The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
The Case Study of Vanitas
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Case Study of Vanitas ?
What is this?
Rumors revolving around The Book of Vanitas, a clockwork grimoire of dubious reputation, draw Noé, a young vampire in search of a friend's salvation, to Paris. What awaits him in the City of Flowers, however, is not long hours treading the pavement or rifling through dusty bookshops in search of the tome. Instead, his quarry comes to him...in the arms of a man claiming to be a vampire doctor! Thrust into a conflict that threatens the peace between humans and vampires, will Noé cast in his lot with the curious and slightly unbalanced Vanitas and his quest to save vampirekind?
How was the first episode?
The first episode of the The Case Study of Vanitas suffers heavily from a problem I've come to call “proper noun-itis.” Proper nouns are thrown around with no real explanation or context. Worse yet, there is no viewpoint character around to ask the dumb questions that would clear things up and clue us into what's going on.
From what I can piece together, vampires are real and have basically existed living in the shadows of society ever since mankind tried to exterminate them all. Now, however, there is some sort of “Malady” that is corrupting vampires and making them go berserk. It does this by messing with their “True Names”—and only the “Book of Vanitas” can repair the damage.
I'll be the first to admit this is a surface level understanding at best. When it comes down to it, all this first episode really does is show us what happens when a vampire goes berserk and how to cure them. It then tells us that the latter is an amazing feat. It doesn't, however, explain why this is the case.
But that's only the start to the confusion. Usually with long-established fictional entities like vampires, we can assume certain rules: sunlight is bad, a stake through the heart can kill them, etc. But this episode breaks rules right away by having one vampire feed on another, leaving me wondering if any of the normal vampire rules apply beyond the blood-drinking part. Then we have Vanitas himself, who claims to be human but should be dead several times over from the damage he takes throughout the episode if that were true.
Amid all the confusion, there is, however, one major redeeming quality: this anime is beautifully animated. The lines and colors are crisp and clean while the action is dynamic and fluid. This is somewhat to be expected given that the anime's director is Tomoyuki Itamura, who's been one of the directors on pretty much every iteration of the Monogatari Series.
It's solid eye-candy, at the very least. However, I'm not sure that's enough to keep me watching long term. At this point, I'll give the series one more episode to hook me and if not, well, there are plenty of other anime this season for me to pick up.
I am extremely pleased to report that the premiere of The Case Study of Vanitas has officially delivered everything the trailers promised: stylish animation and design work supporting a fantastically detail-oriented representation of old Paris, lush music including a catchy opening theme song, and two beautiful young men with some powerful homoerotic chemistry between them. I did well to choose it as my second most-anticipated, I think.
Things started strong with “Sora to Utsuru” by sasanomaly, which is an absolute bop that stands to be the best opening of the season. The accompanying video, featuring Vanitas and Noé going on a date (or outing, if you really insist on ignoring the subtext) through well-known Paris landmarks, sets the tone for the show and creates expectations of just who the two protagonists are. It's a lot of fun and I'll definitely be watching it with every episode.
The episode itself dabbles a bit more into vaguely gothic/steampunk imagery, with children's book illustrations at the start to explain just what vampires are in this world (they are born, not sired, and weak to the light of the blue moon), airships flying over the city, and baroque, ornate fixtures everywhere you look. It is in this world that Noé, a dead-ringer for Blood Blockade Battlefront's Zapp Renfro, seeks the Book of Vanitas, which can supposedly bring ruin to vampires. He encounters a young lady vampire who turns out to be suffering from a terrible illness, but both of them are saved by Vanitas, a young man carrying the book that Noé seeks.
It's a feast for every sense, but the main draw for me, and I suspect many other potential audience members, is the dynamic between Noé and Vanitas. It's no secret that there's a lot of gay subtext between them, and they're pretty as all get-out, but that alone isn't enough. It would be so easy to fall into the same sort of relationship as Holmes and Watson, the highly intelligent one solving cases while the other one assists, but things between Noé and Vanitas are much more balanced. Yes, Vanitas is smart and capable, but he's also a klutz and kind of a doofus when he's not curing vampiric illnesses. Noé seems to be a good foil, but he is neither straight man nor dunce, just intelligent and goofy in his own ways that play well off Vanitas. Oh, and he has a cat. Natsuki Hanae and Kaito Ishikawa do excellent jobs portraying both of them, with their quirks and foibles.
The Case Study of Vanitas is the third premiere I've watched, and the first one I'm excited to continue watching.
I am one very happy Victorianist – The Case Study of Vanitas, based on the manga of the same name by the creator of Pandora Hearts, is an exquisite picture of late 19th century France. The visuals for this episode are spectacular, even if we discount the smooth movements of the fight scene between Noé and Vanitas on the airship, the period details are beautifully ornate, right down to the one thing that almost no anime gets right, the number of petticoats under a woman's full skirt. It isn't 100% perfect, but when it looks this nice, that hardly matters.
It's also another type of personal rare beast: a vampire story that intrigues me. While we don't get much vampire lore in this episode, what little there is makes it look as if The Case Study of Vanitas is working with its own mythology, one a bit similar to the manga Dead Girl Murder Farce's in how vampires are born, not made, and live among the general population in relative openness. They don't run around attacking humans willy-nilly, either – if they do, it's a sign that there's something wrong with them, sort of like how nocturnal animals walking around in daylight is a sign that they're rabid. And honestly, that's feeling like a fairly close comparison at the moment; when Amelia gives in to her illness (as Vanitas terms it), she immediately bites Noé, a bite that he fears is poisoned by whatever's ailing her. That doesn't do anything to Noé's determination to save her, but it does give him pause, which is when Vanitas comes rushing in to the rescue.
Vanitas is, at this moment, the biggest obstacle for the series to overcome. He's the off-key instrument in the orchestra, frantically frolicking through the show like a, well, stereotypical anime character, when everyone else is moving to a more stately, gilded beat. While this is doubtless purposeful and meant to establish that Vanitas is his own person not bound by the constraints of society, he's also an effective mood killer, which may not be a great thing, either here or going forward. But hey, at least he looks gorgeous.
Even if Vanitas is annoying, he may be worth dealing with for the rest of the package this episode gives us. There was clearly consultation with someone fluent in French, as the newspaper headlines are all in real, readable condition, as is young Noé's book of fairy tales, and the French words scattered about are also fitting – the airship is called “La baleine,” meaning “the whale,” and the Church's vampire- vanquishers are called “chasseurs,” which means “hunters.” The characters also pronounce “vampire” the French way, “vampeer” not “vampire,” which is a nice bit of setting establishment. This is definitely a show worth keeping an eye on, because it has style, worldbuilding, and characters who all have definite potential – even if Vanitas proves to be the worst aspect of his own series.
After a couple of awkward, run-of-the-mill nonstarters, premiere season has now truly kicked into gear. While Vanitas here is by no means rewriting the formula on vampire anime or supernatural action series at large, this first episode steps up to the plate with such confidence and flair it's hard not to get caught up in it all.
A big part of that is its presentation – Director Tomoyuki Itamura has brought every ounce of the visual flair and experimentation that characterized his work on the Monogatari series to Studio Bones, and painted both a lavish and attractive picture with it all. The mix of different visual styles, ornate environmental designs, and over-the-top direction melds perfectly with Vanitas' world of steampunk technology, gorgeous vampires, and ridiculous fashion. While the action is largely subdued for this introductory story, what little we see here is as sharp and on point as one could ask for, and in general this premiere just looks fantastic at every opportunity.
The story is a bit closer to average, at least so far. There are some interesting twists to be sure – rather than the dark-haired waif being a vengeful vampire, he's a human seeking to heal the vicious maladies turning otherwise peaceful vampires into rampaging monsters. Our assumed everyman perspective character is himself a vampire, with seemingly a history and secret all his own. But otherwise this story is fairly typical for this sort of supernatural action fantasy. But the series also seems fully aware of that and self-consciously soaks in its own silliness, both embracing its gothic aesthetic and occasionally undercutting it with comedy at just the right moments. In tone, it's actually similar to Studio Bones' Sk8 the Infinity from earlier this year – it's silly, it knows it, but it also wants to have as much fun as possible rather than apologizing for it.
More than anything, that's what this premiere promises to be: fun. It strikes an almost perfect balance with its tone and indulgent setting, and when a show looks this nice that's just about everything you could ask for. I'm very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into Vanitas, both the man and the show at large.
I love it when an anime comes along so early in the Preview Guide to blow my expectations out of the water, because it's always nice to know that you'll have at least one kickass new show to look forward to in a new season. From the scratchy and stylish line art of the fairy tale prologue, to the gorgeous alternate-history Victiorian era aesthetics of the show's world, to the delightful characters and intriguing story — The Case Study of Vanitas is a premiere that basically does everything right when it comes to getting its blood-soaked hooks into its audience so it can leave them begging for more.
For one, Noé makes for an excellent perspective character to follow as the events on the airship unfold; not only does he have a floofy cat named Murr, but we learn that he is a vampire himself, which makes a lot of sense of his desire to protect his new friend Amelia and keep her from losing control and feasting on the blood of innocent humans. Even though Vanitas is a Bones production, the distinct visual flair of director Tomoyuki Itamura comes through clear as day by the time the premiere is done. Not only does the titular Vanitas flash that signature Monogatari grin all over the place once he shows up to put a stop to Amelia's rampage, but Vanitas is positively brimming with animation flourishes and confident direction that makes the whole thing sing, even before the fantasy action set pieces get going in the second half.
I really love the whole concept of a secret community of somewhat benevolent vampires, and the malnomen curse that corrupts their true nature and causes them to become the monstrous bloodsuckers that humans have come to fear in their myths. This makes Vanitas a kind of trickster vampire hunter/healer combo, which is a great spin on the usual dynamic, and it makes his relationship with Noé that much more interesting, especially given the ominous foreshadowing that caps off the episode. An odd-couple pair of vampires whose friendship may or may not lead to soul-crushing tragedy? With a boatload of stylish action and fun comedy in between? Hell yes, absolutely, give me more of this as soon as (in)humanly possible, please!
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