I didn't really know what to expect going into this show. It was about vampires, I knew, and had some controversy over the fact that the petite heroine was often nude, but not much past that. On the other hand, vampire romance is seriously overplayed in the west, and the direction of vampire fiction in recent years has pretty much started to turn my stomach.
It got into my head that maybe it was progressive or provocative, or in some way didn't fit into established genres or fall prey to common anime clichés. Whether or not that's what I got I'm still not sure, but it was an interesting watch.
Dance in the Vampire Bund (DVD [reviewed] and Blu-ray)
I can't comment on the quality of the packaging for this release as I received the discs in plain cases, but the DVD menus are well put together and look nice. The extras are standard fare; textless opening and ending, promos and trailers. Though I didn't get standard DVD cases, I did get a small promotional container with a few packets of SPF 30 sunscreen, in reference to the shade gel that the vampires wear to protect themselves from sunlight. Not sure if the regular release comes with that or not, but it was an amusing touch for sure.
The first episode is pretty unusual, taking place entirely as a fictional TV show called The Scales of Astraea. The 'show' presents a news feature of a girl who was attacked on the streets by a vampire like creature, followed by debate by five celebrity guests who argue the reality of vampires. The whole thing is eventually interrupted by real vampires, including Mina Tepes, who announces her plans to create a small nation state for vampires on a nearby bund.
The second episode sets up much more of the recurring elements of the show, introducing and amnesiac schoolboy named Akira Kaburagi. Akira is very shortly revealed to be a werewolf who has sworn to protect Mina, and has seen something terrible in the past that landed him a trip down memory (loss) lane, though exactly what isn't revealed until the end.
The show gets points for being varied from episode to episode. Few of the characters from the first episode appear again, though the events that happened are referenced several times. From then on, the show is alternately about the politics of creating a nation of vampires, action scenes largely to do with thwarting attempts on Mina's life, and occasional glimpses of daily life as the characters try to live somewhat normally despite the odd circumstances going on.
It pulls a few really weird fake-outs, especially in the third episode where Mina transfers to Akira's school, complete with the obligatory scene where she introduces herself to the class. It looked like it was spiraling right toward cliché central as Mina fulfilled the role of crazy superpowered girl that falls out of the sky onto the hapless amnesiac hero and drags him into her business, and there's an implied love triangle between them and Akira's childhood friend Yuki.
This never really plays out, but it's still very odd and I'm not sure if they were doing that to be subversive or because it's such an ingrained feature of anime that they couldn't get away from it.
Shaft has a history of good animation, but there is some minor fluctuation over the course of this series. The animation in the first two episodes is nice, but there's a strange sort of filter in place where a strange bluish blur appears around any black areas. At first I thought it was a problem with the transfer or with my TV, but I think they did it on purpose now. Either way, it doesn't look good.
Occasionally throughout the show you'll see some long-ish shots that look like the character art is being re-drawn each frame as the camera shifts very slightly. It's as if they're rotoscoping a 3D model (I'm not sure of the actual technique used), but the end result isn't all that good. You wonder why they didn't use a few better looking still shots and just animate the talking mouths. Despite this, the overall animation quality is pretty good.
That leaves us with the element of the fanservice, if that's what it is. Mina gets naked a lot, but I have no idea how many of our readers are going to be perturbed about that. The occasional precocious lolis (be they 8 or 800 years of age) are going to show up here and there in anime, and this show has one. Most of the nudity is not sexual in nature, though I seriously lost count of the number of shots of Mina's ankles as her skirt or dress hit the ground around them. There might be one in every episode.
The dub for the various characters ranges from pretty good to somewhat off, and after watching the whole show in Japanese I really couldn't get behind the English voice actors. That's mostly personal preference, as the dub is okay, but I can't recommend it as the optimal experience.
Dance in the Vampire Bund lost me on occasion with its political twists and changing allegiances, but I didn't have to go back and re-watch anything to piece it together after the fact. It has some twists and turns, and despite appearances doesn't stick too close to established tropes. It's an interesting watch, and one I recommend to anyone wanting something a bit unusual, if not groundbreaking.
Score - 7.5
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