Dance in the Vampire Bund – It’s no Nabokov, that’s for sure…
Title: Dance in the Vampire Bund
When I first started watching ‘Dance in the Vampire Bund’, I was at first utterly delighted. The first episode was such a totally different approach to the introduction of vampires in a series that it thrilled me to my little heart. It opens with a B-movie style trailer-come-news report which details a mysterious attack that a woman claims was by a vampire, fitted in with 7 murders within three months. What follows then is a game show called ‘Scales of the Goddess’ where celebrity guests come to vote on an issue one way or another. The topic up for discussion? Are vampires real. A series of invited speakers and reports are shown to the guests to try and sway their opinions one way or another and they have to decide.
I felt this opening was absolutely inspired. The guests were a historian, a model, an actor in a vampire film, a manga artist and an obnoxious comedy actress. I relished every moment, there were references made to the global economy at present, and plenty of satirical nods to current celebrity culture, the vapidity of daytime television and the sudden obsessiveness that can be found in today’s vampire fans.
“Vampires are so cool,” drawls the buxom blonde model, in a typical valley-girl voice. “Dracula and those guys are so misunderstood and sexy!”
The ‘witnesses’ appear and begin to state their case. They establish the vampire mythology of this universe, and begin to establish a politics and hierarchy. Add to that the mysterious blonde girl from Romania in the audience who appears to know more than she is letting on it all goes to a strong start. The plan, it seems, is to lure out the vampiric murderer as he is jeopardising other vampires and going against vampire law. When he is revealed, the vampire shifts into a grotesque lizard-like creature, not sucking blood but consuming people whole.
The mysterious little blonde girl reveals her cards to him, and the viewing public. She is Mina Tepeş, daughter of Vlad Tepeş – and it is this touch that made it special for me. Not Dracula, but a transliteration of his name. Vlad the Impaler, with Tepeş the Romanian for Impaler. This showed not only that the writers had done some research, but also a level of subtlety which some other vampire series have not been able to implement. She is the Queen of the Vampires, and as such lays the smackdown fairly unequivocally on our rogue vampire. She declares that the Vampires are becoming a free state of sorts, and will be forming a vampire bund to rule as their own on a small, man-made island just off the coast, visible from the city.
Based on this first episode, my hopes were very very high. I loved the tone which had been set, I loved the hierarchy and politics that had been established, not just in relation to the vampires, but how that then fit in to the wider world, and I actually quite liked having the Queen of the Vampires be a little girl.
Then in the second episode onwards, things started to get a bit… sticky for me. So I made a table of Pros and Cons:
Pros first then – the politics continued after the first episode, I was pleased to see, and the vampires become more involved in the politics of the city, revealing ace after ace after ace up their sleeve, playing wonderfully dirty and not pulling their punches. At the same time, their very existence brings politics down to the every day level, splitting classmates in opinion and setting them against each other. And Mina runs it all. She is a delightfully two-faced, manipulative and powerful character, and it fits with her position and personality. She is also willful, whimsical, demanding, cruel, vengeful and arrogant, all the shades of a little girl with a lot of power who usually gets what she wants. It’s delightful to see! The satire is played down a bit as the series continues, but there are little sparks of it here and there, and the current affairs and social observations are a running theme. Vampires in the world would cause upset and upheaval, and it’s great, really really great, to see it acknowledged and dealt with with such deftness.
The animation style is stunning, a strange mix of sketchy and focussed, but also veering away from temptation to make everyone beautiful and big-eyed. It’s dark, it’s gritty, and it’s not afraid to make the most of its subject matter. It reminded me a lot of Hellsing in its animation of monsters, although perhaps not quite as dark as that in the long run, is grotesque and brilliantly thrilling. This is horror subject matter, portrayed like horror.
The maids of Awesomeness are Mina’s maids, and they are spread occasionally through the episodes, and at the end of each also have a 30-second omake-style short. And they’re amazing.
Now… the cons. The first is simple – from what Mina was able to do in the first episode, and the rogue vampire’s transformation, I was concerned that this would be another series where super-powerful vampires ruled the roost. And they are pretty powerful. But, as the series progresses this is more because of their sheer political and commercial weight that they have accrued as a race than because of their mythical prowess.
In the second episode, we are introduced to Akira, who has recently been in a car accident and lost all his memories. He and his schoolmate, a girl called Yuki, have a will-they-won’t-they sort of chemistry. Yuki is actually the narrator, and she implies that their romance is probably doomed from the start. It’s a brave move having Yuki narrate, especially as she is not a major character for the first few episodes, and there are episodes where she is missing altogether, and as it goes she is an observer. She is separate from the action, so it is difficult to empathise with her.
Mina, it transpires, knows Akira from years ago, and begins to stalk him. And then try to seduce him. And this is where my brain broke. I had already been made slightly uncomfortable by the ending credits which show a still of Mina in saucy underwear, and the opening where Mina dances around naked save for some cunningly placed ribbon, black Mary-Janes and white ankle socks. When she strips off for Akira and asks him to rub vampire-level sunscreen all over her I really started to squirm. Yes, she acknowledges that whilst she might look ten or eleven, she is actually hundreds of years old, but whilst that might be a neat get-around the underage sex and child porn laws, it doesn’t make it any less comfortable to see what is essentially a young child trying to seduce a boy of about 17 or 18.
In the second episode, Mina is attacked by a monster and Akira remembers that he has powers – not only that, he’s a gosh-darned werewolf! And some more politics, lovely and distracting politics are revealed. Mina is not just Queen of the Vampires, but of all monsters, and they are split into clans. Akira is of the Earth Clan, who are the werewolves, and serve as guards for Mina. And they’re rather looked down upon by other monsters, but pretty flipping powerful it seems. He saves Mina’s life and whisks her away.
And then the next episode opens with him naked in bed with her. It’s heavily implied that sleeping is all that happened, but… It’s really really uncomfortable for me to watch.
As the series progresses, Mina spends more time trying to seduce him, and tries to put Yuki out of the picture and claim him as hers. And did I mention I didn’t like it? I don’t.
Really, when I get down to it, that was my main problem with the show. I loved the politics, the tone, the art, the story, the characters… it was this one issue which made me very uncomfortable. And on consideration it does make sense – she’s hundreds of years old, she will have developed a maturity beyond her appearance, and forge connections on a different level. But personally I found it, well, creepy. Particularly when they do such a fantastic job of characterising her as this capricious creature who has moments of real childlike innocence – we see her playing jump-rope with some local children, for instance.
So my verdict it thus – this series is brilliant. It had moments of pure genius, it is well animated, well thought-out, well paced, and they are trying something honestly different with the vampire mythos, so I’m surprised that I liked it. But beyond all that, when it came down to it, it made me uncomfortable to watch. I wanted to know more about her overall plans for this new society of monsters. I wanted to see her manipulate and bully her way to where she wants to be. I wanted to see more about the politics of this culture, about the three clans, the toothless vampires, why that one vampire transformed. But I wasn’t able to really see past this strange relationship of the characters. Yes I’ve seen ‘Lolita’, and I enjoyed it, and was able to see the artistic merit about the strange relationship, and that actually was about a paedophile. But… in ‘Lolita’ you are always acutely aware what they are doing is wrong. In Dance in the Vampire Bund it feels a bit like, because she’s older than she looks, then it’s all okay. And to me it really wasn’t.
Rating: 6/10. Penalised for squicking me out.