My feelings towards SHAFT’s adaptation of Dance In The Vampire Bund are–much like a man’s feelings for Char Aznable–rather complex. If you were to ask me whether I like it or not, I’d have to say that I’m rather happy with it. However, there are a number of things about the show that scare and confuse me, and I’d like to address those things first.
SHAFT shows (post-Shinbo era) typically have really good soundtracks. If you were to reach into a pile of SHAFT soundtracks, chances are you’d have a fairly pleasant listening experience. Sadly, this isn’t the case with Vampire Bund. The music is composed by Dobashi Akio, who was both keyboardist and composer for the 1980s J-pop band REBECCA. (Incidentally, Vampire Bund’s opening is a cover of one of their greatest hits, Friends.) While Dobashi may have a knack for composing antiquated pop songs, he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of talent when it comes to composing engrossing background music. Thankfully, the music occupies the realm of passable-to-decent, but there are times when it just comes off as far too cheesy and lame. A scene I’m thinking of in particular is when Mina messes some baddies up in a warehouse, after being lathered in her special gel. The music accompanying that scene just falls flat, and doesn’t do anything to enhance the action on screen. It’s painfully mechanical. Perhaps SHAFT was going for the 80s action movie aesthetic, but I’m not really feeling it. Thankfully, the music doesn’t bother me too much, but I wish it was something I could get excited about, like the Tsukuyomi soundtrack.
Other questionable stylistic quirks can be seen in the show’s visuals. I’m typically a fan of whatever visual madness SHAFT does, and I can see what they’re trying to do by intentionally making the video look shoddy by way of a noise filter and a green glow that looks like it belongs on a badly dubbed VHS. I don’t think it looks bad per-se, but it certainly doesn’t encode well. However, by episode 4 it seems that they’ve hit a nice balance. It’ll probably look neat in Blu.
Aside from those qualms, I think SHAFT has done well to re-work the series to their strengths. Yuki’s narration (delivered by Saito Chiwa, who didn’t do enough talking in Bakemonogatari, obviously) helps to frame the show nicely, adding something of a personal touch to the story. An account of someone who’s actually “there”, if you will.
Alongside Yuki’s narration, the way in which SHAFT opens the show is far more inspired than the rather dry manner in which the manga opens. My kung-fu isn’t strong enough to claim that an otherwise “serious” anime opening with a satire of variety shows is unprecedented, but it’s not anything I’ve ever seen before, and it’s just plain funny. Similarly, the following episode has a lot more fun in introducing the characters. Mina’s not-very-good attempt at spying on Akira through the bushes, along with her dance atop the building while introducing herself to Akira play up Mina’s more childish side, a part of her that’s not really touched upon until volumes 2 or 3 of the manga. The only newly introduced aspect of the story that doesn’t really seem to add much is Akira’s amnesia, but perhaps they’ll touch upon that later on. There’s also a new character!
The show has some things going for it visually as well, putting aside the deliberate degradation of the video. After shows like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Hidamari Sketch and Bakemonogatari, seeing SHAFT do some real backgrounds for a change is kind of nice. While a lot of the locales are anime standards, the shots inside Mina’s residence evoke the castle interiors in the opening episodes of Tsukuyomi. Except this time they’re lit up. I also like the odd use of photos for quick shots, even if I realize it’s really cheap. It’s neat.
Much like Bakemonogatari, Vampire Bund is “shot” pretty well. None of the compositions really hearken back to Shinbo’s Cossette or Soultaker days, but they make good use of the 16:9 aspect ratio, typically adhearing to the rule of thirds. To put it simply, the show tends to look cinematic. This keen eye for framing along with SHAFT’s newest habit of mimicking live-action camera work (Usually done by zooming in/tilting up on a charcater, but animating each and every frame instead of just zooming/panning up on a still image.) make for fairly interesting episode compositions.
The character designs evoke the manga art pretty well, but they have a touch more solidarity. In recent years SHAFT has kept the designs in their shows fairly close to their source material, but Vampire Bund sees a return to the aesthetic applied in Tsukuyomi, Pani Poni and Negima!?. What defines this style, I think, is a lot of roundness to the characters, while at the same time maintaining solidarity (ie, not becoming KyoAni-like blobs). A lot of detail is lavished upon hair, eyes, fabric folds, and there is a near fetishistic attention to the formation of hands and joints. It’s kind of strange how Tsukuyomi, Pani Poni, Negima!? and now Vampire Bund all share a lot of these traits, considering the fact that they don’t share a character designer as far as I know. I’m guessing it’s just a SHAFT thing. Perhaps Shinbo demands detailed hair and knee-caps.
Going back to important things–like the plot, I guess–to wrap this up, along with bringing Mina’s playful side to the forefront earlier on, the show is wasting no time establishing the main fixtures in the story. As early as episode two, the camera catches a glimpse of some villains, who the manga doesn’t even introduce until they actually do things. SHAFT is mostly likely taking the most important aspects of the manga, mixing it with their own stuff, and putting together a story that can be told nicely in the one-cour runtime (Of course, they’ll leave things hanging for a season 2…). It’s certainly more interesting than retelling the manga straight up because, you know, I already read that.
Scary and confusing things aside, I am more or less happy with how SHAFT’s version of Vampire Bund is turning out. I just hope when the action really hits hard, they’ll be able to deliver. We still haven’t seen many of the scenes from the PV, yet…
…the PV which seems to have disappeared completely from the internet…