Judge Roman Martel once performed the dance of the vampire bundt cake. There were no survivors.
"Vampires aren't as cold hearted as most humans think. We are beings who live through our hearts."
So looking at that quote, you pretty much know what kind of vampires you are in store for with Dance in the Vampire Bund. We're talking super sexy blood suckers just yearning to be loved and understood. You know who you are, if you enjoy vampire romance. If you find the whole concept loathsome, then step away my friends, because love is at the heart of this story, not carnage and mayhem.
For those of you who don't mind some romance with your undead here's the basics. Akira Regendorf (Eric Vale) has returned to school with a bit of amnesia after disappearing for a year. Yuki Saegusa (Alexis Tipton), who's always held a torch for him, becomes his close friend and helps him get back on his feet.
But one day, a blonde girl who looks about 12 appears on national television and declares that she is queen of the vampires. She is Mina Tepes (Monica Rial) and she wants vampires and humans to live together. Her ultimate plan is to create an isolated island off the coast of Japan where vampires can live freely among humans; like a gothic version of Hong Kong.
Well this doesn't sit too well with the Japanese government and soon all kinds of intrigue spring up. Most disturbing is the fact that Mina seems to know a lot about Akira. As his memories come back, he begins to remember more about his life with Mina. It seems that he was her devoted servant and protector. There is a little secret that Akira doesn't know about. It involves fangs, fur and howling.
The twelve episodes are comprised of three different story arcs. The first focuses on Akira coming to grips with being Mina's servant and handling Yuki's feelings for him. Most of this occurs in a specially designed high school that keeps direct sunlight out and vampires nice and safe inside. This means you get all kinds of antics as Mina the super powerful vampire tries to behave like a normal Japanese school girl.
Sure there are plots by the Japanese government and a terrorist group thrown into the mix, but most of the focus is on romance, misunderstandings and drinking the blood of your enemies. Don't get me wrong, a few action scenes do pop up. But the plotline for these first six episodes ends up being kinda ho-hum. None of the characters were that interesting and the high school set up was disappointingly bland.
Luckily the gears shift a bit when you hit the final two arcs. These delve deeper into the vampire world and the reasons why the Vampire Bund was created. All the characters get a little more depth and the action climaxes are more creative and interesting.
Part of the reason I ended up so disappointed in the first half of Dance in the Vampire Bund was the first episode. It was completely comprised of the television show where Mina makes her declaration about vampires to the world. The whole thing had this off kilter surreal vibe to it, reminding me strongly of Satoshi Kon's deliciously demented Paranoia Agent or the twisted tales of Boogiepop Phantom. I hold both those shows in high esteem and was really excited to see something along those lines. So when the rest of the show went into high school romance autopilot it was a bummer.
The animation is effective, using lots of darkness and shadow to create a gothic atmosphere. The character design is attractive, and has all the fan service that will suit most viewers just fine. The action sequences tend to be fierce and bloody. But not all of them are fully animated, they fall back on some of the tried and true long distance shots or pan away from the really crazy stuff.
In fact, Dance in the Vampire Bund has a very stylized format, using a lot of jump cuts to stills of backgrounds, flowers or simply a screen of red or yellow. The first half of the show really goes overboard with this technique and it actually contributes to the disconnect I felt. I'm not sure what this bizarre editing had to do with the story, but I'm glad they toned it down for the second half.
One more thing to mention, Funimation actually claimed they weren't sure they would be able to release the unedited version of Dance in the Vampire Bund. My research shows this is the unedited version. What made Funimation so nervous? Well Mina looks about 12 years old and acts like a grown woman. There's plenty of scenes with her nude, nearly nude and in bed with Akira. There's also a subplot involving a young boy and a teenage girl that gets a bit, um, physical. The amount of fan service in the show is pretty high in general, but this added layer of young looking characters is sure to make some viewers uncomfortable.
Funimation put all 12 episodes on two discs. The picture was nice and clear, and the sound well balanced between music and dialogue. The subtitles were easy to read and went by at a good pace. For extras you get some Japanese trailers and promos for the show, as well as clean opening and ending credits. There are also mini clips called intermissions. These appear to be panels from the manga with the Japanese voice actors reading the panels. All twelve add up to about 15 minutes.
This is a mixed bag. If you enjoy your vampire romance, and don't mind some high school settings in there, I can easily recommend Dance in the Vampire Bund. If you are on the fence, the second half did make up for the lackluster first half. There are some interesting characters and ideas developed that make this worth seeking out. Just keep your tolerance for youthful fan service in mind.
Just entertaining enough to be not guilty.
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