Title: Vlad Love
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Comedy, ecchi
Year of release: 2021
I reckon I got about 20% of Vlad Love’s references. Every episode is a volley of military, pre ’00s otaku and international movie nerd references, so you’d think I’d be at an advantage with my weird mix of interests – but the sheer depth required for some of these is immense. Yes, a huge number of jokes are going over my head, but I will still confidently say that Vlad Love is an absolute hoot. Utterly hilarious stuff.
The slapstick humour smacks hard, with the sitcom plots flying way out of the expected strike-zone. You come in for vampire-romcom gags and just nod your head as a teenager Mary-Poppins-style flies out of a zoo with all the zoo animals, or as she rampages around the city after transforming into a dragon. Good luck keeping up with just the references. The evolution of situations is ridiculous enough!
No, really. Mai turns into a dragon, and rampages around the city before the JSDF come to intercept. She wins. The cast quip through the fourth wall about dying as early as episode four. They die. Next episode, no explanation, back to square one and business as usual. Vlad Love, ladies and gentlemen.
The core scenario, whenever Vlad Love remembers this, is that Mitsugu Bamba is a blood donation enthusiast who comes across a vampire, Mai Vlad Transylvania (heh) and falls in love at first sight. She’s desperate to get her blood into her, to prevent guys being interested in her, and wants to protect her. How this results in a blood donation club trying to stop a city burning down at least three times is something you’ll just have to go with, because there’s no continuity, no character arcs and no story – it occasionally finds itself adding characters and forgetting to develop them beyond basic traits, but for the most part, it’s just going with it, and you’ve gotta strap yourself in on its mad ride.
What I love most about Vlad Love is how consistently it’s funny. Every little scene is trying to get a chuckle (except for a certain episode, but we’ll get there in a minute). Yes, it’s got a witty-and-also-dumb script, and it’s got larger-than-life comic voice work, but it’s choc-full of visual humour too. Even when Bamba’s head isn’t turning into a water moth mid-conversation (go with it), the visual design of Vlad Love is slick and purpose-built for snappy conversations, rolling the dialogue on with laughs as it employs comic-book-style portraits of characters talking – and integrates this with the meta-gags. Put simply, the storyboard is always funny; there’s always a joke on-screen. Whether it’s a face deforming, characters slapping away other characters portrait boxes or Super Sentai formations, Vlad Love is always funny.
This scene, of Maki explaining how she acquired the (rather large) funds for her movie project is a great example of Vlad Love bouncing its scenes along. What is, essentially, an extended exposition segue, is handled with this ongoing comic style. Whether Chihiro is batting away everybody’s comments physically, or the Karate Club captain’s goofy low-frame-rate waddle in, there’s always something funny.
The huge range of humour is its best asset. As I mentioned before, the depth of material is fascinating, and owes itself a lot to Mamoru Oshii (director/writer of hits like Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh) and his experiences with artsy cinema and otaku hobbies. But you also get the feel that the crew have done a lot of research – whether it’s necessary research or not, who knows?- but they’re damn well gonna use it and they’re definitely gonna teach you about this…. tank’s development timeline… why not, right?. The perversions enter the fold in a generally tasteful (or, funny) way, with the cast’s lecherousness presented as figments of imagination and a setup for a gag, be it clever, situationally fantastical, or fourth-wall-breaking. All the ‘copyright infringement’ jokes just got funnier, especially when they entered the war room (just go with it damnit!).
Though, I do have to bring up a certain character – Chihiro, the school nurse. She waltzed out of a ’90s anime, judging by her skimpy leather dress, a wet dream of a time gone by. In this vein, Vlad Love shows its age a lot. Even when its gags aren’t background scenes of the crew from Patlabor (a 40 year old anime) driving to a scene of the city’s destruction, or Mai being made to cosplay as Capcom’s Morrigan Aensland (originating in video games during the 1990s), you really have to be an older, more experienced anime fan to get all of Vlad Love’s shtick, because it’s mostly just a gender-bent, hyper rambunctious spin of a genre that went out of fashion some 20 years ago – that is, the magical girlfriend comedy. In many ways, Vlad Love was dragged kicking-and-screaming from a time most anime fans were keen to forget.
As a post-era magical girlfriend anime – one without the modern LN-style harem-nonsense – Vlad Love feels like a progenitor, or perhaps a missing-link between these styles, of these magical girlfriend comedies and that rather famous anime The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu). Not just for its otaku-focused meta gags and love of movie-making (seriously, the Vlad Love blood donation gang get hijacked by Maki, the movie making club’s president, an unbelievable amount of times), no I picked this show in particular for a comparison. See, Vlad Love has a similar desire to stick its middle finger up at you. More than other anime in their field, calling otaku out as gross nerds… Vlad Love has that same artistic license to do its own thing, piss you off, and never check to see if you’re still around – and I like that. It pulls it off.
When Mai consumes blood, she takes on the traits of the owner’s blood. And the situations ramp-up from it. Note how Bamba, sitting beside her, is mostly a reactionary – with, admittedly, great comedy faces. As Mai’s going crazy, leading scenes with her sheer charisma, it really hits home how this is, indeed, a magical girlfriend comedy, where the magical girlfriend is the All In One comic-batter. Though, as my other clips have shown, the rest of the cast are no slouch, and the comic visual language and scene setup means she’s never undertaking this task alone.
The ‘flickering image’ approach of storytelling, that Vlad Love often uses for backstory-divulging with gorgeous water-paint style art, ends up taking a whole episode. Not for backstory. No, it takes it for a bizarre story that is ultimately not very funny – but you’re just waiting with bated breath for the punchline, and as it goes on longer… if it will ever come. Not nearly as impressive as Haruhi Suzmiya’s Endless Eight, but there are similarities here-and-there with the series overall – Vlad Love’s got a more tightly focused slapstick style and significantly lower reliance on characterisation. Relatability be damned, though, because the cast barely get beyond their namesakes before giving sarcastic barks at one another during a fight with sea monsters. Which… may be more references. I’m not sure. I’m not really old enough.
So yes, Vlad Love is a boomer anime, and yes, Vlad Love has a lot of boomer jokes. But it pulls you in with intense humour across a gigantic range and delivers the goods at a rapid pace. Even beyond its menagerie of jokes and episodic sketches, it has artistic style and flair, built into its core. Arthouse and comedy is an extremely niche blend in the anifandom, with most of the fringe arthouse anime fans coming for the ‘serious’ and ‘meaningful’, but Vlad Love doesn’t care about those and goes for the jugular with sharp teeth and somehow hits the funny bone. Vlad Love might be for you, and I mean it probably isn’t, but for some of us old fogeys, it ticks oodles of boxes with brilliant craft.
At 12 episodes, it’s a hoot, but the forgettable cast is a sticking point… that would be less of an issue with a second season. Bring on more, that is, if we can find the fanbase for it. Let’s hope they haven’t all graduated from trading VHS rips to deep Netflix trawls, because all three of you still watching anime will love it.