Rumours of vampire attacks in Tokyo are tonight’s topic on a tacky talk show where celebrities vote whether the story is true or false. The show goes spectacularly awry after a little blonde girl in the audience named Mina Tepes (voiced by Aoi Yuki) unmasks celebrity panel member Seichi Hirai, teen heartthrob and star of a new blockbuster movie about vampires, as the real bloodsucker behind those murders. A live audience watch in horror as handsome Hirai morphs into a hideous monster and splatters his fans until he is destroyed by young Mina who reveals herself as the immortal queen of the vampires. She then announces her intention to co-exist with human beings by founding an autonymous vampire state on Japanese soil!
Dance in the Vampire Bund holds an array of ideas intriguing enough to eclipse these earlier stabs at the vampire genre but is tragically, if not fatally, flawed by its relentless pandering to the so-called lolicon or lolita complex market. Its none-too-subtle fetishization of pre-teen heroine Mina Tepes and her quasi-paedophilic flirtation with teenage werewolf hero Akira Kaburagi (Yuichi Nakamura) is unsettling even for anime fans accustomed to the more salacious aspects of the medium. Granted, some would argue that as a centuries old immortal being Mina is not really a child and the series hints that an “adult” incarnation lurks somewhere beneath some sort of curse or magic spell. Nevertheless the constant images of Mina either scantily clad, subject to leering camera angles or naked whilst engaged in sexually suggestive behaviour, are likely to annoy those less patient with lolicon anime’s excesses or at worst, outrage those who believe all anime are aimed at sexual deviants.
Which is a crying shame because otherwise Dance of the Vampire Bund has a fair few good things going for it. Based on a manga by Nozomu Tamaki, who cameos as himself on the celebrity panel in episode one confronting his own creation (!), the series draws episode titles from famous vampire movies - e.g. Interview with the Vampire (1994) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) - and offers novel twists on vampire lore. Here, vampires are able to walk in daylight thanks to a drug called Shade Gel that prevents the sun destroying their cells for a limited time, whilst some choose to become “fangles”, creatures who have removed their fangs so as to live in peace and interbreed with humans.
The bulk of the plot concerns Akira, whose courtship by demure schoolgirl Yuki (Chiwa Saito) is complicated when he discovers he belongs to a clan of werewolves sworn to safeguard Princess Mina, whom flashbacks imply has a romantic history with our hero that for mysterious reasons he can’t quite recall. Akira’s ongoing attempts to protect the princess from rampaging spider-men, would-be assassins - including, in one episode a CNN news broadcaster turned into a vampire suicide bomber - and other vampires that don’t want to play nice, lead Mina to enrol as at his school which, the student council is aghast to learn, she herself founded decades ago! Thus foiling their attempt to have her expelled. Mina’s toxic presence leads to an outbreak of vampirism among the students, driving Akira to organise his classmates into protecting themselves. Even Akira’s abilities prove ineffectual against certain vampires, which is where the series introduces the mysterious, candy-sucking Mei Ren (Yu Kobayashi) who, besides being a kick-ass vampire slayer and the show’s most enticing sexpot, drops hints Mina is not quite as benevolent as she appears.
Dance of the Vampire Bund is most compelling when it delves into politics. As with the US television series True Blood, when vampires “come out of the coffin” they bring a whole host of socio-political issues with them. The series is closer to science fiction films such as Alien Nation (1988) or District 9 (2009) in posing the question what would society be like if an alien species demanded the right to occupy native soil. Mina manipulates Japanese politicians by offering to use her vast resources to single-handedly erase the national debt, then resorts to kidnap, blackmail over the course of the increasingly darkening storyline. She is an intriguingly ambiguous anti-heroine. Like Akira, the viewer is never certain her actions are laudible or not, even though the shows insistence on maintaining her kawaii cuteness results in frustratingly inconsisent characterisation.