Much like 'True Blood' did, to great success, 'Dance in the Vampire Bund' creates a world where vampires make their existence known to mankind after years of living in the literal shadows. For twelve episodes, we see a story crafted out of the supernatural that humanity never knew existed; the blood feuds, the ancient politics, the culture clash and various histories of each somewhat secretive species. Double crosses, revelations, rampant nudity, vampire royalty. The similarities are there, for sure, but 'Dance' is a completely different experience, for better or worse. It's rampantly a story of lolicon, and, to a lesser extent, shotacon. We'll explain that later. It's also important to know, going in to this title, that it's content is past the state where a disclaimer like "may offend some audiences" is apt enough a term, as FUNimation has had to go on record concerning the content and its intent to not edit it, controversial as it may be, for its home video release.
The tale of a vampire princess-slash-ruler, Mina Tepes, and her struggles to establish a community for vampires after the forced worldwide reveal, 'Dance in the Vampire Bund' weaves and bobs through numerous story arcs, often truncated, to tell a wider range of the story, be it to the betterment or detriment to the narrative as a whole. With the half-season length format, what would have been best fit for a show twice its length is force fed, creating a show bursting at its own seams for the wrong reasons. Entire story arcs take drastic ninety or one hundred eighty degree turns, leaving premature climax after premature climax, eventually leaving two entire arcs nothing more than two episodes each. As such, one can view the first seven episodes (coincidentally, the ones that can be considered the most graphic and/or offensive, the only ones FUNimation had seen when they issued their statement about the editing of the show) as a complete story of its own, with a few sequels tacked on for good measure.
'Dance in the Vampire Bund' gives the viewers three distinct, amazingly different characters to follow and see the story through the eyes of. Tepes, the child ruler, represents the vampires in the tale. Impossible to disobey due to her lineage, her prepubescent appearance can disarm her peers and enemies, though her "age" often times works against her, as those who have reached physical maturity aren't keen on being ruled by what looks like a fifth grader. Unpredictable and somewhat vicious, she carries more than a few secrets, both those that help her cause and those that can damn her if revealed to the wrong witnesses. The male lead, Akira Regendorf, appears to be your ordinary anime student. An amnesiac, his true form and duty in life are a mystery even to himself, until slowly every aspect of his former life is re-revealed to him. A member of the Earth Clan, Akira can transform, much like the vampires do, into another form, that of a werewolf, and that is where his complicated allegiances only begin. Yuki, Akira's classmate and closest friend, is the tale's narrator, of sorts, an ordinary bystander and student who is swept up in the tangled mess. Her dearest friend's history is a mystery to her, as well, and as the truth is revealed, Yuki must make decisions and come to grips with what is out of her control.
The structure of the show can be a tad disjointed. The first episode features a game show, where the existence of vampires is debated, until the worldwide reveal is made. From there, we journey to the complicated three-way relationship between the main characters, as they struggle with a terrorist organization known as Telomere, the politics behind vampires being given land to dwell in, and the human students as they become inundated with bloodsuckers at every turn. This is where the show has its greatest strengths. The mystery is still there, the revelations feel genuine, character interaction is solid, and the pacing is superb. The mixture of elements works wonderfully, with numerous themes gelling coherently, with real tension to boot. Some future events are set up, and as such, they don't make perfect sense, but you have the feeling that you're watching a fully realized, competent show. It analyzes ethics and interpersonal relationships, complicated as they may be with hundreds of years of history and rule twisting what should be simplicity into a difficult to navigate web.
Then episode 8 happens. At this point, the original story arc has closed, and a new threat appears, as a vampire named Hysterica takes control of Telomere, and makes them a legitimate threat to Mina and the newly established Vampire Bund. Now, the somewhat "renegade"-slash-disobedient vampires are a threat, as the damage they can do to the public perception of vampires is the real danger. We're given some backstory to the relationship between this newly debuting character, but it doesn't fit, and after a few episodes, story resolved and completed, and on to a third, uniquely different tangent, featuring the ancient clans of vampires, pre-arranged marriages, and bloodlines. As more new characters are presented, with more complex backstories, we get an anticlimactic battle, based off a gambit by Mina, that does not serve the conclusion of a show well.
While the story of the anime was predetermined by the manga it follows, making it hard to criticize, the flow and structure is definitely crippled with the mish mosh of ideas and stories not given proper time to develop. The Hysterica scenes are a real bore, and it's impossible to relate to the character, or care for her, as parachuting into a story that's over halfway told to be a main villain just doesn't work. Sure, the lengths taken by the terrorists make sense, and may strike too similar to real life events for some, but it's a massive distraction to the whole of the show. The final arc with the assassination game isn't so bad, even if it doesn't have the pace found earlier, as the conclusion to the show forces a climax that has to up the ante of the previous two.
After talking about climaxes, I know it's the wrong time to do so, but I need to delve back into a subject broached/teased earlier: shotacon and lolicon, as they are very important themes for anyone to know about going in to this series blind. For those not overly aware of these terms, they are the sexualization of prepubescent girls (loli) and boys (shota) in manga and anime, and while these themes may be some kind of big joke these days (see: the infamous pedobear and lesser known shotacat), they are on full display in 'Dance in the Vampire Bund.' Literally. The discussion of whether to edit this show or not is based off of how graphic the sexualization of the characters gets. In other anime series, youths are often shown with ridiculous cleavage and revealing outfits that defy physics, with massively exposed patches of skin (usually around the breasts) that do not show nipples, despite revealing the majority of the breasts, while adult characters sometimes are shown complete, as it were. It's one big loophole, it seems, that anime producers already get away with murder with. With 'Dance,' this idea is obliterated, and as such, may be deemed very offensive to some due to the rampant sexualization of the Mina character. Does a character that is hundreds of years old in age, but less than two decades old in body still count as a child?
'Dance in the Vampire Bund' is not pornographic, though. It mixes fan service (where male audience members are pandered to with bouncing bosoms or upskirt shots) elements with boundary pushing ones in the manner in which Mina appears in some sequences. Was nudity really necessary to the plot? Honestly, no. Does it add to the story or character? Realistically, no. Does it make the anime show better in any way? Well...it sure did get the name of the show out there in the anime community, so consider it a case of manufactured controversy, a clever little tool that works better than free publicity. Just ask that Gaga person. 'Dance in the Vampire Bund' is a show full of "coulda been's." It could have been told straight, without delving into questionable territory, and could have portrayed Mina in the same way a similar character's plight is shown in 'Interview with a Vampire.' It could have been a really coherent story, had it not splintered and fractured into multiple arcs, which aren't given time to spread out and develop. Instead, this show should come with a warning sign and disclaimer or two.
Pushing boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries, and for attention, is not the way to be edgy. It's the way to make one's motives apparent and less than genuine.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Dance in the Vampire Bund' comes to Blu-ray in two different packages, both of which are DVD/Blu-ray combos. I cannot comment on what makes the "Limited Edition" limited at all, but the discs themselves are the same in this release. And while I cannot comment on the packaging of this title in either form, having never come across it in stores and only being sent discs by themselves, I can say that it's likely that either edition comes in a DVD sized package.
The discs themselves are a BD50 (for episodes 1-8) and a BD25 (episodes 9-12), which are both coded for Region A/B playback. A single pre-menu trailer exists in front of each disc, and is only skippable through the top menu button. A cool note not mentioned in the review, almost every episode in this show is titled after a vampire film.
The video for 'Dance in the Vampire Bund,' a native HD title from FUNimation, improves as the show goes along. Presented in 1080p, the picture intentionally changes aspect ratios throughout the show as an aesthetic choice, with the natural screen being a 1.78:1 frame. The show is full of fantastic colors and clarity, wonderfully clean, sharp lines, and plenty of "wow" factor, despite the animation limitations from the Strike production. Faux textures look wonderful, and the image is regularly top notch, although it is nowhere near as powerful as their top tier titles, visually.
The show has some very slight banding, randomly, and a few very brief stairstepped lines, which appear to be the only flaws from the encode itself. The early episodes have a weird issue that may be inherent in the animation source itself, where blue outlines permeate inside and outside of character outlines, some getting very thick. Imagine watching a show that's comprised of layers for each color, and the blue is shifted out of place, and that's what it looks like. This issue does clear up by episode 3, and never returns. At first, it looks like an inherent edge outline for emphasis, but shortly after appearing, it really goes nuts. Some viewers may be pulled out of the experience by this issue, but I don't see any reason or explanation on how this could be anything caused by FUNimation. Just get past that issue, and you'll be rewarded quite well.
While there are two distinctly different audio experiences available on this release (English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0), my time spent with both of them didn't leave me with a preference, in terms of the voice acting, or the quality of the mixes. Sure, the default English track has 5.1 sound, but it also features very light bass elements, very sporadic, sometimes non-existent rear activity (save for soundtrack elements), and a non-engaging soundstage where rain doesn't come at you from all of the speakers in the room. I enjoyed the movement effects, but they were somewhat light. The native Japanese track isn't miles, or even yards behind, though. The bass through regular speaker channels is pretty good, and there's plenty enough clarity and nice separation. Volume levels are close between mixes, and the soundtrack, which is really the only frequent rear speaker resident, doesn't sound any worse or less interesting or engaging as a whole when put in 2.0 mode. Actually, the Japanese track works quite well with its inherent limitations.
While I always recommend readers check out a program using the native language, oftentimes the discrepancies between tracks makes said viewing option a bit less enjoyable of an experience compared to the FUNimation produced dub. Here, though, there's no real loss one way or another. Pick one, and don't worry about the other. There's no awkward voice acting in either track, and no real reason to choose your side. Both tracks earn the same score.
The usual random FUNimation trailers can be found in the extras. None are of real note, with no reveals of upcoming titles, only a few teases, titles that will hit DVD with no rumor for Blu-ray, like 'Speed Grapher' or 'Darker than Black.' There is somewhat of a disappointing moment, though, where 'Drop' is teased for DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, a move that did not happen when the release date came.
Since this release is a combo pack with bonus DVD discs, half of the score of this section reflects said discs.
'Dance in the Vampire Bund' did not offend me, and my mini-dissertation on the nudity in the show, and its place in the show, is not based on such. This show would have been just fine with or without nudity, but it would have been better if it were spread out further, as the two later story arcs in the show are not given the proper time to develop, nor do they really fit coherently one episode to another. This show is controversial due to its content, and that may be its greatest selling point, as consumers online seem to be focusing their discussion more on the sexual aspects of the show than its content as a whole. Just goes to show how easily some are fooled and misled. This show is for the anime enthusiast only, no matter how good the Blu-ray release may be.