Everyone is fighting because of someone else. That’s been true right along in The Case Study of Vanitas, but this episode drives it home in a more concrete way than we’ve seen before. It’s not always a positive sense of “fighting for someone,” however, as we see in Astolfo’s flashback. As a child, Astolfo was told that he needed to be ready to fight the vampires should they ever reemerge as a threat, something the gentle child was not prepared to do. So when he met an injured vampire child, he took the child’s tears and fear as a sign of his (for lack of a better word) humanity, taking it upon himself to heal the other boy while his little sister gave him a bisou magic, or magic kiss. But based on who we know Astolfo to be in the present, it’s not hard to realize that the vampire boy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he kills Astolfo’s parents and sister in an act of racial vengeance – payback for the way the humans killed his own family. So now Astolfo is a rabid vampire hunter because of that boy’s misplaced vengeance – and he doesn’t see that in taking out his anger on the entire vampire race, he’s behaving no better than the boy who murdered his family. It’s an object lesson in the way that thoughtless revenge and anger really doesn’t serve anyone but the god of death, because that’s the only being who could be said to profit. The bodies just keep piling up, the trauma moves to the next generation, and more Noés will be haunted by the skull-headed specters of their lost loved ones. And maybe that’s what Vanitas has been fighting to put an end to all along.
Vanitas certainly isn’t the most comfortable when it comes to his own emotions. We knew that before this week, but his reaction to having to coax Jeanne out of herself certainly shows his discomfort beautifully. Whether or not he really loves her (and whether it’s the same as being in love with her; I’m not sure even he knows), he knew that that was the only real way to snap her out of her self-pitying state and bring her back to the real(ish) world. Jeanne over the years built up an image of herself as unlovable or cursed based on her parents’ deaths and later Chloé’s presumed existence as the Beast of Gévaudan, all of which she believed was her fault. That she now has to kill Chloé for Ruthven, the only person to consistently be there for her over the centuries, just compounds her conviction that she’s the truly bad one. That means that she desperately needed to believe that someone loves her despite her perceived sins, thus Vanitas’ forced avowal.
And he definitely feels forced, even though we must acknowledge that he did a lovely job of sounding sincere for Jeanne. He was clearly squirming in internal anguish beneath his smooth exterior, though, and he pulls a Mur when he takes it out on poor Jean-Jacques, who has his own burdens to bear. At least Jean-Jacques can be secure in the knowledge that getting repeatedly slapped by a cherry-red Vanitas did help the good doctor to get himself under control enough to work with the analytical engine, because if he hadn’t been able to do that – and didn’t bear that very special tattoo made with magical ink – Chloé would have succeeded in killing herself.
What links all of these bits and pieces together is the sense of being alone. Astolfo turned into a fanatic because he felt alone after the murders of his family, Chloé slipped deeper and passed deeper into depression as her family away one by one, Jean-Jacques adores Chloé because she’s the one person who makes him feel like he isn’t alone, which is similar to Jeanne’s devotion to Ruthven, although she also feels obligated to serve him. Even Noé was approaching a dangerous state before he met Vanitas, dwelling on the tragedy of losing Louis to the point where he is more or less isolated himself because he felt somehow at fault or unworthy. When Vanitas and Jean-Jacques tell Jeanne and Chloé that they are wanted and needed, the curse is broken.
Is there anyone who can do that for Astolfo? Can Chloé’s curse truly be lifted by Vanitas? The time is more than out of joint, which I think might be the main symbolism invoked by Vanitas’ hourglass earring being gone while they’ve been in Chloé’s closed time loop. I’m not sure if we’ll leave it next week, but keeping an eye on Vanitas’ ear – and his arm, now that he’s used the tattoo – may be more important than we think.
The Case Study of Vanitas Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.