Vanitas no Carte Review

I don’t know why, but I feel somewhat violated watching this show. Like something deep inside me was touched without consent and I’m just left here thinking what the living hell all of this was. This show…interesting? Yes. Unique? Yes. Kinda scary? Also yes.

Story:

While most vampires are born under the full blood moon, a singular individual named Vanitas was instead born under the heretical full blue moon and was cast aside from the rest of his kind for being the wrong color. As revenge, this individual created the “Book of Vanitas”, as a means to swear revenge on his kind that wronged him. Or so that’s how that story goes. In historical France, Noe, a vampire in search of the Book of Vanitas, comes in contact with a human wielding a grimoire on a chain with the power to remove the curses on vampires who calls himself…Vanitas. He says that he will liberate all vampires, but with what that book is capable of, only time will tell what his true intentions are.

Despite Pandora Hearts being on my plan to watch/read list for the greater part of the last decade, Vanitas being my first Mochizuki Jun experience is certainly…impactful to say the least. The story works off of a sort of ‘buddy adventure’ perspective, primarily focusing on worldbuilding and key early starting gun events that jumpstart the plot towards the meat and potatoes story that the audience is supposed to sink their teeth into. (No pun intended) Which of course creates its own double edged sword because the pacing in Vanitas feels rather slow without as much punch or push that I initially thought I would get. Each arc or event in Vanitas is fairly different from one to the other and to an extent the story can feel kind of random as more extravagant events like participating in a royal ball get quickly swapped over to a dungeon crawling simulator with a completely different cast of characters separate to who or what we were dealing with before, all while not having that much of a clear direction because the show spent more time on the slow burn of worldbuilding instead of honing in on a singular event to act as the final goal the series was going to work towards. It can get a bit jarring because the show sometimes lack a clear point of focus, and that’s primarily where the show lost me in terms of its story.

But if that’s what all this show really was, well, that wouldn’t be very fun now would it? Much like what I’ve heard of Pandora Hearts, Vanitas no Carte serves as a character study into the deeper inner workings of relationships, romantic or not, and what people mean to each other in spite of whatever differences or backstories/trauma that an individual might have as a result of their experiences through the fault of someone else or not. This aspect of the show I believe is where Vanitas truly shines, as so much of this is represented through visual storytelling and sexual imagery/dialogue that often times feels more toxic than romantic in presentation. Every arc plays back to this core concept in some way or another, as character relationships between similar or different-minded individuals change and alter themselves as characters ask both themselves and each other what kind of gray emotions they’re feeling towards each other and what kind of relationship they want to have with other individuals in the cast. The grayness is something I really like because it leaves the story open to a number of different interpretations. Which while watching, I was thankfully exposed to time and time again.

The show also reminds me a lot of late 2000’s shonen because of how often it shifts its desired tone to the point of whiplash. Serious or more intimate moments can become humorous in a flash, and vice versa as more light-hearted plots can often turn more serious as hints at darker moments in a character’s past or present comes to life and envelops the entire tone of the show at the moment. It keeps you on your toes, and I quite like that since it portrays a lot of character facets quickly, something that’s aided heavily by the antics of a certain titular character who loves to do nothing but cause trouble.

Still, I would like a bit more ‘plot’ from the show. I don’t want to judge it too harshly since there’s not only going to be a second cour, there’s a lot more story that just isn’t presented here, and Vanitas is just taking its time to simmer before it inevitably pops. I think if the series was a bit more streamlined in the kind of overall story it wanted to convey, it would definitely be a lot more engaging than it is now. For now, the biggest takeaway is how serious the show is in trying to not set character relationships in stone since the multitude of interpretations give light to a large array of options that don’t seem incorrect no matter which option you choose. Which for my money is fascinating if nothing else.

Characters:

And we start this section off the with the grandiose vampire ‘messiah’ who took after his master’s namesake: Vanitas. A book wielding psychopath who not only proclaims that he’ll ‘save’ all of the vampires, but does so with some very contradicting and puzzling dialogue pieces that mask a lot of his true intentions. On the outside, this fuck is pretty much just a terrible person who’s not only forced himself onto a main character, but does his work with a worrying amount of glee. Vanitas is certainly not meant to be a good person, but as a character, he’s more of an enigma than anything else. Since the show is primarily told through Noe’s perspective, many questions come up about Vanitas’s past, true nature, and goals. All of which are things that are only rarely hinted at because 12 episodes can only do so much storytelling. I’m hoping that when I’m thrown back into this world, I can get a clearer picture of what led him to become the person he is now because the show hints so much at how overstuffed his box of backstory is that it feels almost criminal for the show to talk about it without mentioning even a single detail beyond one or two quick flashbacks. I’m sure Vanitas will spill the beans at some point, but knowing him, that’s not going to be an easy task.

Noe is someone who’s on the opposite side of his human counterpart in a lot of ways. For one, he’s a vampire, and his understanding is a bit more shallow than Vanitas when it comes to some of the darker things that’re going on around him. But another thing is by comparison, Noe actually gets time to his backstory, and we can better understand the events that led him to this point as a result of some of these flashback moments. Is it enough for me to be satisfied? Not really, but it’s certainly a lot more than what Vanitas got. Still, I enjoy Noe’s more ‘innocent’ characteristics since it helps play into the relationship angle where he often times questions a lot of things about the people around him, and it serves as a positive angle to this otherwise kind of depressing and unhinged series as a result of Vanitas’s haywire personality since Noe is typically the more grounded of the two.

Dominique and Jeanne are the last two that I want to talk about if only because they’re the two female characters that seem the closest to the pair of boys listed above. Despite any potential bias for or against them that I may have, realistically I can’t really judge them as characters due to how little we really know about them. True, I could talk about the surface (and some backstory) details that these two girls have and the parts they play in the story (especially in relation to the men that they seem to always latch onto, no pun intended), but not enough details I feel have been revealed yet for me to make a call on the quality of their characters just yet. But what I can say is that they’re fun characters so far. Dominique having more grandiose traits with rose petals and a seemingly more confident personality is contrasted by the loyal, confused, and more soft-spoken Jeanne. They almost feel like bastardized palette swaps for the boys, which is both fascinating and slightly incorrect due to the fact that there is definitely a lot more about these two that I don’t know about and won’t know until more show is made.

And as always, we end with the side characters. A loving cast of psychopaths, sociopaths, and Murr the heterochronic cat to round out our cast of obviously broken individuals. Unfortunately, I can’t really find many characters that’re that noteworthy on account of how few times other characters actually get screentime. True, there’re some important characters like Roland and Luca who play semi-important parts in the arcs or moments they’re heavily featured in, but no character so far really pops out to me. All characters within the Charlatan organization have barely any screentime for me to perceive as any kind of threat, and that lack of an antagonistic force really makes this early part of the series break apart because there’s not really any outside force to keep the story railroaded on a plot that matters in the greater scheme of the show. They’re there, but they’re not really…present, if that makes any sense. Still, there’s potential to be had here. Though how much is a different question entirely.

Aesthetics:

Bones. I think that’s all that really needs to be said here cause hardly does this production company ever drop the mark. Admittedly Mochizuki Jun’s art is really stylized and difficult to replicate due to her coloring style and exquisitely detailed panels that show off every detail of the characters’ historical outfits. But did that stop Bones? No siree and man does this show look good. Putting aside the stunning character design and historically fashionate costumes, the kicker I find myself gazing at in this show is the framing and how much emphasis the show puts into the sexually charged aspects of the show.

As a rule of thumb, sucking blood in modern vampire stories always amount to something sexual in nature, and man does that come in a number of flavors here. The way the show stages and frames scenes always manages some kind of reaction out of me, whether it’d be watching a scene that feels sexually charged with how the characters go at each other with some form of intimacy or how traumatized or disturbed the characters look and feel as a result of something happening in their psyche. The amount of chains imagery also helps to sell this specific image because there are so many chains here, I swear. Vanitas always manages to emulate some kind of flair to help elevate the show’s current mood. Which feels oddly fitting considering our titular character, but also helped bring that visual storytelling I was talking about up a level whether or not that be because of flower petals, lighting, or small character movements indicating some form of ecstasy or hesitation. Which that last one happens a lot, so get used to seeing that.

Lastly I want to talk about the comedic side of things because this really was the part that made it feel like a 2000-2010 shonen. The way the characters chibify or how they react to things in an overdramatic manner with speed lines and warped character models made me feel like I was watching something like FMA:B again where the artstyles clash but it’s funnier because they clash when Noe gets sad and gets tiny. Which again, is not something I thought would happen, but it was a welcome sight indeed cause I miss serious deformation like that in more serious shows; they don’t really do something to this level much anymore.

On the OST side of things, “Sora to Utsuro” by sasanomaly is probably the most memorable thing just because of its beat and chill vocals. It’s not a very energetic song, but has just enough energy to it to keep your head bobbing along with the beat. I also do like its choice of instruments since it combines a keyboard with a snare drum as the main part of the instrumental, something I don’t really see a lot of since a lot of J-pop songs do a lot of energetic big band stuff with electric guitars and bass. LMYK’s ‘0’ as a contrast is a lot more mellow with more yearning vocals driving the whole song instead the the instrumental. I don’t find it as memorable personally, but it’s still a unique piece that deserves a mention because it really brings its own in context to Vanitas. And serves as a great winddown to whatever more dramatic shit that might happen in the show. Definitely a recommendation on both parts.

Final Thoughts:

While I’m not completely sold on Vanitas no Carte, I also don’t hate it by any means. The series is interesting and unique, which I guess it the reason why Mochizuki Jun is celebrated by the cult that praises her small library of works. The main plot not having a lot focus is a primary reason the story falls flat for me since I still have no idea where the show is going whatsoever and I hate shows that feel like they’re going nowhere or are only sustained by a few story threads that’re holding everything up. But by contrast, the worldbuilding and especially the character study is so damn interesting and well done that I want to give the show a pass in spite of its problems. But I won’t because Charlatan exists and they need to do something aside from pop in for 5 minutes, cause a bit of mischief, then fuck off.

I almost want to call this show more of a character-driven drama, but it’s…not one, at least not entirely. There’s a lot of back and forth that I could do for this show, which is why personally I don’t want to make too many judgments on Vanitas as a whole just yet. There’s more story along the way and more than likely that’s where things are really going to start picking up. So preferably I would like to save my final judgments for when that comes out and label this cour as the initial hook that brings you into the world.

As it is now though, intrigue is about all I can really give this show. Vanitas being an absolute pain in the ass among other things surrounding him is one of the biggest hooks this show has, and he alone makes the show interesting and entertaining to witness. On top of that, fairly extensive worldbuilding on the vampire world, its relationship to the human realm, as well as bits and bobs here and there about vampire relationships, social hierarchy, and…physiology, are things the show goes into great detail with. So if you’re interested in that, maybe that’s a reason to check this show out. Also if you want something with sexual tension that doesn’t feel cheap or forced, this one is a really good pick because my god this show is ripe with the smell of horny.

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