Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dance in the Vampire Bund (anime TV series), via Hulu

In honor of my getting to eat "real" food (a few spoonfuls of thick potato soup with a couple slices of toast) for the first time in five days, I give you...a new post.

I tried to make my synopsis fairly spoiler-free. However, as a result it is also a little misleading.

Synopsis:

At some point in the past, Akira, a high school student, got in an accident and lost his memory. His otherwise normal life is turned upside down when Mina, the vampire ruler, reveals that vampires are real on a Japanese game show. Not long after the show, Mina tracks Akira down and tells him that, before his accident, he was one of her servants and had made a promise to always stay by her side. Not only that, Akira learns that he's a werewolf.

Mina's plan is to establish a vampire bund just outside Japan. She's willing to do absolutely anything to get the Japanese government to go along with this plan. Mina would like the vampire bund to be a safe place for vampires to go. Unfortunately, she faces lots of opposition. The Telomere group is composed of vampires who want nothing to do with living peacefully in any way with humankind. In order to increase Japanese opposition to the bund, they try to slaughter and change into vampires as many people as they can. Mina also has to contend with the leaders of the three other vampire clans, who would like her to finally keep the promise they forced her to make a long time ago.

Meanwhile, although Akira's memory has come back somewhat, there are still some pieces missing, and they seem to have something to do with Mina and the legacy of the true-bloods. Mina lives only for Akira and wants him by her side, but what will happen when he finally remembers everything?

Commentary:

I'm not sure there are enough exclamation points in the world to describe this show, and even resorting to all caps might not do the trick. I don't mean any of that in a good way.

That said, this isn't a completely terrible show (although, jeez, does it have some issues). Part of me wishes it were, because, not even one episode into it, I wanted to hate it.

Allow me to explain. My synopsis did not mention it, because it doesn't actually become an important plot point until nearly the end of the show (and explaining why it's important would have given some things away), but Mina, the vampire ruler, has the body of young girl. As in, so young there isn't even an attempt to do the usual anime fake-out and try to make her appear older by giving her a ludicrously big chest. As the opening credits make painfully clear nearly every single episode, Mina's body is not developed enough to have breasts.

Hulu edited the show. I'm not sure how heavily they edited the show, but I do know that, in the occasional scene where Mina is shown fully nude, certain areas are blurred out. Throughout the show, there is also frequent use of all red (or sometimes all blue, or in rare cases all yellow) screens. Since 99% of the time there appears to be no aesthetic reason to do this, I can only guess that this is also part of the "editing for American audiences" (editing out nudity and violence? because I couldn't always understand what must have happened on-screen for the all red screens to be necessary), but I can't be completely sure of that. Well, I could, but that would involve watching fan subbed episodes somewhere, and I'm not sure I have the stomach for uncensored naked Mina. I checked Right Stuf and Amazon to see whether those sites said anything about censoring on the DVD releases and, unsurprisingly, it doesn't appear to be possible to purchase Dance in the Vampire Bund on DVD in the US.

So, Mina has the body of a child, there are occasional scenes where she's naked (or many scenes where she's very nearly naked, if you count the opening and closing credits as scenes), and, although Akira initially scoffs at the idea of being interested in a girl with a flat-chested child's body, that doesn't stop him from proclaiming his love and devotion later on in the show. Oh, and Mina has what is basically a semi-public vampiric gynecological exam performed on her near the end of the show.

That's all the stuff dealing with Mina. There's also the high school girl who ends up falling in love with the 13-year old boy she's been caring for like a sister for several years, various amazingly bouncy boobs, and the show's general affection for focusing lovingly on various female body parts (knees are very popular, for some reason).

I don't know. Maybe I'm too female for this show?

I wanted to hate this show so very badly. Despite that, the political machinations and various mysteries sucked me in. Not enough for me to declare this a good show, but enough for me to grit my teeth and grudgingly admit that I can understand why someone might like the show. Well, someone besides pedophiles. And perverts who might not understand or care that real breasts, even really big breasts, can't bounce the way Vera's can. Guys, the only way breasts could move like that is if they were filled with water.

Ok, deep breaths, deep breaths, and...moving on. One fantastic thing about Mina having the body of a child was that it set the viewer up for a nice shock when she revealed how clever and ruthless she could be. Not that it hasn't been done before, but it does pack quite a punch when a cute little girl orders that very bad things be done.

I liked watching Mina move things into position so that her vampire bund could be established. I actually kind of thought that the series would end with the establishment of the bund, but it didn't. After seeing Mina seemingly be so ruthless in her political dealings, it was also interesting to wonder how much of what she was telling Akira was the truth. On the one hand, Mina seems like a confident, capable ruler who will stop at nothing to establish her bund and stand against those who oppose her. On the other hand, she can seem like an uncertain young girl, not entirely sure about Akira's feelings for her and not entirely sure what to do when her strongest opponents start to close in around her. For a while, it was hard to decide what was the truth, what was a mask, and what was a little of both. It became easy to forget that Akira was still missing some of his memories, but those missing memories did add even more interesting possibilities.

I came to like and even feel sympathetic for Mina. From what I was able to understand, she's sort of trapped in a child's body, unable to allow herself to grow older, for reasons I can't reveal without giving important information away. Anyway, she wants to be with Akira, she's psychologically old enough that she should be able to be with him without it being icky, but physically she's just a child. It's a tragic little love story.

There were several things that I felt redeemed this show somewhat, but it still had several failings that would have tripped me up even if it weren't for all the fanservice. And the "OMGOMG ew" relationship between Nanami and Yuzuru. And the gynecology exam. ::shudder:: Although I can sort of forgive that because the whole point was that it was supposed to be humiliating for Mina, and it perfectly explained when she couldn't let herself become physically more mature.

So, the failings. Characters kept doing things that were at odds with the feelings they had only minutes earlier.

One example: Akira learned that Mina used a child to blackmail a Japanese politician into making it easier for her to establish the bund. He also learned that Mina had lied to him in at least one other instance. He ends up battling Mina, a battle so fierce it brings part of the building down. Somehow, for some reason, Akira suddenly decides he wants to protect Mina and stay by her side again, so he protects Mina by allowing himself to be impaled by a piece of falling building. They are a happy couple, and Akira almost totally becomes Mina's young knight in shining armor again.

Another example: There is one character I didn't mention in my synopsis, even though she shows up a lot and even narrates several episodes. Her name is Yuki, and she's Akira's friend. She'd love to be more than Akira's friend. For a while, Akira would have loved it if Yuki had been more than his friend. After it becomes clear that she's lost Akira to Mina, Yuki tries to be a graceful loser and help Mina out so that she can also stay near Akira. However, she decides it's too painful. Only a few minutes after making this decision, she becomes bestest friends with Mina, and it's like her painful feelings of unrequited love evaporate into thin air.

These oh-so-convenient changes in characters' thoughts messed with my enjoyment of the supernatural intrigue and gradual revelation of various mysteries. Then the show's final mystery turned out to be only one part of a greater mystery that wasn't going to be fully explained (except maybe in another season, or maybe in the manga). Maybe the manga is lighter on the fanservice. I kind of doubt it. At any rate, I'm not so interested in finding out all the details of the true-blood legacy that I'm willing to try out the manga just to see if all the details will be revealed there.

I've finished the series, and it's no longer in my Hulu queue. I'm a little surprised that someone okayed the show for Hulu, I'm not surprised at all that it was edited, and I'm also not surprised that the show isn't actually available on DVD in the US. Even if it were available, this is one of the few shows that doesn't even make me feel a twinge of "I want." I may not have disliked it as much as I wanted to, but the reasons I disliked it put it automatically on my "don't spend money on it, ever" list.

Oh, and by the way, there's a Dance in the Vampire Bund "special." If you do watch the show, don't bother watching the special - all it is is a recap of the previous 7 episodes with absolutely nothing new added. I gather it was an attempt to appease the fans when the release of the 8th episode was delayed.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Black Blood Brothers (anime TV series) - I think I've seen all but the last three episodes of this one. Another series in which vampires have their own little "protected zone," away from humans. Like Dance in the Vampire Bund, this show sexualizes vampire bites, although, from what I can remember, at least the biters and bitees are all adults. This show isn't fantastically good, but it's definitely not bad.
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - Another series with vampires, and even some political machinations. This show focuses on a secret vampire extermination group in England, called the Hellsing Organization. The most proficient vampire slayer in the group is Alucard, who's a vampire himself. He becomes one of two vampires in the group when he turns a dying female police officer into a vampire. The show is filled with action, bloodshed (lots and lots of bloodshed), and occasional humor, and it pretty much drips cool. Those who most enjoyed the romance in Dance in the Vampire Bund are better off looking elsewhere, however.
  • Vampire Knight (manga) by Matsuri Hino; Vampire Knight (anime TV series) - Another series with vampires, mysteries, romance, and things that aren't quite like how they appear on the surface. The second season of the anime, if you choose to watch that instead of reading the manga, is called Vampire Knight: Guilty, by the way. I've only watched the first season, and I've only read a few volumes of the manga, so I don't know yet how things wrap up with this series. The series starts off with a bit of a love triangle - the main female character, Yuki, has a sort-of-secret crush on Kaname, a pure blood vampire. Yuki's school has a Night Class, composed of vampires, and a Day Class, composed of humans unaware of what the Night Class students really are. Yuki and another student named Zero are supposed to keep the two classes separate. Eventually, Yuki's relationship with Zero gets a little more complicated, setting up something like a love triangle. Then vampiric political machinations swoop in.
  • Underworld (live action movie) - This one might be a good one for those who liked the idea of a forbidden love between a vampire and a werewolf. In this movie, vampires and werewolves have been at war for so long that the reasons for the war are no longer widely known. The war gets bloodier when a vampire warrior and a newly-turned werewolf (Lycan) start to fall in love.

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