Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut
Episode 4

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut ?

The opening scenes of this week's Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut feel rather like more of the same for the series. There are procedural asides on the construction of the actual craft the UZSR will be using to catapult a vampire into space, we get to see Irina try on her cool little cosmonaut suit, and discussions of their ongoing training regimens continue apace. There's even the requisite scene dealing with that dang Vampire Racism, as Roza, one of Lev's old military pals, confronts him over his role in Irina's flight plan. Apart from the still-noted issue that the human antagonism against vampires is merely presented as a basic example of xenophobic tension, this bit does work better than some other attempts at that material in previous episodes, if only because Irina actually gets to come in and stick up for herself partway through the argument, and the context it sets up for detailing the characters' motivations and unveiling some key points about their backstories later in the episode.

As it turns out, however, this week's entry is actually something of a downtime episode, a breather presented for the characters before Irina goes into intense isolation training with the next episode. This already provides an appreciable instance of characterization through smaller aside moments, like Lev bringing up his own experience with the training, leading to his earnest recommendation of taking Irina out to enjoy herself ahead of it. Apart from any declarations of platitudes to his vampire-hating cohorts, it's little remarks like these that make clear just how genuinely Lev views Irina as a person. She's absolutely beyond being a 'charge' he's a 'handler' for at this point, with their rapport coming through more like a senior/junior pair of coworkers. Their relationship has been the heartening center of this show pretty much from the word go, and will clearly be continuing to evolve as it goes on, so moments that naturally demonstrate it help keep that component feel believably grounded. But more on the eventual direction of that later.

Lev and Irina's night out gives this episode more of a 'slice of life' appeal apart from the procedural elements that have defined Vampire Cosmonaut up to this point otherwise. There are funny aside details like Irina having a Soviet Vampire fake ID to spoof her age for convenient legal reasons (but not to allow her to drink, since that would be against the rules), and the trip to the jazz bar provides another opportunity for us to just drink in the extremely unique atmosphere that I already dig about this show. I also appreciate the angles this choice of destination adds onto Lev's character, as his preference for this kind of relaxed atmosphere to the sounds of imported music that was only recently unbanned due to international tensions naturally fills in with everything we've learned about him. This is a man who has no innate desire for prideful competition, and can't cotton to the sort of nationalistic fealty that would deny him the pleasures of other places' art forms. But the writing also uses that as an opportunity to reinforce the conflict that Lev is naturally put in with the way his own country works, signified in Natalia popping in to warn him about espousing such undedicated beliefs.

Seeing more of Lev's personality passions runs parallel to the additional info we get on Irina in this episode, the most notable detail being the fact that she supposedly volunteered for the test launch program. It's a clever trick to play on the audience, even using Lev to reflect the reaction against the assumption they expected us to make that Irina was captured or coerced somehow (especially exacerbated by the loaded imagery placed strategically in the flashback last week). It's so easy for people confronted with a situation to think they have a handle on how it came to be that way, but you can't let your tropified expectations of these kinds of things dictate your assumptions, as Irina scolds Lev (and us), "Don't invent your own story". It is, in my opinion, a cleverer, more understated deployment of this show's recurring call for tempering prejudices, and the point actually has more impact this way.

Playing with our predictions in that sort of way doesn't mean Vampire Cosmonaut is above some of the other more typical anime indulgences. Of course the trip to the jazz bar takes an opportunity to demonstrate that just a sip of alcohol is enough to get the little vampire tipsy, and a later ice-skating excursion reveals that Irina was apparently packing some preternatural abilities towards that activity. It's odd, because I actually really appreciate how several of the episode's disparate components, like Irina remarking on her resistance to cold and the previous playing of the music in the bar, come together to generate this surreal, dreamlike performance on the ice. But it almost comes off a little too over-the-top for a series that hadn't indulged in this kind of excess up until now. I mostly find myself torn on the skating sequence, critically, since it's an extremely attractive segment of animation, and I think I can understand the emotional escalation it's going for in the awakening passions of both Lev and Irina. However, the way it is deployed comes off so dissonant against everything else in the episode that it nearly becomes unintentionally comical in a few moments.

The emotional climax that segment represents also makes for a good time for me to finally address the developing aspect that is Vampire Cosmonaut's elephant in the room: The budding romance between Lev and Irina. Of course, anyone halfway-conscious the first time they watched the opening sequence could guess this is a direction the plot would go, but the question of how they'd actually handle it has been one idling in the back of my mind since the show started. Their whole 'respectful coworker' arrangement at the start seemed to work well enough, but the reconciliation of similar elements in their backstories and motivations in this episode helps bring them closer to feeling like, well, comrades. Aside from any of the animation's attempts to sell us on Lev being charmed by Irina's weirdly-detailed eating and drinking motions or her sudden incredible ice-skating abilities, the pair's united wish to simply make it to their admired moon ahead of their conflict-obsessed countrymen lends them a strong "Us against the world" centering. More than any of the atmosphere or setpieces dotted through this unique little episode, the arrival at that key point made it a success for me.

Rating:

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut is currently streaming on Funimation.

Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.


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