Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 10th 2010
Dance in the Vampire Bund
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
After announcing the existence of vampires to the world, their queen Mina Tepes makes known her intent to establish an autonomous vampire nation off the shores of Japan. A brutal demonstration on live television leaves no doubt as to the authenticity of her claims and the government is basically put on notice that The Bund, as it will be called, will become reality regardless of opposition. High school amnesiac Akira Kaburagi watches the events on television like everyone else, unaware that his life and his missing memories are inextricably intertwined with the child queen on-screen. Soon he will discover that memory recall can be a painful thing, especially when it involves dismemberment—and the recollection of a deep and abiding love that can never be consummated.
Akiyuki Shinbo is not a subtle director. Take a look at the filmic influences he parades via Dance in the Vampire Bund's episode titles: From Dusk 'Til Dawn, The Howling, Prom Night. These are not the influences of a sensitive filmmaker. Nor harbingers of high-minded horror. So is it really any surprise that Bund is a lurid horror-action hybrid with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer?
Not that that's a problem. Far from it. Like (most of) the films it cribs its titles from, this is willfully pulpy stuff—violent, sexualized, and smarter than its penchant for perverse romance and geysers of blood might indicate. For one it's as much about devious stratagems as the violence the stratagems cause. Many of the series' best moments come when Mina puts some weasel or another in their place with the tactical acumen and attendant ruthlessness of an experienced conqueror. Mina herself is smart bit of work; a fiercely intelligent yet compassionate ruler with no qualms about trampling others, or even herself, on the path to an independent vampire state. It's almost beside the point that she's also a queasily sexualized little girl. ...Almost.
The series also knows its genre conventions (given the digging it must have taken to unearth stinky little gems like Walpurgis Night—AKA The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman—to name its episodes after, it damned well should) and how to manipulate them. The first episode—a "talk show" during which the existence of vampires is debated, and gorily proved—turns the secret-world narratives of most vampire movies on their collective heads, beginning a pattern of genre twisting that continues throughout. A rote vampire/human love story is curdled with shotacon acid, vampire in-fighting results in a grotesque campaign of all-too-modern terrorism, and gore and romance are continually combined in ways that would make most horror films blanch.
It also has an annoying habit of maneuvering Mina into situations where she must be rescued by Akira, as well as a fondness for prepubescent flesh that some will find disturbing; but really, what work of pulp horror would be complete without some glaring flaws? And even when it betrays its lead or dives headfirst into loli-land, it's never boring. Shinbo alone, with his discontinuous editing and constant need to get his visual freak on, ensures that. The series positively leaps from visual excess to visual excess. Much fun is had with the cinema verite conceit of the opening episode, while later episodes tinker with simulated sepia film-stock (complete with scratches), emulate camera jitter or just pile on geometric black shadows and expressionistic nightmare imagery until the plot bows under their weight. And for all its gratuitousness, there is a measure of method to all that madness. Far too many of the stylistic indulgences give birth to genuinely horrific sequences—including some disturbing business with malleable globs of flesh and more werewolf maulings than you can squirt arterial blood at—for there not to be.
The show's stylistic excesses do come at a cost however. Though the series moves swiftly, it does so with a staccato choppiness that can be blamed pretty exclusively on Shinbo's direction. All those discontinuous edits and near-abstract horror compositions cut the action up, delivering everything in little disconnected (if wonderfully fluid) bursts. It's certainly nice that the show respects our intelligence enough to trust us to correctly assemble those bursts, but it unfortunately comes across as ragged and ill-paced in the process. Ragged enough, in fact, that it's difficult to spot the unintentional gaps in continuity (due to Funimation's controversial edits) amongst all of the intentional ones.
Akio Dobashi's score is a pleasant, appropriately gothic affair: sufficient to communicate the dark feel of the plot, but nowhere near a match for the aggressive confluence of careful animation, gorgeously stylized art and deranged imagination that is the series' visual style. This is Shinbo in full-on The SoulTaker mode, and unfortunately Dobashi is no Kô Ôtani. Which might be why the mood is regulated with silence and dialogue as often as it is with music.
With its disorienting style, graphic content, and B-movie sensibilities, Dance in the Vampire Bund will never boast universal appeal. Add in the strong lolicon undertones and...well, let's just say your grandparents wouldn't approve. Which is fine. The appeal of a series whose memorable moments include a supernatural atrocity atop a stone hand encrusted with coffins and a vampire feeding frenzy in an artificial downpour of blood is not meant to be a wide one. But for those susceptible to it, it is a deep one.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Stylish, oft beautiful vampire action with a strong female lead and an unexpected aptitude for Machiavellian scheming.
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