Content warning: fanservice, coerced intimacy
What’s it about? 14-year-old Yamari Ko, feeling alienated from the world, has taken to skipping school and wandering Tokyo at night. When he crosses paths with a vampire, he begs her to change him into one too. There’s one major problem: the change only happens if a vampire bites someone who’s in love with them, and Ko’s never been in love!
This afternoon I put the first episode of Call of the Night on my laptop and told my partner, “this is the one about a vampire girl who wants to eat the human boy.” At which point they nodded sagely and deadpanned a funnier line than I could ever devise: “well, we all like to eat potatoes.”
This review may be all downhill from that joke, but then so was the episode.
I am an absolute magnet for a “thirsty familiar” story, is the thing. Whether it’s Guillermo de la Cruz in What We Do in the Shadows, Daniel Molloy in the Vampire Chronicles, or my ongoing demand that Dracula adaptations find gayer shit to do with Renfield, I am 90% more likely to check out a vampire story playing with the trope. Granted, I bounced off of previous “vampire girl, mortal boy” shounen rom-com Rosario+Vampire so hard I might still be recovering from the head trauma, but I was hopeful.
The staff has one hell of a pedigree, too. Liden Films is only working on two titles this season for a change, and Call is clearly getting an extra splash-out in resources for it. Director Itamura Tomoyuki, meanwhile, is late of the vampire anime of my dreams, The Case Study of Vanitas. And to top it off, screenwriting royalty Yokote Michiko (Princess Tutu, SHIROBAKO) is the series composer.
The first half is a great bit of mood-setting, too. The nighttime cityscapes really do impart the sense of wonder the characters are meant to be feeling, and the storyboarding makes smart use of Dutch angles paired with sickly greens from the secondary color palette to impart a sense of dread when vampire Nazuna happens upon our protagonist. Ko himself seems like a generally good if depressed kid (he turns down a girl in flashback saying he doesn’t understand love), his introduction a mix of the average anxieties of a rule-abiding kid doing something rebellious for the first time and some darker implications about the state of his home life. And then they go up to Nazuna’s apartment.
This is your fairly standard set-up: Nazuna propositions Ko for what he and the audience are led to believe is sex, and then she sucks his blood instead. The actual moments of intimacy where Ko feels himself soothed by lying next to another person work, but all the fanservice? It’s just…embarrassing. Part of that is Ko being 14 and Nazuna falling under the “ancient immortal creature who looks like a fellow teen” umbrella. They just aren’t characters I wanna watch get it on, even before you touch on the unpleasant double-standard where Ko’s attempts to turn down what he thinks is sex are ignored for comedy. But the problem is deeper than that.
Even in its most successful attempt at being sexy, when Nazuna prowls across the bed and chomps down on Nazuna’s neck, the show falls into the most common problem with fanservice: allegedly this is meant to be about sexual tension between two parties, but they might as well be in different universes artistically. Nazuna is shiny and so dimensional she looks like a CG rig in certain shots, the better to render the gap between her thigh-highs and her shorts; meanwhile, Ko has the visual definition of your average Potato-kun. It tips the show’s hand that while this is nominally supposed to be about a developing romance, the visual emphasis is solely on looking at Nazuna in a vacuum.
It doesn’t even try to toe the line of keeping the fanservice shots to moments specifically in the male protagonist’s point-of-view, a la My Dress-up Darling. The initial scene of Nazuna removing her cloak arguably falls under it, but after that we’ve got thighs and navels and asses peppered in at random, at which point I checked out entirely. Horny vampire stories are best when they’re about extremely embodied desire, something Vanitas understood. This might as well be a bog-standard ecchi title wearing plastic dollar store teeth.
Then the episode reveals that Ko’s inability to fall in love has a rather misogynistic tint to it, as a scene of him being yelled at by friends of the girl he rejected is dubbed over with internal monologue of him bitterly calling them ugly (the “bitch” is implied). I could only sigh my way through the remaining minutes. Yes, of course Nazuna gets flustered when Ko tries to talk about love. She was too cool and self-possessed before. She’s got to have a charm point. That’s not even an unusual writing decision, I was just sour on the whole damn affair by that point. Even the beautiful closer of Nazuna flying Ko, princess-style, over the city couldn’t bring me back.
Weak season that this is, maybe I’ll peak in on a second episode out of curiosity, and those with a higher tolerance for Shounen Bullshit than me might be able to more fully appreciate the smart direction. Mainly I’m just relieved that What We Do in the Shadows will be back next week to wash this sour taste out of my mouth.