Vandread is set up along the rather amusing premise of two planets; one populated entirely by males and the other entirely by females, warring with each other in space. The culture of each planet has developed to abhor the opposing gender, and the show opens with shots of the male military disseminating propaganda painting women as evil witches intent on enslaving men, even eviscerating them on sight and eating their organs. The male society is naturally extremely caste-based and military oriented, and their offspring are artificially created in factories. By contrast, the female society, while equally war-mongering, largely mimics our own, and bears children through some sort of sci-fi in-vitro fertilization, and raises them under the care of loving lesbian parents.
The main character, Hibiki, is a typical shonen-type born to the lower-class, who stows away on a military spacecraft for the sake of adventure. The plot thickens when the ship is attacked by female space pirates, and Hibiki, along with two other survivors, become their prisoners.
At this point Vandread transitions into a pretty typical harem anime, a la Tenchi Muyo, though it does have some pretty clever twists driven by the surrounding gender war. The primary love interest is a ditzy female pirate who happens to be a UFO fanatic, and thus is extremely curious about Hibiki, constantly referring to him as “Mr. Alien”. Most of the series’ humor is based around the culture differences between the two genders, which is primarily interesting because both cultures have been entirely de-sexualized. This results in an almost eerily unusual habit of sex gags which aren’t actually very sexual…it’s indescribably astonishing to see scenes in an anime where the protagonist turns around and accidentally bumps into a woman so hard that he has to forcibly pry his face out of her cleavage, and yet DOES NOT immediately suffer explosive nose bleeds or unsightly trouser bulge.
This unique take on the genre is rather refreshing and amusing, but does not last. The higher the episode count goes, the weaker the gender walls get. Even though the three males are supposed to be prisoners, they are free to roam the ship as they please and converse with others as if they are ordinary members of the crew. As they “get to know” each other, the characters all get friendlier and the differences which spark comedic antics wear down…eventually it feels pretty diluted. The cheese dial also gets turned up gradually, the further in the series gets, the more the series’ drama is centered on childish lover’s quarrels between Hibiki and Dita, and the more the viewer is subjected to anime-typical speeches about “trying your best” and “fighting for your friends”.
Vandread is a bit of an oddball. In some ways it is rather progressive and subversive in its treatment of culture and gender dynamics, and in other ways is entirely generic, empty, and typical. At the end of the day, it’s primarily an ordinary sci-fi/adventure/harem anime, with a couple quirky elements thrown in. It is certainly entertaining, and watchable, but is not exactly the cream of the anime crop. If you’re looking for some light entertainment to unwind with at the end of the day, this series could fit your bill, but if you’re looking for anything deep or original you will want to look elsewhere.