From the outset, The Vexations of a Shut-In Vampire Princess is a lot. The first episode throws so much scattershot world-building jargon at the viewer, along with some very uncomfortable, non-consensual fetishistic yuri fanservice, that if it weren’t for my grim determination to find out what the hell was going on, I’d have dropped it long ago.
Vexations ask much of its audience – not only to accept that this is a world perpetually at war where death no longer matters (deceased combatants are resurrected due to their proximity to each rival nation’s “Dark Core,” a MacGuffin that remains unexplained), but that a weak, terrified, squeaky little girl could muster the respect to command a military unit. Despite its superficial similarities, this isn’t a Saga of Tanya the Evil situation – Komari isn’t the reincarnation of a hyper-competent, sociopathic businessman. She’s a socially inept child whose constant terror is evident from her body language, speech, and actions.
The more we learn about Komari’s world, the harder it is to take Vexations seriously. I know this is anime, but are we seriously to believe that the entire country’s stability hinges upon the military decisions of a group of deeply unstable teenage girls, many of whom harbor an inexplicable lesbian thirst for the awkward Komari, an actual child? So perhaps this is meant to be a comedy? It’s certainly full of zany humor, only some of which hits due to the strange timing and wildly varying tone.
One moment Komari is accidentally slaughtering her subordinates, the next, she’s being awkwardly propositioned by her mystifyingly horny maid, then engaging in complex military planning discussions with her colleagues, or reliving tragic past childhood trauma, witnessing bloody violence and bodily mutilation before interacting with an enlisted soldier who appears continually high and communicates only in rap. Every episode is filled with these moments of extreme tonal whiplash, like the show can’t decide what genre it wants to be, let alone what kind of story it wants to tell.
In particular, the yuri overtones seem jammed in there purely to cater to specific fetishes. They add little to the story or characters; if anything, Vill the maid’s predatory behavior comes across as off-putting and repetitive. Komari never consents and almost always asks Vill to stop her behavior. As Komari meets more new female characters, they often develop unfathomable romantic attachments to her – none of which she ever reciprocates. By the show’s end, she has a harem built around her, incorporating three central girls, none of whom she appears interested in romantically. In a season featuring the excellent next-level yuri storytelling of I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vexation’s pandering yuri-baiting presents as superficial, creepy, and misguided. Komari also looks (and acts) like a thirteen-year-old, so make of that what you will.
Technically, the show starts strong with beautiful and detailed character designs, smooth animation, flashy, colorful action, and entertaining pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, studio project No.9 cannot maintain the pace, with a notable decline in quality during the second half and a frankly embarrassing final episode filled with off-model characters and desperately limited animation that flattens the effect of every climactic action scene. This may be rectified for the eventual domestic Japanese release of the final two Blu-ray volumes, which were delayed by a month for “quality control” purposes.
In terms of storytelling, it’s a frustrating show to follow. There are several main arcs, and in each of them, the ultimate conflict is resolved by using Komari’s deus ex machina special ability, “Core Implosion,” to give her sudden godlike powers to overwhelm her enemies. Once or twice, I can understand, but to use this plot device on three separate occasions smacks of laziness. The conflicts are often difficult to follow, with writing prioritizing gags and nonsense over coherent communication. Few of the characters act naturally; everyone seems to know more about Komari than she does herself, making some characters’ choices hard to justify even when considered later with hindsight and subsequent new information.
Despite my overall negative reaction to Vexations, there are plenty of enjoyable moments in the show, mostly from instances of truly absurd humor of the “WTF am I even watching” variety. I suspect that this may be one of those shows best experienced while inebriated, and unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching without the aid of extreme chemical enhancement.