I’m not sure that I ever thought about the toll that saving vampires from their malnomen might take on Vanitas. Perhaps that’s because he himself would prefer that we do not think about such a thing; With his notable breaks in stoicism in these past few episodes, it’s become very clear that Vanitas’ prickly exterior may well be more armor than an actual piece of his personality. He’s helpless when overwhelmed with genuine emotion, embarrassed by his own frailty (or humanity) when his façade is shattered by unexpected bursts of feeling. While to a degree this is something we see a fair amount of in anime – see Chloé’s knock out of Jean-Jacques this week – there seems to be a bit more going on when it comes to Vanitas. The two people who can consistently shake him up are Noé and Jeanne, and it’s the latter who seems to most adept at throwing him off-balance.
Whether this is because he harbors romantic or sexual feelings for her or it’s because she’s more unpredictable to Vanitas than Noé is may be up to your interpretation of those relationships. Certainly there’s evidence for both, and in Vanitas’ mind he believed that he had Jeanne safely slotted into a specific type of relationship. While even I’m not naïve enough to miss the sexual innuendo with the bloodsucking, Vanitas seems to believe (or at least to have himself convinced) that his permission to Jeanne that she can feed from him is an established private arrangement that has nothing to do with his own feelings. When Jeanne jumps him after Chloé’s closed world is shattered, he’s completely unprepared, both for the urgency of her feelings and the total lack of her getting permission beforehand. I’m not sure if Jeanne was losing control of herself in the moment or if it was meant to be a demonstration of her passion for Vanitas, and maybe he doesn’t know either. But Jeanne’s actions not only turn him cherry-red, they also unbalance his assumptions about how their relationship works – and then she reminds him that if this wasn’t An act of passion, but one of her not being able to help herself, it’s on him to stop her once and for all.
It’s hard to blame Vanitas for not wanting to think about the very real possibility that he may have to kill Jeanne. Even if we discount the fact that she works for Ruthven, who’s about as transparent as cardboard, he’s already lost a woman who meant a lot to him in the form of his mentor. The flashbacks in this episode give us moments of Vanitas’ childhood learning from the woman who whispered to him hoarsely, and when she tells him that she believes that he will one day find someone to keep him in warm company, it seems much more likely that she’s talking about Noé than Jeanne. The signs don’t necessarily point in a favorable direction for Jeanne, and her reminder to Vanitas feels at least a little like prescience. And really, Vanitas has a much more superficial relationship with Jeanne than with Noé – he’s always playing a role with her as the good doctor or the savior. Noé gets to see his uglier sides as well, making it feel like their relationship as friends may be stronger than the attraction between the other two.
Of course, Vanitas’ tattoo may swallow him whole before we get to find out. While Chloé and Jean-Jacques get a happy ending freed from an endless 18th century winter, Astolfo shows us the other possibility, of a person forever broken by what they’ve experienced with no hope of redemption. Roland will try, but some people just can’t be saved, and Jeanne may turn out to be one of that number, like Louis. The difference is that Noé will never stop believing that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to bring Louis back, a possibility he’ll chase forever like a Victorian zoetrope. I’m not sure that Vanitas believes in that kind of redemption, or if he ever did – even in freeing Chloé, he knew that he wasn’t restoring her to a happy life or even the one she dreamed of for so many centuries; he just did what he could with full understanding of how it might pan out for her. And ultimately, that clear-eyed pessimism may make him the character who’s most in need of saving.
The Case Study of Vanitas Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.