Content Warning: Sexual harassment, mild fanservice/nudity
What’s it about? 15-year-old vampire Terakomari “Komari” Gandesblood has shut herself away in her room, a poor fit for her strength-obsessed society as a vampire who can’t use magic and hates blood. When her overzealous father takes her blowhard claim that she’d only take a job if she could have the throne as sincere, Terakomari finds herself given a title, an army, and a hyper-competent maid named Villhaze who’s already obsessed with her.
Boy howdy, if you only watch one fantasy yuri series this season about a rich blonde tsundere and the unabashedly forward maid who keeps declaring her passionate love…this one probably wouldn’t be my first pick.
I promise not to belabor the comparison too long, but it does Vexations no favors to be coming out the same season as I’m in Love with the Villainess. It’s got slightly higher production values to throw around, but Villainess is famously beloved because after its initial barrage of “wear down the girl until she dates me” jokes it deepens into a tidy five volumes of fleshed-out romance with a lot to say about being LGBTQ+ in Japan, as written by a queer author.
Vexations has considerably more of a “harem of girls around an oblivious protagonist” set-up, and brief furtive googling seems to imply that the series has showed no interest in actively pursuing a romance after 11 volumes (and counting). It almost feels more accurate to say the series has Yuri Vibes rather than that it’s committed to be being a yuri romance (if someone has info otherwise, I would love to be wrong here)—something that, like My New Boss is Goofy, will likely be fun for some audiences and frustrating for others.
Others might find themselves put off by the fanservice. It’s fairly light in terms of leering camera angles, with the tiniest bit of boob jiggle and a gag about Villhaze sneaking into Komari’s bed naked. Unfortunately, almost all of the queerness in this episode come from women ignoring Komari’s boundaries. Older women, at that—Villhaze is nebulously ageless in that “conceivably a much more worldly older teen” way, but the Empress who kisses Komari in her sleep and waxes lyrical about massaging her boobs is an extremely adult lady. There’s a pissing-yourself joke, because of course there is. All of these interactions emphasize Komari being uncomfortable, flustered, or on the verge of tears; the appeal of her humiliation is so much the point that it gives Villhaze a nosebleed as the episode ends.
It’s a major bummer as someone who this concept should, theoretically, be tailor-made for. I love stories of single-mindedly devoted bodyguards and second-in-commands; the inherent homoeroticism of the personal attendant; the devious little freak who’s about to do so many murders to keep their idealist boss’ hands clean. Vexation misses the core power dynamic that makes these stories work, wherein the servant is willingly ceding authority to the person they serve. A Jeeves type might actually be wildly over-competent, but he’s going to wait for his boss to make a request before unleashing those skills (or if he doesn’t, it’s a big deal). Villhaze says she’s in love, but she never takes any orders or stops something she’d been doing at Komari’s command. So Komari is not only physically weaker and less experienced than Villhaze, but her supposed position as the boss holds no actual weight. It destroys a lot of the dynamic’s appeal.
I am, nonetheless, contractually obligated to at least try every anime about vampires, and I’m kind of into the worldbuilding of this first episode. Apparently the magic macguffin of this fantasy world has functionally banished death as a consequence in certain areas, meaning that every culture is now basically built around conquest-as-sport. Komari finds it sickening, but thanks to her dad she’s now in the position of having to put on a braggadocios front. Should anyone suspect she’s actually weak, she’d face an immediate mutiny. I like her as a protagonist, even if I wish they hadn’t encouraged Kusunoki Tomori to go quite so over-the-top squeaky with her performance. It’s one hell of a show of range though; about as diametrically opposite to her work as Makima as you can get.
It’s an intriguing conflict, pertinent to the way power-fantasy light novels in particular set up battles to big up the protagonist without much actual interest in the complexities and horrors of war. The cold-open of beast-people burnt and lifeless while vampires talk about making blood wine is effectively chilling, and I felt myself getting drawn in even if I generally lack confidence that long-running series can keep up their tension and continual meaningful changes to the status quo.
I want to believe in this one. I’m kind of tempted to give it three episodes, just in case it dares to gay it up a little more consensually. But this is the biggest season in memory. Aside from Villainess, there’s Stardust Telepath coming out tomorrow. We get Whisper Me a Love Song next season. Maybe I’ll just be excited that sexual harassment is no longer the only way a show can conceive of a protagonist letting a queer person touch them.