This Week in Anime
Does Vlad Love Scratch That Nostalgia Itch?

by Jean-Karlo Lemus & Nicholas Dupree,

Acclaimed director Mamoru Oshii returns to his roots with a bombastic comedy that harkens back to anime of decades past. It's referential, totally crazy, and stars a lesbian couple that includes a blood donor fanatic and a vampire. Vlad Love is both familiar and totally unique. Jean-Karlo and Nick see if can scratch their anime nostalgia itch.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Hi readers, I'm Jean-Karlo, and today I'm excited to talk about an anime series made by industry veteran Mamoru Oshii, beloved visionary behind the Patlabor series and the Ghost in the Shell films! What we have is...

... oh, of all the sick jokes—it's vampires again.

Vampires and veteran anime directors are a lot like roaches. You think they're good and gone forever, then you turn the light on in the kitchen and see them scurry around before they puke in your face.

This week we're covering Vladlove, the bizarre return of Mamoru Oshii to anime after a decade of absence. And I gotta say, whatever you might think of this series, I think we can all agree it's still better than Sky Crawlers.
Is it? Is it really?
Absolutely. For one, this thing's got TWO (2) S-tier openings. I have no idea why or what purpose it serves, but I'm not gonna complain.

Yeah, normally a show will wait for a second cour for a new opening. Vladlove alternates between them both over the course of its one cour. Way to show that people are willing to shell out animation bucks for Oshii, I guess...? The story centers around Mitsugu Bamba, a girl with a fetish hobby for donating blood. Not that anyone can use it, she's got chimeric blood (an actual medical condition where you have one or more blood types at once). Bamba just... likes donating blood. To the point where she begs nurses to take more.
Bamba just enjoys the act of giving. Especially if it's to a hot vampire girl who got mailed to the wrong address.
Bamba's such a freak generous person she keeps her blood in the fridge and feeds it to the vampire.

The vampiress introduces herself as Mai Vlad Transylvania. She's in Japan because she has a feud with her new step-mother, and her coffin got mailed to the wrong hemisphere I guess.
What, you don't keep your own personal hemoglobin Capri Sun on ice?

Somebody's just asking to get killed in the 2nd act of a horror movie. And if that rapid bit of art shifting didn't clue folks in, Vladlove is a very...I think the polite word would be "energetic." It's not necessarily lavish—like half its backgrounds are just filtered photographs and it even integrates live-action cityscapes often—but it certainly has its own visual identity. Oshii and co-director Junji Nishimura are particularly fond of cut-ins for dialogue rather than your typical reverse-shot. Like think Scum's Wish but all the time.
I like the live-action shots, just wanna say. Very artsy. It's eye-catching. And the cut-ins are a good way of maintaining energy while the action is just characters jawing at each other. But we're not done introducing you yet. See, Bamba can't let Mai drink blood from her the old-fashioned way—Mai is too tender-hearted to turn Bamba into another vampire, and Bamba cannot produce enough blood on a daily basis to sustain her anyhow, even if she eats nothing but liver, spinach and prunes (which she does anyway). So Bamba goes to her sexed-up school nurse, Chihiro Chimatsuri, to make a blood donating club. As you do.
I mean if there's any medical professional to trust with this problem it's probably Dr. Blood McBlooderson. Though the good(?) doctor is also where the other half of Vladlove's visual identity arrives:
Boy oh boy, I hope you kids like your Basic Instinct references!
And the 2nd worst Fallout game!

But yeah, this show really, really loves references. To the point that skirting copyright is a running gag just 6 episodes in.
Fallout 4 isn't even the weirdest left-field reference Vladlove is going to drop on us. They just stick Mai in a whole Morrigan Aesland cosplay at one point, just 'cuz.

Remember when Motoko Kusanagi referenced Cyberbots in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence? I sure don't!
I mean, when you've got a sexy vampire girl and your tastes are set firmly in the 90's, that's just what you do. And there's a certain charm to just how much the show's willing to run with it. Episode 6 is an extended parody of Castlevania for fucks sake!
Also gotta love the Monkey love here. At least Oshii's going for the deepest of cuts.
So I think it's fair to say that cheekiness is a large part of this show's humor. It's a wacky, raucous comedy with on the barest absurdity to call a plot, and every episode is an exercise in seeing how far they can escalate things before the city burns down. Literally.
See, for me, Vladlove feels like an awkward throwback to the "magic girlfriend" shows of the 00s like Rizelmine or Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun, where a hapless nerd winds up with a powerful—and potentially destructive—girlfriend. All these shows tried to bank on the fame that classics like Urusei Yatsura still enjoy to this day. Thing is, those shows stank—Urusei Yatsura, they ain't. And while Oshii not only got his start writing for some of those old Urusei Yatsura episodes, I struggle to find that old charm here. Vladlove just feels extremely out of place and out of touch.
Honestly that's what makes it charming for me. It's so rare to get this kind of crass, gross-out comedy starring a largely female cast these days, that even if it was once played out, it's certainly novel to in 2021 to see a face game this out there:

Ah yes, the noble water flea. I remember you from our Hypnosis Mic column!

But that kinda brings me to my issue. All this stuff that Vladlove is trying just reminds me of better shows I could be watching. Full credit to Vladlove not being weird, gross slavery apologia about rehabilitating a non-remorseful pedophile, or like, some guy's weird angry manifesto about how much he wants to take his revenge on some specific person. I long for the days where the worse thing a show could do was be another loud, rapid-fire comedy starring a loser and his hyperactive, destructive girlfriend.

Eh, I'm digging it. No other show this year has yet to offer a Mary Poppins Vampire flight that ends with letting loose a horde of zoo animals. Sometimes you want pure chaos in your life.

Considering how long Oshii's career was buoyed by talky, navel-gazing suspense films like Patlabor 2, it's hard to think his bread and butter was once this very same kind of thing (fun fact: Oshii's transition into slow philosophizing was in a Urusei Yatsura film—Beautiful Dreamer, still considered one of the best UY movies!). This is all just so much sound and confusion signifying nothing. At least the production values are stellar? The cityscapes quickly became a highlight for me.
I don't necessarily need a comedy to signify much of anything. It's a loud and abrasive approach that for sure won't work for everyone, but sometimes you just want to see somebody brutalize a muppet.
Loud, raucous comedies are fine—it's why I love Cromartie High School after all these years. But maybe don't remind me of better shows I could be watching when the best you have is "Remember Chief Goto from Patlabor? I sure made Patlabor a long time ago, way before most anime fans today were even born!".
Jokes on him. I still haven't seen Patlabor. That box set will continue gathering dust on my shelf for another day.
I'm not even sure the other characters add much. Chimatsuri's raw id basically makes her a must for Bamba's masochistic personality, to say nothing of her actually pushing events forward. But then you have Bamba's Blood Drive Club members: Nami Uten, from the Dance club; Maki Watabe, from the Cinema club; and Kaoru Konno from the Cosplay club. And they're just kinda there to cosplay old stuff?

Like, if you're gonna make a Cat's Eye reference in 2021, allow me to congratulate you on your huge, huge balls.
They exist for the same reason every non-vampire character exists. To provide literal blood fuel to the chaos engine at the center of them all. They form a whole club around it and everything.
There's a bit where it turns out that everyone's differing blood types affect Mai's mood when she drinks it (which kinda reminds me of a similar mechanic in Vampire The Masquerade when Vamps drank blood from other supernaturals). But I struggle to call it "funny", even though it led to the "Mary Poppins causes a jailbreak at the zoo" bit.
The bit in and of itself is pretty simple, and whether it works largely depends on what punchline it's building up to. Though I do appreciate how Bamba refuses to let any icky boys spill their blood for her girlfriend.

That's one thing I'll give this show. I think a lot of anime could bear to do is to cut out the Potato-kuns and let anime be gayer. Bamba herself is leagues more entertaining than another Keitaro Urashima or Tenchi Masaki, and hey, in 2002 we could have used more comedies about gals being pals that weren't Puni Puni Poemi.

Also, I missed that brand of sparkly background from old anime. Leave it to Oshii to bring that kind of shot back.
Though sadly their love may not be meant to be. Turns out Bamba's conveniently absent dad is actually a world renowned vampire hunter who's got it out for Mai's walking mustache of a dad.

That's rough girl. It can be hard enough to get parents to accept their gay children as-is, let alone having to overcome necrophobia too.
I don't even know if Bamba's dad is supposed to look like a bearded Keanu Reeves in an attempt at referencing Bram Stoker's Dracula, but I'll take it.
It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
In true screwball comedy fashion, the parental conflict goes nowhere and we just get the cast going to night school in order to accommodate Mai's nocturnal lifestyle, also Castlevania references via 'Castle of Vania'.

And again, the cuts stay deep...
Somebody here likes classic 90's quarter munchers and I gotta respect that. Though boy does it make me hungry for a Hi Score Girl Blu-ray set.
And outside of a nice tender moment where one of the Blood Donation club members gets some recognition, the series ends with a curtain call and... that's it. See, Vladlove is going for a digital release, but only the first half of the series is actually produced. We don't know when the rest is coming.
I imagine it'll be coming some time near the end of the season, since this batch was timed to release right when 6 episodes would have come out if it aired regularly. It's...not an optimal release strategy, honestly. I think a show this in-your-face is probably best consumed weekly, just to avoid fatigue.
Yeah, I badly miss episode-a-week shows and the current binge-format people force everything into really doesn't do that kind of show any favors. Definitely couldn't have helped what little love I have for Vladlove.

But it's there if you wanna watch it, and if it had come out in 2002 like its many inspirations plenty of college folks would have watched it because the fansubs were free and Bamba would have been voiced by Amanda Winn Lee shrieking her blessed heart out, and ADV would have some wacky "Blood Drive" set complete with bars of soap that looked like blood and I guess that's nice to think about?

I did enjoy my time with this. It's not perfect, and I suspect its formula will reach diminishing returns in the back half if it can't change it up, but by god it's something different and sometimes that's enough. Plus, again, those OPs slap.
At the end of the day, Vladlove isn't offensive, it just doesn't offer me much besides a fun little Kamen Rider reference and some pretty shots of Tokyo at night. Definitely wish this show was more, but to be fair it could have been so much less...
Just one request: Whoever's in charge of titling the episodes, please reconsider.

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