What is the difference between a crack and a break? Something cracked won’t necessarily shatter, but if enough pressure is applied, it can be broken beyond repair. That’s the point Noé and Vanitas find themselves at this episode, with Mikhaïl’s machinations pushing them into a position they may not be able to recover from. Why he’s doing this doesn’t feel entirely clear – he says It’s because he’s trying to regain a memory of when the Vampire of the Blue Moon, but it seems far more likely that he’s simply died hoping to see Vanitas and Noé destroy each other because he thrives on the sort of carnivalesque chaos that Charlatan does. He’s playing with them like a cat with a small rodent, giving them the illusion of escape or agency when he has no plans to ever let them go.
It’s interesting to think of this as the point where the chaos represented by Naenia and Chalatan (and now Mikhaïl) meets the order of Vanitas and Noé. The former has devoted his life to saving vampires from their curses, while the latter has lived mired in the regret of Louis’ death and the desire never to see someone die in front of him again. While Vanitas’ actions may seem more proactive, it’s Noé’s that feel more like the heart of their stories, because he’s invested in stopping the emotional damage while Vanitas is simply rescuing. It’s a minor semantic difference, but Noé’s “saving” is about fully redeeming the past, while Vanitas’ “rescuing” is more about fixing something in the moment. There’s no guarantee that the vampires he cures won’t just require treatment again, while Noé wants to prevent the need to be rescued in the first place by ensuring that there are no more Louis to suffer.
Whether Mikhaïl is aware of this almost doesn’t matter, because mostly he just seems keen on watching the two former friends fight to the death and still have the excuse to kill Dominique. If he can overcome their reason, he can triumph, and when Noé attacks Vanitas, mouth wide open, it looks like Mikhaïl might succeed. But while Vanitas may have lost himself (and nothing says that more than him injecting the Chasseurs’ potion), Noé is only attacking out of the desire to protect Domi, meaning that he’s got a clearer head than his friend. It’s not that he’s not invested in what he’s doing and more that he’s acting with purpose outside of himself and of his own volition; To hear Mikhaïl talk, it sounds like Vanitas is under the influence of their late parent and making decisions based on harbor on that rather than on any desire to kill Noé he might. In fact, if Vanitas was clearly thinking, it’s unlikely that he’d want to kill Noé, because saving vampires has been his entire reason for being in this series from episode one. It’s his hurt and the younger version of himself that dwells in his soul that’s acting now, not Vanitas as we’ve come to know him.
Nothing illustrates that better than Domi’s conversation with her past self. She’s trying to figure out a way to act that will save Noé and seems willing to die if that will do it, but her younger self questions the validity of her present self’s actions. That her twin brother, the lost Louis, also appears to live inside her, really speaks to how conflicted she is and how sad she’s been, trying to make up for what she sees as her failing as his sister (ie surviving) while also wanting Noé to live on. What she doesn’t appear to realize is that she’s important to Noé too, and that he’s not interested in losing anyone else – not Vanitas and not her. It’s a bit like everyone is underestimating him, seeing his unwillingness to kill as a weakness rather than something he can turn into a strength, which is what he’s realizing himself at the end of the episode.
Everyone in this story is trying to cope with their own tragedies. Even if two of them can be grouped under the heading of “Louis,” it’s different for each of the characters. Mikhaïl may be trying to take an advantage of that, when Noé cracks the funhouse mirror that’s been reflecting his tragedy back at him, he opens the possibility of shattering the mirror completely and finally moving forward, because maybe the real tragedy is how no one – not him, not Vanitas, not Jeanne, and not Domi – has been able to put the past behind them. Like Vanitas’ hourglass, all the sand is in one section. Maybe it’s time to flip it over and start moving.
The Case Study of Vanitas Season 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.