I sat through the first two seasons of Vandread in a monster marathon. I figured, great – a space ship full of women, from a planet full of lesbians…I’ll get my fill o’Yuri from *this* series! Just goes to show you how wrong you can be.
Don’t get me wrong – I like a space opera as much as the next guy. I was nursed on old school scifi novels and teethed on the original Star Trek. When Star Wars came out (the first time, before Lucas effed it up), I and my Dad saw it in the theater and were blown away. I love space ships and dogfights and end-of-the-world scenarios and all that good stuff. And yet I think that Vandread may be one of the worst anime I have ever seen.
The plot is simple – once a unified culture, the women and men of the planets Tarak and Mejale have been engaged in a literal war of the sexes for centuries. Each has advanced mecha and retro policies and ne’er the twain shall meet, until…
The all-female pirate crew of the Nirvana, out of Mejale, find themselves confronted with the worst of all possible circumstances when their ship bizarrely (and inexplicably) merges with the all-male crewed Tarak battleship Ikazuchi. Now the Mejale pirates have to deal with male Tarak stowaways, and integrate themselves and their almost sentient ship together into one group. Or not. Because really, very little of any of this is explained…it’s all just the vehicle to get three guys onto a spaceship full of women.
Of course, the first thing that happens is that many the women on the ship fall for the biggest loser of the bunch, Hibiki. And he, and the biggest loser among the female crew, Dita, spend the entire series having incredibly dull and tedious scenes of near emotional paralysis and over-tired sightgags. Honestly, if they lost Dita and Hibiki, the series would have been *significantly* more interesting.
The second of the three men, a doctor, is quite pleasant and professional…and competetent, so the series doesn’t spend much time on him. He has a slow-burning and rather pleasantly sweet romance with Chief Engineer Parfet, voiced by Maria-sama ga Miteru‘s Sei, Toyoguchi Megumi. This is the second-least horrible romance in the story.
The third man to end up on the Nirvana is a total loser named Bart. And of *all* the stories, it is Bart’s that is the least horrible – actually it was the only interesting storyline in the series. The ship’s second in command, BC, is a daunting and businesslike woman who (rightfully) terrifies Bart. For some reason (never explained) Bart has the ability to steer the ship, by merging with its near-sentient drive. So BC is forced to deal with Bart. And so are we. At first Bart is self-absorbed and tedious, but, as time goes on, he actually becomes a person and even tries to, in a cute but pathetic way, woo BC. BC keeps Bart at a distance but at the end of the first season, we learn that there was a *really* good reason why. BC is really….a guy. Bart, who has broken past all his culture’s mores to fall in love with the enemy now finds that the object of his affection is not only a spy, but also not even a she. Bart has the most wonderful scene in the entire series when he confronts BC after “she” brings them to Tarak as prisoners.
So, in a weird gender-bendy way, the best love story is a gay male one.
But what about the lesbians, you may ask? Keep asking, because frankly, there’s little enough about them.
To begin with, there’s Barnette and Jura. Here’s the official description of Barnette from Pioneer’s official Vandread site – “She seems to like Jura.” Isn’t that brutal? They are the only long-term, stable couple on ship and all we get is, “She seems to like Jura.” Excuse me while I spit. To add to the annoyance factor, Jura spends every waking moment trying to get into Hibiki’s pants to make a perfect child – because she loves things of beauty and, inexplicably to anyone with eyes, she finds runty, loser, dorky Hibiki to be a perfect specimen of his gender. Yes, it becomes an issue between Barnette and Jura and yes, they have a few moments of togetherness and reconciliation, but nothing that made me like either of them very much.
And then there’s Meia. The butchy, cool, unemotional, full-of-anger driven comptence type, Meia is the chief fighter pilot for the Nirvana. In the second season we get a short arc about her, with near-explicit lesbian references, if you don’t blink and miss them. And at the VERY end, we get to see her reunite with her lover and gosh, they both look happy! Meia is about as good as it gets in Vandread. As an added bonus, Meia is voiced by Orikasa Fumiko, who has also done such Yuri notables as Ruki from Digimon Tamers, Karin from Stratos 4 and Yayoi from Stellvia.
In any case, at the end of the second season, the bad guys are talked to death, Hibiki turns out to be the single most important person on both worlds and the war turns out to be a marital spat gone bad. And the season, and the series, ends without a single thing of merit or note. Whee.
Story – 4
Characters – 7 (To paraphrase an old rhyme, “the good ones are very good, the bad ones are horrid”)
Music – 5
Art – 5
Yuri – should be 9, but instead limps in at a lame 3
Overall – 5, but only because of Bart and BC, otherwise it would be a 3.
Let’s put it this way – I may be waffling over buying Stratos 4 on DVD…I never ever *considered* buying Vandread.