Analysis #2: Dance in the Vampire Bund – Episode 7, Akira and Mina fight

So, for the second entry of the Analysis Series, I chose my favorite scene from an unpopular anime. This is by no means an attempt to convince you that the anime was actually good; if you’ve been following my blog since the beginning you would recall that I think reducing the series down to one word such as “good” or “bad” is shallow and over-simplifying. However, I will not deny that I hope to convince you that at least this scene is well thought-out.

Now, analyzing this scene, set in the center of the series, will necessarily spoil the first half of the series. It is the climatic scene that splits the series into two-halves, and after this scene the tone of the series changes somewhat. This is the scene that transforms doubt into faith, this is the scene where lines are drawn and love is affirmed. The first half questions, the second half answers. So even though there is a climax at the end of the series, it lacks in significance compared to this scene. Continue on if you have seen it or if you don’t mind spoilers.

The Scene:

(in case the link is ever deleted, start this episode at 15:20, the scene should begin with “Hey, let’s go. It’s over right?”)

In words and with context:

Akira’s loyalty to Mina was shaken when he learned that vampires had infiltrated the school, and that she had kidnapped a boy to blackmail Japan. In response to his concerns, she says something along the lines of “the kingdom rests on my shoulders, I’ll do whatever it takes!”

Akira is very unhappy with this of course. He is on the side of the humans, and he wants to banish the vampires from the school. He plans to have a school assembly in the sunlight the next day, so that everyone who can’t attend will be revealed to be a vampire. However, it is dangerous, and they need to stay in a church or else the vampires will pick them off one by one.

They think they were safe, but the vampires get themselves let into the church. Akira and Mina end up saving the day and defeating the vampires (Akira rips out the heart of the enemy, it’s pretty cool!) The two then proceed to duel each other (he has learned of her motives but it is too late because he already betrayed her). The duel is ended when Akira takes a falling cross to the chest in order to save Mina.

Observations:

1. Initial Framing:

If this were following the rule of thirds, the stairs would be lower. Making it higher introduces an uneasiness that is accentuated by the dark and unnatural colors. Notice the eerie blue used here, which is ostensibly moonlight, but is hammed up to make it look almost supernatural. Also adding to the uneasiness is the fact that the figures are held in shadow. It is difficult to see them, thus straining the viewer and giving a sense of mystery to the occasion. It also sets the viewer back from the action that’s about to unfold, giving a greater sense of scope.

Then of course there is the blatantly obvious symbolism of the crooked cross. Also, note how the stairs separate Mina and Akira from Yuki. This foreshadows a revelation where Akira tells Yuki that the reason he rejected her is because he’s a werewolf

2. Colors transform due to emotional content. As the scene progresses, the blue and white begin turning a dark red. This is during the telling of a story by a narrator, while Akira and Mina interject their pre-fight arguing from the real time. It fades back to blue by the end of the story, during which a flash of light across the screen signals that the sword has been swung at Akira.

Here is the story during which the color round-trip happens: “One day, a boy asked the great ruler of the monsters… ‘you always scowl with such a sad look. Are you always going to be that way?’ The ruler replied ‘If you promise to grant my wish, I will stop being sad. But if you break your promise, I may devour you.’” In the meanwhile, Akira says he couldn’t fully believe her, and that she fought by herself always, Mina cries that she doesn’t want his sympathies. Over these interjections, we get a shot of Akira’s legs, a red screen, and a blue screen. Then we go back to the far shot for the rest of the story.

Why? Looking down=guilt, explaining the legs shot. As for the color screens, it’s possible that they’re merely here to accent these lines of dialogue as being particularly important. It almost seems backwards to me that Akira is red and Mina is blue, since she sounds angry and he doesn’t. But, in the grander context, she basically is trying to execute him right there, very cold blooded compared to Akira’s pathos. Later, she screams “then let everything be destroyed”, during which we get a red color flash instead of a blue one. It also makes sense; she is clearly more angered at this moment.

4. Frame modulation.

In this scene (above, about 16:44 for the linked video), the animation gets choppy. Believe it or not, this effect is quite often done on purpose. It has a long history dating back to Hols: Prince of the Sun. In this case, there is no reason for the choppy animation; it’s literally two silhouettes moving, not something all that hard to draw. This of course fits in well with the faux old-film effect, so it could be as simple as that. Cutting into slow-mo here, and thus slowing the frame rate.

But it keeps the choppy animation even when the camera angle changes, until she lands on the ground. Then it goes back to fluid animation for her transformation scene. I think the effect of choppy animation will be different for different viewers, but to me it made every frame seem more important. Hence, it made the scene seem more important. This makes sense, since it was the first move of the fight.

4. Distance. The camera stays away except when a fight scene is happening. This maintains a sense of scope at the expense of a sense of intensity. It could also be seen as building up tension to make the fights that much more exciting.

5. Strange effect. This is a random observation, but princess Mina’s true form reminds me a bit of the clothing in Gankutsuou.

Stills can’t really capture this effect, because it is a moving effect. Basically, it is a disconnect where the textures don’t move with the object. In Gankutsuou, this was accomplished by layering photoshop textures on top of the animation. Perhaps something similar was done here. The overall effect caused by this technique is to evoke greater unease, due to it being completely unnatural. If I recall correctly, this is a bit different in the uncensored version.

6. What actually causes the cross to fall is a lightning strike. Making it an external action releases us from other implications if it was caused by one of them or just by their fighting. It reduces the scene to it’s bare minimum, you were trying to kill me and I still sacrificed my life to save you. Also, since we’re talking about an evocation of the heavens, it is pretty obvious that they are fated to be together.

7. As the cross fell on him, light rained down from the roof.

This is actually illogical since it’s night time. The light was symbolic; he was saved in that moment. So was she, as her self-destructive (slightly whiny) monologue revealed. Interestingly, the other girl was crying at the altar “please stop” as if to God right before the lightning struck. This makes the whole end of the fight seem almost holy.

For a cross-cultural connection, there was something very similar in the movie War Horse. In a certain scene near the end of the movie, the lighting and the sun’s position contradicted each other; the sun was high and the lighting was sunset. Obviously, they just applied a filter to make it seem like sunset. Spielberg is just as happy as Shinbo to sacrifice realism to evoke the powerful psychological effects of lighting.

8. Very dramatic lighting is used as a double-purpose maneuver. It allows a large part to go undrawn in a black wash, saving money, but it also ramps up the drama. Perhaps it’s an embodiment of the SHAFT philosophy: cheaper and more effective. See here, by blacking out the left side of the drawing, it draws full attention to her face, what with his blood dripping on her and that mixed expression of horror and empathy. Also, the convenient light raining down from the heavens serves another purpose here of illuminating her face even more.

9. Constantly, the camera shot focuses back on the stained glass. Indeed, even between the lightning strike and the cross through Akira, there is a shot of a stained glass window. Now, here is one of the coolest effects in the scene; the choice of framing makes the cross window look inverted.

The frame typically is a vertically extended upright cross, but this shot cuts off the bottom of the cross so the top part is taller. This is inverted, and the crosses in the scene two pictures up are left leaning to the sides. We have a concoction of religious imagery played straight and crooked.  The fight is unholy, it is destructive, it is bad. That’s why the religious imagery gets made crooked. As for the straight imagery, it often happens as Yuki is looking up helplessly, as if she’s the one praying. She’s just a mortal, that’s all she can do.

10. All the religious symbolism I think is intended to evoke a sense of awe. It is there to elevate the importance of this scene, telling us that it is such a big scene that it’s freaking holy. And this makes sense, since the resolution of the fight is the beginning of Akira’s true devotion. It is the beginning of his faith and belief in Mina. Raising Mina to godhood and making faith in her virtuous is a strange thing to do in this anime, but this unconventional conveyance of ideals (ideals that we might not be able to relate to) makes this anime more interesting IMO.

11. Rhythm. Starts slow, sounds like a vinyl with the cracking and popping, then music kicks in after half a minute to accompany the story. The music picks up a pulse after half a minute, only to meet a sudden crash fifteen seconds later. *click* The vinyl sounds end, putting us into real time. This heralds the beginning of the fight. The camera goes eccentric, pointing to a new thing every two seconds before settling on the transformation scene.

The actual fight begins here, in an even rhythm. Pausing for the revelation that he’s a werewolf. During this time, new music swells up. Another brief sequence of action, with tons of sudden camera cuts but this time more relevant to the fight. Another pause for Mina to give her whiny soliloquy.

The music is gone, leaving only the sound of rain in the background. Then we’re back to music again, and this time the slow cuts and distant shots are back. There is a final scene in the fight, but it is slower, with less cuts and the movement is in slow motion. (An interesting thing to note is that a lot of the fight information is conveyed with sound effects while the camera roams. It makes the scene more information dense.) During the final scene where he saves her from the cross, it focuses entirely on the couple, the camera stops wandering and goes in for close ups. The music resolves to a major harmony, Mina is in tears while Akira confesses how he feels.

So, the point is, the rhythm is conveyed musically, with sound effects, and with frequency of camera cuts. All of these increase with emotional intensity, except for the ending which was the breaking point for the scene and the rhythm. This isn’t so different from lots of other anime who make fights more exciting with quick cuts, but the main difference here is in how random the cuts are.

12. Dramatic shots. This was somewhat covered in my previous points, but to summarize it all in one point, the drama is increased by extreme lighting and by breaking the rhythm. The height of this scene is achieved by building up the excitement until finally cutting out everything. This is a common trick in music, suddenly cutting out after a crescendo to make the quiet part seem more dramatic. Also, the drama is affected by the distance of the camera. It is more emotional when the camera is close, so the juxtaposition is achieved to increase drama.

And finally, instead of a conclusion, just another pretty image to gaze at:

Previous Analysis: Misa’s Song (Death Note)

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