WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Case Study of Vanitas, Episode 1, “In the Event of Rusty Hopes,” now streaming on Funimation.
The Case Study of Vanitas is the latest manga from Jun Mochizuki, who also wrote the fantasy shonen story Pandora Hearts. Mochizuki has always been known to add a flair for extravagant, western fantasy backgrounds to her works, and Vanitas is no exception. Now, Mochizuki has found the perfect studio to adapt her work into anime: Studio Bones.
The story of The Case Study of Vanitas takes place in 19th century Paris, where the world of vampires is in peril after a mysterious stranger is corrupting their true names with “malnomen” so they will lose their sanity and attack humans. Now it's up to the human Vanitas -- who has inherited the “Book of Vanitas” -- and the vampire Noe to cure the sick vampires and find those responsible for the curses. While the premise isn't the most original, what makes it stand out is the exquisite artwork and Mochizuki’s unique blend of comedy, fantasy and action.
Studio Bones has always had a knack for creating works with a western sensibility, including the Gothic detective mystery Gosick, the energetic action fantasy Blood Blockade Battlefront and the quirky sci-fi musical Carole & Tuesday, all of which have featured a westernized art style and blending of comedy and action. This made it the ideal studio to adapt Mochizuki’s work with The Case Study of Vanitas.
The premier episode of The Case Study of Vanitas is a great showcase the strengths of all these elements, but what stands out the most, is definitely Studio Bones’ animation. The action of the episode is slick and fluid as one would expect from Bones, and Kajiura’s music makes the action seem more like a dance.But the scenes that leave the most impressions are scenes that convey important stories points and build characters through animation and editing, which is a wonderful demonstration of Bones’ storytelling abilities.
On top of this, Kajiura Yuki, who has composed music for Pandora Hearts as well as Sword Art Online, created the soundtrack for The Case Study of Vanitas. The series' music is distinctively European and heightens the grandeur of any scene with a combination of orchestral and choral music.
The Case Study of Vanitas' concept of “corrupting true name” is first introduced with Amelia's transformation. While this scene occupies about two pages in the manga, the anime draws it out and shows how the corruption of a vampire happens bit by bit. The darkness starts from her heart and slowly oozes through her face until it turns her entire world pitch black. The quick editing between her inner world and the outside world, in particular, highlights the pain Amelia is experiencing at that moment, making the impact of her later actions much more visceral and horrific.
The introduction of the Book of Vanitas is also much more drawn out. It's akin and equally intricate to a transformation scene in any magical girl anime. The book looks even more spellbinding on-screen with glistening CG animation, and with Kajiura’s music added, it feels almost operatic.
Finally, when Vanitas and Noe fall off an airship, the animation cleverly shifts from darkness to light as the blue moon shines on the protagonists, making Noe's awe-inspired face even more memorable. When the two fall and land in a church, the anime adds new details such as stained glass windows, the dome architecture and the statues of saints, making the scene much more atmospheric and the religious symbolism more apparent.
The director of the series, Tomoyuki Itamura, deserves to be commended. He’s a longtime veteran of Studio Shaft, perhaps best known for the Monogatari series, and the influence of Shaft’s style is very much felt in The Case Study of Vanitas' dynamic editing and often stylized art and coloring. All in all, The Case Study of Vanitas seems like the perfect storm of good source material finding the right studio and a staff that can elevate the manga into an even better anime.