It’s been a long time since Mamoru Oshii did any anime, with the short film Je T’aime from 2010. It’s been even longer since he did comedy, with the last clear-cut comedy he did having been several episodes of Patlabor: The Mobile Police New Files in 1990. Over a decade since the last time he did anime, and over 30 years since he’s done comedy anime. There are fans who have only know his creative output as not only a director of serious anime, but a director of deadly serious anime. So, it was a surprise this past year to see Oshii returning not only to anime, but to comedy anime, and as a series instead of a short or a film, with Vlad Love.
To be clear, Vlad Love isn’t quite Oshii coming back like Jordan. He’s got an instrumental role in the series to be sure – as Chief Director, screenwriter for most of the show, and storyboards for about half of the show. However, the episode-to-episode director for the series is Junji Nishimura, who also directed Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Basilisk: the Ouka Ninja Scrolls, and Neo Yokio (they can’t all be winners). So, Oshii’s hand is certainly present in the work, but it’s also in a much more collaborative position than his films.
The show follows Mitsugu Bamba, a high school girl who is addicted to donating blood, but who also has a blood type that makes her blood useless for donation. However, she has an unexpected stroke of luck when she meets a very cute girl named Mai Vlad Transylvania who she falls for immediately. Even better, Mai is a vampire who has come to Japan to get away from her controlling parents. She needs to drink blood to live, but doesn’t want to directly feed on people. So Bamba has a cunning plan – to start a blood donation club at her high school to make sure she Mai is sufficiently fed. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Tonally, Vlad Love is Oshii returning to the comedic style of Urusei Yatsura, with a lot of very rapid fire gags, some heavy slapstick, occasionally accompanied with some heavy property damage (that is reset at the end of each episode, even if the character development isn’t). This also lets them do a bunch of one-off theme episodes. Aside from your beach episode, you have a Kaiju episode, and an episode that is an extended parody of Castlevania. There’s an episode about making a student film that feels like Oshii riffing on his past decade of making live-action cinema. There’s even an episode that is an extended homage to 1960s surrealist gekiga manga.
That said, some of these episodes get really weird (again, the surrealist Gekiga tribute). It gets somewhat to the point that it almost feels like Oshii has had thirty years of wacko comedy ideas stuck in his brain, that he’s been unable to use because of his focus on serious animation (or because the films were in live-action), and has now finally been able to let that out.
In short, Vlad Love definitely shows that Oshii still has it when it comes to comedy, though certainly some of the episodes for this series can be a bit extra – even for Oshii.
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