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Dance In The Vampire Bund (2010)
Director: Masahiro Sonoda

review by Sarah Ash

Princess Mina Tepes (Aoi Yuki/ Monica Rial) self-proclaimed ruler of the vampires, pays the Japanese an immense sum to purchase a landfill island off the coast of Tokyo where she plans to establish the Vampire Bund, a safe haven for vampires from all around the world. Everyone is astonished to see that she looks like a ten-year-old child - although with her penchant for gothic clothes and her worldly wisdom, it's soon obvious that she is much more mature than her girlish appearance suggests. And it soon becomes clear that there are many - including fellow vampires - who are determined to destroy her before her dream is realised.

High school student Akira (Yuichi Nakamura/ Alpha Lagrange) - who is suffering from amnesia after a serious head injury a year ago - begins to remember who he really is when he sees Mina. There is a very special link between them: he is a werewolf, one of the Earth Clan, and has sworn to protect her with his life. But what traumatic event caused him to lose his memory?

Meanwhile Akira's girlfriend Yuki (Chiwa Saito/ Alexis Tipton) is worried by his increasingly strange behaviour. And when Mina turns up as a transfer student in their class, Yuki is torn between jealousy and a genuine desire to befriend the vampire princess. For Mina has many enemies; rival vampire factions want to destroy her and the Bund, and begin to wreak havoc within the school which spreads into the city beyond. If Mina's dream is to be accomplished, Yuki will have to relinquish her role as Akira's girlfriend and allow him to fulfil his role as Mina's protector - even if it means that he will lose his life.

Do vampires really exist? This is the question posed by the popular TV panel show Astraea's Scales before a live audience. The celebrity panellists include popular mangaka Nozomu Tamaki, (playing himself in the adaptation of his own manga) and a hot idol, star of the live-action film of Tamaki-sensei's vampire manga. But events soon get out of hand in the studio as the real vampires reveal themselves on camera and all hell breaks loose. After this intriguing opening, Dance In The Vampire Bund settles down to telling its story rather more conventionally. Each subsequent episode - except the last - is headed with the title of a vampire film, such as 'Interview With The Vampire' or 'Lost Boys.'

It's hard to avoid the fact that there's been a glut of vampires and werewolves ever since Twilight was published, although it's worth mentioning that mangaka Nozomu Tamaki's people of the night differ in several ways from the conventional bloodsucking stereotype - and, thanks to a vaccine, no human who is bitten is automatically doomed to become a child of the night. But vampire story clich�s? There are a few. Check out the scenes in the school chapel, complete with moe Sister Laura (she wears glasses!) crucifixes galore, and gigantic stained glass windows just asking to be shattered by menacing forces. There are also maids; three vampire maids. You get the picture?

Voice acting is strong in both the original Japanese and the English dub; newcomer Alpha Lagrange is convincing in the conflicted role of Akira, Mina's 'faithful dog,' and the re-versioned English script from Monica Rial (who also plays Mina) is much more fun than the subtitled version.

In visual terms, Dance In The Vampire Bund is a treat, even if the action is often liberally spattered in the crimson red of blood. The characters designs from Nozumu Tamaki's original manga are vividly brought to life. Background shots of Tokyo create a striking blend of photographic and painted imagery; recurring flower pictures from the opening animation assume a far greater significance as the story unfolds. Later on, there's some (inevitable) falling off of quality in the drawing as the animation budget shrinks in the middle of the series - and still shots of eyes - huge eyes - becomes an irritating tic. Sure, we know it's a convention (and usually a budget necessity) in anime; we hear the character talking, but we don't see her lips move. But these eyes are in zoom-style close-up and are just too much. That irritation aside, the fights are vividly animated and director Masahiro Sonoda ensures that Mina's story unfolds in a way that really holds the interest. There's just one little problem...

It's difficult to ignore the fact that Dance In The Vampire Bund has stirred up its own little storm and, when streamed in the USA, I understand that FUNimation edited it; the version reviewed here is unedited. So why did FUNi feel compelled to edit it? Because the heroine, Mina Tepes, although 300-years old, is mostly portrayed in her child form. And as she is seen in the opening song performing her dance in the Vampire Bund wearing nothing but some artistically-draped ribbons, some viewers have taken offence. For those unfamiliar with the concept, lolicon is the name given to the sexualised portrayal of under-age girls (there is also a shotacon thread, involving a young boy Yuzuru and an older girl, class president Nanami).

The story gives us perfectly valid reasons for Mina's childlike appearance - but there are times in the anime when the animation lingers just a little too long (and too lovingly) on her naked body. Nevertheless, if you're not too bothered by these moments (Elfen Lied caused a similar stir, I seem to recall, not so many years ago) you'll be able to enjoy a well-constructed and involving 12-episode riff on the vampire mythos.

Is it just me - or have a great many anime with generous (some would say excessive) fan service been licensed for the UK release in the last year? We've had Sekirei, High School Of The Dead, Strike Witches, Master Of Martial Hearts, and now along comes Dance In The Vampire Bund (with Samurai Girls on the horizon.) Add to that, moe-fests like K-On! and Lucky Star and one has to wonder whether this trend is truly representative of the very best TV series being produced in Japan, or whether these releases are a response to sales figures and/ or customer requests.

I'm just wondering; that's all... Whenever I watch a new show, I'm on the lookout for a challenging and exciting plot, believable characters, and a striking use of graphic art, background music, and slick animation. If there has to be fan service, as long as it's not gratuitously offensive and doesn't interfere with the coherence of the narrative or the narrative drive, then, I guess that's all right with me. (High School Of The Dead, I'm looking at you here as one of the main offenders in the plot, what happened to the plot? department, but you seem to have garnered plenty of admirers, so what do I know?)

I enjoyed Dance In The Vampire Bund. It delivers a dark, fast-paced, action-driven adventure that takes delight in playing with the older vampire tale stereotypes and reinventing them. It looks good, too. But if you're likely to be offended by the way Mina Tepes is portrayed, then I advise you to give this series a miss.

DVD extras include the TV slots, promotional videos, and the usual text-less opening and closing sequences. One extra is especially intriguing; called intermissions, it consists of 12 short sequences taken from the manga and voiced by the seiyuu (subtitles are thoughtfully provided). Were these originally inserted in the middle of the episodes? They certainly help to throw light on certain plot elements that are glossed over in the rush to tell the ongoing story.

Dance In The Vampire Bund



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