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The Case Study of Vanitas
Episodes 1-3

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
The Case Study of Vanitas ?
Community score: 4.4

How would you rate episode 2 of
The Case Study of Vanitas ?
Community score: 4.4

How would you rate episode 3 of
The Case Study of Vanitas ?
Community score: 4.4

Welcome to a world made up of various folkloric elements: a late-nineteenth-century France where vampires and humans coexist and where vampires can come down with what's essentially a form of rabies that causes them to go berserk and kill humans. There are steampunk airships, a mysterious book referred to as an “analytical engine” (an old term for computer), and of course a descendant of the Marquis de Sade. It's a beautiful mishmash of about fourteen different texts, and more than just working, it makes this weird combination look good. Welcome, in short, to the anime adaptation of The Case Study of Vanitas.

I don't know about you, but many elements of this series' first three episodes are touching on a lot of my favorite things, and doing them proud in the bargain. Certainly, the fact that episode one shows Amelia wearing the proper number of petticoats beneath her skirt (no word on her drawers, or lack thereof, at this point) is a delight, but so is the fact that episode three, which takes us to the parallel world the vampires come from, consistently shows that vampire fashion is about twenty years behind that in human Paris – we go from bustles back to what look like hoops. This level of worldbuilding detail shows that someone's been thinking and paying attention, and while the first episode still feels like the strongest, it is something that carries over into episodes two and three.

That brings me to one very important question: do you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood? That question may be better posed to Jun Mochizuki, the author of the source manga The Case Study of Vanitas is based on, because these first three episodes are having a fine time using the fairy tale as thematic material. Mostly at this point we've got the vampires preyed upon by the mysterious evil known as Charlatan cast as Little Red, which would make Charlatan the Big Bad Wolf – the bzou, or werewolf – who comes after her in the variant of the tale that most believe to be the oldest, Tale of the Grandmother. That a different victim of Charlatan becomes corrupted into a more modern word for werewolf, loup-garrou is a neat touch, and it also speaks to the fact that in Amelia's memories she looks like the girl from Tale of the Grandmother while another looks more like the child protagonist of later variants. But the more important thing here is that Charlatan is, in a very real sense, consuming his victims. He takes and corrupts their names, forcing a state of madness upon them, as if he's swallowing their true selves. You don't have to know what academics usually make of that facet of the tale to understand that this is the equivalent of the wolf eating Red and Granny all up.

It's interesting as well because of the terminology used in other parts of the show – the hunters and the executioners (chasseurs and bourreaux) who pursue and punish the vampires infected by Charlatan. The huntsman, who first enters the Red Riding Hood tale in the German variant, is both hunter and executioner where the wolf is concerned, so Charlatan is turning Red into a wolf – you know, like folkloric werewolves do. Add in the blue hood that the legendary Vampire of the Blue Moon wears, and this is looking like an extended Little Red Riding Hood metaphor. Which, again, is absolutely up my alley.

Where things aren't quite working as well right now is the tone. I do love that we go from Vanitas being the goof in episode one to Noé swapping roles with him once they get to Paris; Vanitas dragging Noé away from the puppet show in episode two is wonderful and demonstrates that neither of them is a one-note character. But the story flips from serious to silly in the blink of an eye in both episodes two and three, and while both tones work well, they don't necessarily sit comfortably next to each other. It does feel more natural with Vanitas, who is something like whiplash personified (poor Jeanne – if she cries when you kiss her, maybe you shouldn't be kissing her, Vanitas), but it doesn't quite work with the overall narrative. It's best in cases like in episode three: when Noé's bloodline skill, the ability to read memories by drinking someone's blood, gives him a nightmarish glimpse into Amelia's past, his childhood friend Dominique shows up to break the tension. (I love her little petal-spewing robot; the girls in Kageki Shojo!! could use that thing.) But when it flips from serious to goofy to serious again, such as the scenes with Luca and Jeanne, it doesn't allow us to settle into the story comfortably.

Fortunately, these episodes do more right than wrong. I'm really looking forward to learning more about how Vanitas straddles the line between human and vampire and how he can use his book that gives new meaning to “written in the stars.”


The Case Study of Vanitas is currently streaming on Funimation.

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