I’ll start with the easy praise first: Venus Versus Virus is one of the best titles I’ve ever heard for an anime. VVV (see? it even abbreviates nicely!) is of course the animated adaptation of the manga series currently being offered in English courtesy of Seven Seas, which my colleague Adam Beck recently peeked at. I haven’t read the manga itself, but from what I can tell the show follows it fairly closely. It’s a catchy, frothy, Goth-y action confection with a lot more action and a few more twists than I thought it would have. The cuteness of the surface material conceals a much darker story, which I hope we get to see more of as time goes by.
VVV kicks off with a premise most people reading this should be able to recite with their eyes closed: A young person has their humdrum ordinary life turned upside down when they discover they’re in possession of a terrible power. Here the person in question is Sumire, a girl attending a private academy; she’s got the usual collection of female friends and at least one terminally shy male admirer. After class, she hustles on over to the “Venus Vanguard” antique shop nestled under the elevated railway tracks, where she helps out the Gothic-Lolita-wearing, eyepatch-laden (and emotionally clamped-down) Lucia.xfuni=129
The antique shop is just a front, of course. The denizens of the Venus Vanguard are actually exorcists of a sort, hunting down demonic infestations called “viruses.” These things do far worse than give you the flu or trash your hard drive — they latch onto your friends, suck out their souls, and then go looking for other victims to perpetuate the cycle. Hunting these beastly things down with a gun and a set of “anti-virus bullets” isn’t Sumire’s idea of a fun time; however, she happens to be one of those unfortunate few who can see viruses unaided, so she’s been drafted into Lucia’s service. And since Sumire has a weak stomach even for caterpillars — and terrible aim — you can tell this is a losing proposition for her. All she really wants to do is move back into the dorm where she used to live with her friends, gossip about boys, and forget that she’s remotely special.
Now comes one of those twists I mentioned. When Sumire first met Lucia, she got mistakenly shot with a virus bullet — an accident that unleashed her ability to see viruses (and no end of curiosity on Lucia’s part). What’s more, if a virus they’re fighting proves to be a little too hard to dispatch the conventional way, Lucia can always elect to drill Sumire with a bullet, transforming her into a living anti-virus — or maybe a killer T-cell, if you want to get all technical about the terminology. Great for hunting viruses, but real bad for Sumire: during that time, she’s an inhuman killing machine with no regard for Lucia’s life or anyone else’s. There’s a moment that brings to mind the video gameShin Megami Tensei 3: Sumire is cornered by a virus, and since her hands shake so badly that she can’t aim her gun, she elects instead to put her last bullet into herself. (Bear in mind that the scene absolutely does not end there.)
The emotional tug-of-war set up by all of these twists works as, I take it, a template for how the rest of the series plays out — Sumire’s need to be “normal,” versus Lucia’s need for allies in her very lonely war. Lucia is not exactly a pillar of stability herself, even if she presents a carefully-managed appearance. Her normally clamped-down exterior hides a fair amount of anguish; like Sumire, she has abilities that are not always tamed. When Lucia uncovers her gold-colored left eye, she unleashes the full reserve of her power — but at a great personal cost, so it’s something that needs to be used sparingly. The show also drops a few hints about Lucia’s own past, which as you can guess parallels some of Sumire’s own pain.
I hate to use a term “guilty pleasure” to describe a series like this, because the word “guilt” implies that something’s wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is unpretentious fun that’s downright catchy once you get into it. Or is that catch-ing? Either way, you get the idea.