Dance in the Vampire Bund
by Jef Burnham
Now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Funimation Entertainment.
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This controversial, 12-episode Seinen anime is part-fighter and part-political thriller, with a dash of high school drama mixed in. Based on the manga by Nozomu Tamaki, Dance in the Vampire Bund opens with the live airing of a celebrity talk show on which vampires reveal themselves to the world at large as having been more than mere fantasy. What’s more, their ruler, the child-like Princess Mina Tepes, announces her intention to create a “bund,” or self-governing republic, for the vampire race off the coast of Japan. In her preparations, she enlists the services of her former protector, an amnesiac werewolf named Akira.
Although the storyline surrounding the creation and governing of The Bund accounts for the majority of the 300-minute running time, the series is at its most engaging when focused on events of lesser significance. Far more intriguing than Mina’s political machinations are scenes of character development such as that in which Mina, who has never before cooked, determines to make Akira’s favorite dish in home economics class. The unfortunate thing is that there is so very little of such material.
For that matter, there’s very little of anything in Dance in the Vampire Bund, at least beyond the bare essentials needed to establish a storyline. At 12 episodes, the story is tragically underdeveloped to the extent that I’d assert another 40 or so episodes would be required to do the relationships and conflicts justice. Storylines are introduced and dropped without explanation. And the majority of the information is relayed long after it would have been useful to us as viewers, such as the introduction in episode 11 of a blood substitute that allows vampires to persist without feeding on humans. The knowledge of such a substance’s existence would have explained how the vampires managed to remain hidden in a modern, hyper-mediated society, and would have further served to make those vampires who do feed on humans all the more fearsome. This is not to say that Dance in the Vampire Bund is a particularly bad show in any way, only that it fails to live up to the potential of the material as a result of its brevity.
On a positive note, if you prefer to watch anime as I do, in the original Japanese with subtitles, you’ll wish like Hell you spoke fluent Japanese in order to devote your full attention to the animation, which looks incredible, especially in the Blu-ray transfer. While the character designs have a distinctly anime feel, the animation attains an impressive level of realism due to careful attention to shadows, the use of rotoscoped photographs for cutaways, and the interaction of successive layers of animation to give a 3-dimensionality to the imagery. Unfortunately, the animation is also hyper-stylized in its presentation, characterized by constantly changing aspect ratios; super-imposed film grain, scratches, and a projector flicker effect; and recurring, jarring cuts to black in the middle of a scene. The problem is that none of this stylization is justified, and it only serves to draw us out of the story. Ultimately, given the aforementioned underdevelopment of this storyline and the relationships therein, this may simply be a case of the animators compensating with style for substance.
I’ll close with something of a warning here regarding Dance in the Vampire Bund’s controversial sexual content. Funimation had initially intended to edit the series for U.S. release, due to its blatant pedophilic overtones. And although the streaming episodes of the series were indeed edited due to their wider availability, Funimation’s home video release features the series in its unedited format. Thus, there remains numerous scenes in which Mina’s prepubescent body is blatantly fetishized, and one additional instance of vampire-on-human child pedophilia. Even though Mina is in fact far older than her child-like body would suggest, the extensive sexualization of such a youthful form is sure to make many viewers exceedingly uncomfortable. However, for those who can stomach it, the prospect of a relationship between Akira and Mina raises some interesting questions regarding the morality of relationships among immortals.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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