VLADLOVE – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser January 3, 20210 Comments
Mitsugu looking at Mai, who's asleep on a bench. subtitle: She's so beautiful.

What’s it about? Bamba Mitsugu is obsessed with the idea of donating her blood, but due to her unique blood type she keeps getting turned away from blood drives. During one such failed attempt, she meets the vampire Mai, who can’t bring herself to bite humans lest they become slaves to her will. Vowing to protect her new girlfriend, Mitsugu establishes a blood donation club to keep Mai fed.

Content Warning: nudity/fanservice (joke censored), abuse played as comedy; NSFW screenshot

I believe we should talk more about the failings of anime as an industry, from the brutal, sometimes literally fatal, working conditions that plague both production and distribution; to the overload of titles each season that stretch studios too thin; to the systemic issues that often prevent marginalized creators from making it to leading creative positions. It can be very cool to see members of the industry with enough credibility and protection voice these issues where their more vulnerable colleagues could not without jeopardizing their careers. That being said, if you use that powerful opportunity to simply say, “you’re all making shit, now watch this,” maybe you shouldn’t follow that called shot with the first episode of VLADLOVE.

Mitsugu gaping and blushing at an undressing Mai, who is covered by a "self-censorship" sign

Once again I am faced with a title that should be extremely relevant to my interests—in this case, a lesbian vampire romance with a pretentious artsy streak—only to trash 90% of my built-in goodwill with fumbled execution. So much of this first episode is finding a technique that works and then repeating it ad nauseam until a neat flourish becomes groan-inducing or outright comical. Picture-in-picture scenes a la Ando, hyper-stylized stills in the style of classic shoujo, and a handbrushed look to the background are all solid artistic choices, but they often feel popped in to jazz up a scene rather than deliberately deployed to heighten a moment. It’s one thing to cut in on a character’s lips to highlight a growing intimate tension and another to do it again two seconds later when they’re just….sitting there talking.

Mitsugu with two cut-in images of Mai's face to either side of her. subtitle: Indeed. My name is Mai Vlad Transilvania
And this is the point where I audibly yelled “OH FUCK OFF” at my laptop

Those choices also mesh poorly with the attempts at ultraviolent slapstick in Mitsugu’s scenes with school nurse and mad scientist Chimatsuri Chihiro (who at one point randomly gets naked for two seconds, which I am still at a loss to tell you what the joke is here). They fall flat because a) the series lacks sufficient squishy absurdity in its visuals to sell that its cast can get smacked around and bounce back immediately, and b) it is doing that very tiresome trick where a character yells about it being abuse, which is taken to absolve the writing from taking it seriously. Do you want to be a manic comedy where violence is cheap and weirdness is king, or do you want to be an esoteric, tongue-in-cheek vampire love story? Please decide on one, VLADLOVE, because the mix-and-match isn’t working.

Mitsugu sprawled out while the school nurse sits naked (censored) in her desk chair. sign reads "dramatic inevitability"
I….guess the joke is that we’re getting the nudity out of the way early, because nobody could possibly draw a woman without eventually getting her naked? Progress?
Also that nosebleed is from an unprompted shitkicking, not horniness.

There’s also the issue of Mitsugu herself, who feels like someone wrote a bog-standard horny dude protagonist and then drew on a pair of boobs. It’s a difficult annoyance to put into words, because I’m here for more anime that give ladies enthusiastic agency over their sexuality—it’s part of what made Yamada’s First Time such an unexpected delight. This should be especially welcome in a genre like yuri, which still grapples with the “pure” subgenre even as more titles exploring overt sexuality have become popular. And of course, people of a variety of genders write and enjoy wlw romance, but boy, does this scream cishet dude.

Mitsugu and Mai. subtitle: Promise. I'd do anything for you, Mai
This is day two. It’s cool to know u-hauls are big in Japan too.

 The best way I can put it is that there’s a kind of othering tone to the way Mitsugu moons over Mai that doesn’t track with my experiences of queer women expressing desire. For instance, Mitsugu looking at Mai, who’s sitting post-shower with her legs drawn up, doesn’t say or do anything. She instead thinks “Whoa! Would be any man’s reaction” and “that pose would seduce anyone,” as though this woman must be implicitly using her wiles just by existing, even though Mai had just established she was horrified of her influence over others during the same scene. It lacks nuance in a way I probably would roll my eyes at but shrug off if this weren’t another called shot.

close-up of Mitsugu. subtitle: It's almost like an anime

There are enough breadcrumbs here—the pleasantness of how normalized Mitsugu’s vocal interest in Mai is, the lovely art in Mai’s flashback, a handful of jokes that work, that kickass opening—that I’ll probably give it a three-episode try out. But between the failings of the content itself, the clunky subtitles on the inexplicable (but official) YouTube release, and a total lack of clarity about when more episodes are even coming out, I can’t say I recommend anyone else bother. Ms Vampire who lives in my neighborhood is a more clever comedy about vampire tropes (though noncommittal in its romance), while Scarlet is a better trashy, horny vampire yuri drawn by a woman. Even Hungry for You would do in a pinch, though that title falls apart on its potential too. Go, save yourselves. It’s already too late for me.

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