First Impression: The Case Study of Vanitas

In a steampunk Paris where the men wear top hats and capes and the women faint due to over-tight corsets, vampires—long thought purged from the earth—are hunting humans once again. But there is one man, heir to the book and name of the mythical Vanitas, who is hunting them in return. Rumor of the book’s appearance in Paris has the lilac-eyed Noé and his cat Murr boarding an airship in an attempt to track down the grimoire of fearsome power. He shows his chivalrous nature and super-human speed in rescuing a distressed young woman, Amelia, from collapse, and subsequently defending her from a black-cloaked stranger who crashes through the airship’s glass canopy in an attempt to attack her. After a scuffle during which both Amelia and Noé are revealed as vampires, the young woman transforms into her witch form—er, sorry, wrong anime—into her malnomen form, bent on blood and starting with Noé. But the stranger saves Noé, revealing himself to be a doctor specializing in vampires and explaining that Amelia has been taken over by a malady that corrupts her name (hence “malnomen”) and perverts her into a dark being. Activating a black-paged grimoire, the stranger speaks out Amelia’s true name and frees her from the evil malady. But then a misunderstanding with overly enthusiastic airship security guards sees the man plummet overboard, with Noé leaping out after him. Miraculously, they survive the fall, crashing into a church where the man reveals himself to be Vanitas. A beautiful partnership has begun. Or has it? 

I’m calling it: The Case Study of Vanitas is going to be a fun and rewarding ride! Instead of the typical image of seductive, dangerous vampires (which is a trope I have a few problems with), this episode lays bare the ugly corruption of vampirism, presenting it—or at least the form of vampirism that results in attacks on humans—as a malady that tortures and destroys the vampire as much as its victims. The parallels with the witches in Madoka Magica, and with the nature of sin, are striking and promise to make this a series rich for exploring the gospel message in the way we like to do here at Beneath the Tangles. Vanitas even highlights the biblical relevance of Noé’s name, calling him a child of the Ark, so I’m expecting some deliberate engagement with faith from this series. The art is crisp, and makes use of contrasting styles to distinguish between lore and the vampires’ inner world on the one hand, and the world of 19th century Paris on the other (the backgrounds for which are stunning, by the way!). In the former sequences, the art evokes a tamer version of Madoka’switches labyrinths, which is by no means accidental considering that Vanitas director Tomoyuki Itamura was a storyboard artist and episode director for Madoka. Composer Yuki Kajiura also threads hints of Madoka motifs through the score here, making for a nostalgic watch (or rather, listen). But unlike the grim magical girl series, this vampire romp is set to use as much humor as action and fright to tell its tale of redemption. Could it just become to the vampire genre what Madoka was to mahou shoujo? I’ll definitely be tuning in to find out!

Amelia’s malnomen form Eglantine the Prison of Briars, which has usurped her true form, Florifel, ‘She who guides Spring’.

The Case Study of Vanitas can be streamed through Funimation. Read our thoughts on all the new summer anime series, in addition to comments from our other writers, on our Summer 2021 Anime First Impression master post.

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