Title: Vlad Love
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Comedy, romance, science(? Just go with it)
Year of release: 2021
The first anime of 2021 comes courtesy of big names collaborating. Long-time anime legend, Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Angel’s Egg, Patlabor, Jin-Roh, Urusei Yatsura! What a back-catalogue!) declared he wanted to get back into the anime game, and he was gonna do it with a, and I quote (translated, of course), ‘girl meets girl comedy’. He brought onboard Junji Nushimura, a director he collaborated with in the ’80s on Urusei Yatsura before they’d go on to direct You’re Under Arrest. So two prior big names, who haven’t had much success in recent years, with Junji Nishimura attaching himself to some particularly weak productions lately and Mamoru Oshii’s last anime contribution being over a decade ago. Will their new collaboration, reuniting at a top notch anime studio like Production IG that will surely bring back memories for the two, bring out the best in each other?
The short answer is: yes. Vlad Love watches with the best aspects of both of these big names. While Mamoru Oshii is well known for his slow, steady, psychological anime, I included a couple titles there that’ll clue in his comic genius – and the way he mixes his artistic vision in novel storyboarding, is captured in Vlad Love’s first episode, which excites with meta visual gags and a rapid, bouncy pace. Junji Nishimura’s love of watercolour backgrounds rears its head, too, creating gorgeous visual compositions that blend amongst the cut-ins in fun ways. Throw in strong, economic animation, and Vlad Love is a tight slapstick that hops between scenes joyfully.
And that helps to paper over the fact that the content is a little middling?
Now, don’t get me the wrong – the concept is killer, but it works a little bit better on paper than it does in the screenplay. The rundown is this: Mitsugu is a blood-giving enthusiast, and she winds up dragging a blonde, pale foreigner away from a donation clinic after she goes a little… crazy in a blood-demanding frenzy. This girl is (wink-wink-nudge-nudge) named Mai Vlad Transylvania, and explains how she’s a vampire that doesn’t want to bite victims lest she turn them into a vampire. After Mitsugu, with the help of the school nurse, goes on a frantic quest of phlebotomy to acquire blood for her new, odd girlfriend.
Yes, girlfriend… though when she’s called a girlfriend, it is in a past-tense monologue. Mitsugu doesn’t make any attempt to hide her attraction to Mai, with the internal monologues of the episode showing her getting waaaay too excited. Mai, on the other hand, has a hilarious comic personality, with this ladylike bashfulness breaking into a ridiculous, rude stupor at the drop of a hat, and the way she woes her backstory to us with sad violin music – for the punchline to be that she called her mother a ‘whore’ in a small spat – is great. I love Mai. Can’t wait to see more of her!
Now let’s get to the elephant in the room, who is the final of the named characters (and the only other character shown to us in this first episode): Chihiro, the school nurse. Her outfit is a real cringer, a sexy red leather minidress, the kind of thing that was dropped from televised anime productions sometime at the beginning of the turn of the millennium. Her personality is… pretty much what you’d expect from the design, mature but easily dragged into the gags from an angry-straight-man perspective.
She delivers a brief science lecture on Mitsugu’s un-transfusable Chimera blood type, which is actually pretty refreshing – abridged exposition that is scientifically accurate? Mental. At one point during her spiele, she is depicted naked, censored over by a white card that reads ‘artistic inevitability’, so I feel the crew know what they’re doing with the show’s ecchii content in today’s hyper-meta landscape… but that doesn’t make the concept surrounding this sexy school nurse, from archetype down to character design, feel less like a relic from when the big names behind Vlad Love were most relevant.
The episode was great in making me anticipate what’s to come, but it ultimately didn’t have particularly memorable jokes. It was funny – really funny, even – by virtue of great direction and that chipper pacing, but the gags themselves were just okay slapstick; Mitsugu gawking, Mai being Mai, Chihiro slapping Mistugu down. With the setup out of the way, and such strong style, I’m expecting Vlad Love to come into its own and begin delivering some more great gags and show us more of the characters (and, indeed, more characters, as hinted by that killer OP). It’s just not quite at hilarious yet, but it’s got everything in place to become the hit comedy of the coming season. Next episode drops in February, and I’ll be there.