no doubt that their time together is never dull.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 2 “Senpai” Count: 43
Total: 94

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 – 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?

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!

Kemono Jihen – 06 – Raiding the Pantry

As he tries to hide from the stunned kononba sister, the fear grips Shiki. He recalls little from his earlier life except that he lived happily with his mom, and at some point he didn’t. But when Kanabe contacts him, having easily taken care of one of the other sisters, and offers him words of encouragement, Shiki snaps out of it and gets to work.

When the kononba uses her super-sensitive detection ability, Shiki ensures she senses him everywhere, as he’s distributed his spider webbing and sweat all over the hallway. Essentially blinded by her own heightened perception, the sister ends up getting stuck in the webs, and Shiki delivers a satisfying kick to the face.

Kabane and Akira reunite with Shiki, and the sister Kabane captured is also restrained in his webs. That’s when the lead sister appears, and offers to let the kids go if they forget all this. When Kabane refuses (he has a job to do) she sucks the brains and organs out of her two sisters without a second thought and attacks him.

Proving too strong for him to overpower, Kabane’s mind races; if he can’t beat this monster, Shiki and Akira will surely be killed. He doesn’t want that. Mihai offers a bit of free advice, which is nice considering he got the kids in this mess to begin with: Kabane is only using his human strength; to defeat the monster he’ll have to summon instinctual power from his other half, which he accesses via his heart.

It works, and he tears the sister’s arms off, just as Inugami frees himself from Mihai’s room. He orders the kids to retreat and let Inari take care of the rest. Sure enough, Inari’s shiny new attendant Nobimaru arrives to do just that.

Nobimaru, another kitsune (technically a bake-gitsune) burns the three kononba sisters so there is no evidence of monsters for humans could discover. Kabane doesn’t like the idea of pretending the foes never existed, but doesn’t protest enough to stop Nobimaru (if he even could; for all we know he’s much stronger than Kon).

Nobimaru lets Kabane in on a couple of secrets: first, Inari hasn’t given up on stealing his lifestone, so he needs to watch himself. Especially if he ends up sufficiently manipulated (say, one of his friends is put in danger) to willingly offer it to Inaru, Inugami won’t interfere. He has to not only hold on to it tight, but not get tricked. His other secret? He really doesn’t like Inari. That’s interesting, because Kon basically regarded her as a deity.

Back at the agency, Mihai half-apologizes for his role in putting the ids in danger, but qualifies it by making the point that they won’t get stronger if Inugami only gives them easy missions. Even Akira agrees with that point, as he learned that he can’t make ice without water. He should keep some on him at all times, like Avatar’s Kitara. That night, Kabane compares the heartbeats of a sleeping Shiki and Akira and is glad they’re alive.

The next day Shiki is fine, but Kabane is still watching him like a mother hen. Then it dawn on Kabane: he completely forgot about poor Kon. He rushes back to the part, and Kon falls ungracefully out of the tree to greet him. Kabane doesn’t mince words even when he should, telling Kon that other things came up and he simply forgot about her. And after she’d caught a pair of koi for them to eat together…POOR KON!

Kabane is sure to continue his friendship with Kon, even though Nobimaru says from afar that it’s not wise. As for Shiki, his ordeal at Bugbite has psychologically prepared him to hear what he wasn’t ready to hear before: what became of his family.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 05 – Don’t Let the Bugs Bite

While Kabane is cleaning the back room, he’s pulled into a room Inugami told the kids never to enter. That’s because the room is the domain of Mihai, a vampire. As with other anime, he’s defined by immense strength and cunning equaled only by his crushing ennui and desire to be both served entertained.

Kabane is tailor-made for both, going right along with it when Mihai declares him his slav—er, waitperson. Shiki protests, so Mihai says they’ll settle it with an arm wrestling contest. He beats both Shiki and Kabane easily, causing Kabane to mope in the park about not being strong enough.

That’s when everyone’s favorite kitsune good girl Kon falls out of a tree. She’s not there to take his head again; when she presented the last one to Inari, the lady didn’t even look in her direction. Thus shunned, she’s hung out in this park, eating small prey.

Feeling a little self-conscious after losing to Mihai, Kabane challenges Kon to a fight in a totally non-aggressive way. Kon goes all out, but she ends up flat on her back with a bloody nose.  Tears well up in her eyes and she starts to sob, but Kon takes her hand and stays with her until nightfall.

When she wakes up, he proposes she come live with him at Inugami’s, but she rules that out because I guess kitsune and tanuki classically don’t get along. Instead, she proposes Kabane move to the park with her. He still needs to buy stuff for dinner at Inugami’s, but he promises he’ll be back before too long.

Unfortunately that’s all we see of Kon, whom I adore, as Kabane is drawn into a new case that Mihai says Inugami is letting the kids take on alone. We then find that Mihai has locked Inugami in his lair. The case involves a sudden drop in suicides at an electronics factory from over a dozen to zero in an unnatural time.

In this very Foxconn-style facility, we learn that whenever the workers have had their fill of the repetitive, monotonous labor, they are escorted to the “employee counseling office” where their damn brains are sucked out by one of the three Kaga sisters, who are kanonba, or mosquito kemono.

Shiki, who has learned how to use his silk as camouflage, infiltrates the factory along with Kabane and Akira. Mihai determiens the kanonba sisters are only sucking brains, not organs or blood, thus keeping their automaton-like workers alive. Having gotten the intel, Shiki tries to sneak back out, but Mihai intentionally rams his RC recon car against the door of the womens’ office, causing a racket.

Shiki is discovered by one of the sisters, but the RC car she picked up electrocutes her; Shiki was just serving as bait for Mihai. When Mihai observes Shiki totally losing it with fear, he deduces that Shiki’s cautious, rational, boring way of doing things is a front for deep-seated trauma. Being an eternally-bored vampire, Mihai is way too excited to continue messing with him.

I’m hoping Inugami can break out and put a stop to Mihai’s sadistic mischief, but even if he doesn’t, perhaps Kabane, Shiki, and Akira can wrap this case up on their own, despite the high level of difficulty. In any case, he’s another colorful addition to the cast. I just hope Kon doesn’t worry about Kabane taking longer than expected…

Rating: 4/5 Stars