Vampires in Japanese Anime
Blog by: Jessica
This month I decided to take a break from my regular deep, intense analysis on themes in the horror genre and instead write something light and fun to highlight one of my other interests: Japanese anime. Yup, you read that right, I have been interested in Japanese anime since grade seven and I still am (it just doesn’t consume my life like it once did).
Before I started to fully explore the horror genre through film, I dabbled in it through literature and Japanese anime. As a lonely 13-year-old teenager, I turned to Japanese anime because I loved the various forms of artwork, characters, and storylines. I developed my artistic talents by spending hours drawing drawing the various Sailor Soldiers from Sailor Moon while sitting at the dinner table. As I got older and was looking for more intense and adult-like storylines, I started to explore more of what the genre had to offer. When I look back at some of the shows and movies I watched and since then have added to my small Japanese anime collection, there are quite a few of them that have horror themes (Demon City Shinjuku, Akira, Perfect Blue, Ninja Scroll) and in particular, quite a few that revolve around the supernatural undead creature, the vampire. I know that there has been an explosion of vampires in Japanese anime and manga and they can be everything from evil antagonist, monsters, heroes and, kawaii (maybe don’t look that up). However, I am going to talk about my three favourite Japanese anime that feature vampires and carry the atmosphere of horror that I enjoy. These are Blood The Last Vampire, Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Princess Miyu.
What I enjoy about Blood: The Last Vampire is how direct it is. We are introduced to Saya immediately and understand that she is a hunter with extraordinary abilities. Throughout the film, there are only hints to her vampiric origin and comments made by her handlers about her being an original vampire. Saya talks very little. She has been sent to do a job and she is determined to complete it. She has little patience for humans and holds nothing but contempt for them. The animation is dark and gritty and the chiropteras are terrifying and relentless in their bloodlust.
I enjoy how Blood: The Last Vampire is really just a reflection of a moment in time, where a vampire is being used in a sort of anti-hero role. Saya despises humans and finds them inferior but she uses her supernatural skills to protect them by killing creatures that are related to her in their own vampiric nature. The film does not go into detail about who she really is and why she is in contact with this organization, but that is another element of it that I like. You are able to just appreciate the information you receive to enjoy a good film.
The Vampire Hunter D films from 1985 and 2000 are based on a series of Japanese novels written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy) from 1983. D (the character’s name) is a vampire hunter who is also a dhampir, which means he is the half breed child of a vampire father and a human mother. In a far-future post-nuclear Earth, D hunts after the Nobles (vampires), ancient demons, and mutants who once ruled the world and assists in bringing a semblance of order to the planet under human control. What is beautiful about this storyline is the history that is imagined. Prior to a nuclear war, the Nobility were vampires who coexisted with humans; however, due to their own decadence they bring about the downfall of the vampire race. Very little is known about our protagonist, D’s, past and the identity of his parents, but it is hinted at that he may be the son of the Vampire King, Dracula. This is due to his extraordinary abilities that surpass those of regular damphirs and he does not suffer the same vampiric weaknesses.
While the two anime films do not go into in-depth detail about D’s past and the world he exists in, you are given a lovely taste of what you can learn about if you read the novels. The 1985 film remains a cult classic among English speaking audiences and it is seen as a dark future of a science-fiction romance. It is a stand-alone film that is influenced by the post-nuclear holocaust world D exists in. Where as the second film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is based directly on the third Vampire Hunter D novels and focuses more on the horror, high-fantasy, Lovecraftian mythos, folklore occult, and science fiction elements of it. As well the art style of the second film is beautiful and compliments the tragic love story between a vampire and human women quite well.
The vampires in this world are complicated. They once ruled the night as nobles of planet Earth and coexisted and created relationships with humans, thus leading to the product of damphirs. However, their society begins to stagnate and they see their race coming to an end and being overthrown by humans. They become the vampires of legend, forced to live in seclusion and be hunted by independent hunters-for-hire to eliminate them as part of the supernatural threat. Damphirs become hated as half-breeds and then isolated from society if they are not killed. D’s story is beautifully tragic as he continues to hunt those supernatural forces that threaten mankind’s resurgence and he is neither welcomed by either of the races that bore him.
And finally, another one of my favourite vampire themed Japanese anime is the little talked about Vampire Princess Miyu. This four episode OVA (original video animation) is based off the horror manga series by Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano. The story focuses around Miyu, the daughter of a human and Shinma (a race of god-demons). She was born a vampire with the duty to be a Guardian of the human world by hunting stray Shinma and sending them back to the darkness in which she yearns to return herself. She is protected by Larva, a Shinma from the Western world, who was originally sent to kill her if her vampiric side awakens. However, he inadvertently triggers her vampiric nature when she feeds on him. This results in his voice and face being sealed away for all eternity and he becomes Miyu’s ally based upon the mutual sadness they share. Miyu is not your typical Western vampire as she is a Daywalker due to her human lineage, and by the fact that she can walk in the daylight, is not harmed by holy water or crucifixes and she can see her reflection. She does need human blood to survive, but she can only drink from willining individuals and those she deems “lovely”. These are people who have suffered a tragic loss and in return she offers them their greatest wish, reunion with dead loved ones, in exchange for their blood. Her supernatural abilities differ from the typically Western vampire as she can teleport, levitate, open dimensional portals, and use fire magic.
Vampire Princess Miyu is beautiful to watch: it is a hauntingly surreal tour of the occult through the eyes of Miyu. Her sadness makes her tale interesting because she yearns to return to the very same darkness where she sends the Shinma she hunts back to. Her vampiric powers were never meant to be released and by accident it happens which leads to her losing memory of who and what she is. She lives purely on instinct and the knowledge shared to her by Larva, her protector. Miyu’s sorrow is what is attractive to her victims and she gives to them what she could not give herself: an endless dream state with their lost loved ones. Vampire Princess Miyu enhances the tragic figure of the vampire, but instead of making it a focus on her monsterity, it is focused on how she sadly protects humanity from a place she can never return to.
In Japan, there are no native legends about vampires but they do have the tale of a mythical creature that is similar to the vampire known as the Nure-onna. The Nure-onna was a vampiric snake-like creature that inhabited shores and rivers looking for humans to feed on. However, the mainland concept of the vampire started to make an appearance in Japanese cinema in the late 1950s and most likely was influenced by films such as Nosferatu and Dracula. It is interesting to see how, with little to reference in their own culture, the vampires in Japanese animation have been stylized after the Western pop-culture idea of what the vampire should be. It just goes to show that despite where the mythology of the vampire comes from all cultures have a fascination with the idea of being an undead immortal who sustains itself on the blood of living beings.