This anime series has more than a little in common with the recent HBO show ‘True Blood’. In the first (rather protracted) episode, Mina Tepeş (Aoi Yuki), ruler of the vampire world “comes out” on national television on behalf of vampire-kind. Not only does the world have to come to grips with the notions that monsters are real, but Tepeş aims to create a ‘Bund’, an isolated district for the vampire nation. By assisting the Japanese government with the national debt, she insinuates herself into the human halls of power. Her aim is for humans and vampires to live side by side amicably, but there are others who wish to do things differently. Thus, we get rival vampire clans and hired assassins out to make Mina’s work difficult for her.
Akira Kaburagi Regendorf (Yuuichi Nakamura) is a student at the local high school whose fate is inextricably linked with that of the vampire queen, even if he has lost all memory of his destiny. Akira’s friend, Yuki Saegusa (Chiwa Saito) is deeply in love with him but, alas, that love has been unrequited. Thus we have a nice little love triangle, with Yuki feeling unable to compete with a centuries old vampire.
Thing is, Mina first changed into a vampire before she reached puberty, so Dance in the Vampire Bund features a whole lot of those uncomfortable moments ostensibly referred to as “fan service”, though I would suggest that such a term is more than a little presumptuous. If the likes of Strike Witches makes you uncomfortable, then this series will be even worse. Whilst Mina is the oldest character in the show, her youthful appearance means that any reference to her sexuality feels horribly pervy. Anne Rice may have dealt with similar issues with the likes of the vampire Armand, but somehow it didn’t feel quite so wrong in her fiction.
Thankfully, Dance in the Vampire Bund doesn’t spend too long on the subject. In fact the story jumps around a lot throughout the 12 episodes, which is a problem in itself. I never really got a sense of the narrative arc that was playing through the entire series. New and important characters pop up out of nowhere and are gone just as suddenly. At times it feels like the writers were retconning on the fly.
It’s also reasonably hard to follow. There are many splendid moments in this series, but now that I’ve seen it all, I’m still not entirely sure of some characters’ motivations, or their relationship to other characters. Some of the show moves at such a quick pace that it’s disorienting. This is compounded by the fact that the visuals can often be quite abstract, with the screen suddenly cutting to red or black for a second in the middle of a conversation, as if to drive home the tone of the dialogue. The madcap nature of the show manifests itself in not only the ‘Dance of the Vampire Maids’ mini-cartoons at the end of each episode, but by appearances by series creator Nozomu Tamaki himself as, appropriately enough, a writer of vampire-themed manga.
The artistic tendencies of the series do work in its favour. This is one of the most beautiful anime series I’ve ever watched, and at times the quality of visuals matches that of big budget feature animations. The CGI-enhanced 3D elements are few, but the level of detail is astounding, and aided by jump cuts, varying aspect ratios and still photography that has been rotoscoped, giving real locations an animated appearance. All this looks stunning on the Blu-ray, except for some of the second episode, which mysteriously features a kind of colour bleeding, something I’ve never seen on HD before.
The characters mightn’t be as memorable as those from The Sacred Blacksmith or Strike Witches, but there are so many fantastic sequences/original ideas that it makes this series a must see for fans of the vampire genre. We have the invention of shade gel, which gives vampires temporary shelter from the harm of the sun, as well as de-fanged vamps who have taken a vow of peace. To top it all off, this is certainly the first time I’ve ever seen a vampire used as a bomb mule.
Dance of the Vampire Bund has a plethora of good ideas wrapped up in a high quality presentation. Alas, the series can be hard to follow a lot of the time. If you’re up for a narrative challenge and think you can survive the sexualisation of a pre-pubescent vampire, then it’s worth a look.
Dance in the Vampire Bund Series Collection Blu-ray is out now through Madman.Rating: