Unless you’ve been living under a rock, a really big movie just opened last night. You might have heard of it… N…. New…. New Moon? Ah yes, the proud sequel of the mega box office hit Twilight. In honor of this momentous event (is there any doubt New Moon will gross hundreds of millions of dollars domestically?), let’s take a look at the vampire mythos and how one anime re-interpreted it.
Before we get to the anime, let’s review the vampire mythos and how it has been represented. Purists of the vampire genre have often derided modern representations of their favorite monster of the night. The reactions to Twilight/New Moon are pretty interesting in their vehemence. Fans have often lamented the “sissification” of their beloved bloodsuckers, pointing to Anne Rice as the first culprit. Twilight’s Edward only continues this contemporary re-imagining of the vampire mythos in ways that enrage vampire lovers.
Look at this man–what’s the first word that comes to mind when you gaze upon his visage? For me, it’s ‘pathetic,’ but others would go much farther. The opinions of most Twilight haters can easily be summed up by the following comic:
It’s true that authors like Anne Rice and Stephanie Myers have taken great liberties with the vampire mythos, but what truly bothers vampire fans about Edward is his lack of masculinity. In comparison, Dracula is male sexual power defined. In the introduction to Signet Classic Edition’s Dracula, Leonard Wolf writes:
What has become clearer and clearer, particularly in the fin de siècle years of the twentieth century, is that the novel’s power has its source in the sexual implications of the blood exchange between the vampire and his victims…Dracula has embedded in it a very disturbing psychosexual allegory whose meaning I am not sure Stoker entirely understood: that there is a demonic force at work in the world whose intent is to eroticize women. In Dracula we see how that force transforms Lucy Westenra, a beautiful nineteen-year-old virgin, into a shameless slut.
Dracula is not just a masculine threat but also a sexual threat to our women who we must apparently protect from sex. Twilight’s Edward may attract others, but he preys on nobody but poor animals (that is, until Bella shows up). He thus doesn’t fulfill Dracula’s virile masculinity.
Dracula exhibits another threat too that Edward lacks: Dracula is also a foreign threat. He’s an invader from Eastern Europe who has infiltrated pious England to prey on vulnerable English women. In Twilight, however, Edward is no invader from a foreign land but an American like any of us. Finally, Dracula’s weakness to sunlight implies that he is inherently immoral. Edward not only has no such weakness, he even sparkles in the sun, noted by others as a message of moral approval within Twilight’s framework.
Since this is a blog about anime, however, we can’t simply end at a cursory comparison of Twilight to Dracula. We’ll take a look at Karin.
It’s not that I like this show–it’s rather boring, personally, but we’re not here to review Karin. I choose to analyze Karin not only because it’s the most recent anime I’ve seen that happens to be about vampires, but also because it takes an interesting spin on the vampire mythos that I find to be distinctly Japanese. First, let’s quickly explain what Karin is: it’s a romantic comedy about a clumsy and somewhat dull-witted vampire girl Karin and her vampire family trying to survive in modern day Japan. What makes Karin unique, however, is that she’s a rare vampire that produces blood. As a result, when she bites her victims, Karin is giving them her blood.
What’s interesting from the outset is that Karin can walk around in the sunlight just like Edward. Unlike Twilight’s amoral universe, however, sunlight still harms ‘normal’ vampires in Karin. One potential explanation is to link Karin, the character, to Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess who represents growth and fertility.
By producing blood, Karin thus represents fertility and growth as well. In the manga, it fittingly turns out that rare vampires like Karin appear to assist the vampire race. Sterility is apparently plaguing vampires everywhere, but consuming Karin’s blood would induce fertility. This interpretation of Karin is coherent, but I believe we can draw interesting similarities to Dracula to broaden our understanding of what makes this anime uniquely Japanese despite heavily borrowing from Western folklore.
It’s tempting to dismiss the notion that Christian morality might come into play in a Japanese adaptation of Western folklore, but I think there is compelling evidence to support the claim that a Judeo-Christian framework exists within Karin. First, the sun continues to represent a judgment of an Almighty (besides, it would be pretentious to assume Karin’s creators, both the mangaka and JC Staff, were completely ignorant of the major themes within the vampire mythos). As a result, the sunlight punishes vampires for their sin, but we’ll get to exactly what sin that is a little later. So far, the fact that Judeo-Christian morals disapprove of vampires in Karin is nothing new. What makes this interpretation interesting, however, can be demonstrated through Anju, Karin’s little sister.
Early in the story, Anju can also be seen walking about in the daylight and assisting her big sister, but the catch is that Anju can only do so until she herself gains vampiric abilities.
Anju would later mature and becomes a normal vampire that naturally cannot withstand prolonged exposure to sunlight. Anju is initially unscathed by sunlight because, as a child, she hasn’t become a sexual creature. Becoming a vampire is nothing more than a metaphor for puberty in Karin, which doesn’t seem all that crazy if we recall that the vampire mythos is loaded with sexual undertones. The deriving of pleasure from sex
(and experimentation, among other things) that accompanies puberty is a vampire’s sin. After all, the bite represents sexual intercourse (penetration, the exchange of bodily fluids, etc.). More interestingly, however, the vampire’s contentment after each feast and the victim’s dazed consciousness represent the duality of an orgasm, both a moment of immense pleasure and la petite mort. This awareness of sexual pleasure is obviously frowned upon by God, demonstrated by the ill effects of sunlight. This is compounded by the fact that vampires feast upon the blood of others without their consent (you can connect the dots yourself). Karin is also guilty of biting others, but the crucial difference between her and her family is her shame (the title of every episode involves some sort of shame–truly, she would have made a great Christian).
We can now see that what Karin is doing is simply abstinence. By fighting her urge to “bite” others throughout the series, Karin can remain an immature vampire and avoid divine punishment. The most important thing she does to aid herself in her abstinence is to attend school. Karin is older than Anju, but she seems less mature only because she deliberately chooses to live out her life as a child. She attends school as an act of abstinence, immersing herself within the sea of sexually underdeveloped children to avoid the adult temptations of a normal vampire’s life. She isn’t perfect, obviously, and fails every now and then.
Even when she does manage to resist the urge to bite others, however, her temptations still manifest as a violent outburst of blood from her nose.
Essentially, it is onanistic. This line of analysis makes it quite clear why Karin refuses to bite Kenta until the very end, when he sacrifices himself to her as an expression of true love.
There are other layers of interpretation for Karin, however, to take note of.
Recall that Dracula was seen as a foreign invader who brought sexual corruption to England, particularly its womenfolk. The portrayal of Karin’s family thus cannot be coincidental.
They live in a rather Victorian home and they dress in Western style clothing. It becomes clear that they represent Westerners’ (in particular, America) not-so-wholesome presence in Japan. Japan, however, both benefits and suffers from America’s ongoing military occupation. America can be seen as a big bully to Japan, often strong-arming the smaller nation into agreements and international conflicts against the wishes of the Japanese people. Along similar lines, the way Ren, Karin’s brother, preys on Japanese women has many interpretations,
i.e. the encroaching threat of Western masculinity on Japanese femininity, the exploitation of Japanese women through prostitution near American naval bases, and the literal threat of rape from American troops (e.g. the Okinawa incident).
Karin’s family, however, isn’t seen as morally evil. After all, they do genuinely care for Karin (and Kenta to a lesser extent). They never deliberately hurt anyone innocent and their bloodsucking has beneficial effects, e.g. by sucking the blood of troubled women, Ren relieves them of stress:
Similarly, Japan has gained a very valuable trading partner through America. American naval bases also supply a source of income for many of the cities they make their homes in. Western culture has seeped deeply into contemporary city life, from aesthetics to language. Japan has a love/hate relationship with the United States and this attitude is mirrored by the ambivalent portrayal of Karin’s family. Later in the story, we meet vampires who are clear-cut threats, but the representation of Karin’s family seems to suggest that while vampires (Americans) are different and their ways are unnatural (un-Japanese), they’re only trying to survive (they’re only human). There’s a sense that both sides don’t completely understand each other.
The anime suggests that, together, vampires and humans (America and Japan) can form a symbiotic relationship.
Even so, Karin remains obviously superior to her family. Her status as the rare vampire that can walk about in the sunlight is a not-quite-subtle endorsement of Japanese culture and moral values. After all, she is distinctly Japanese in comparison to her European family. She dresses like a typical Japanese schoolgirl,
makes bento for Kenta like an ideal Japanese girlfriend, but more importantly, her constant attempts to avoid biting others, aka sexual intercourse, represents the chastity of traditional Japanese women. Compare this to the looser morals of her family who wouldn’t hesitate to feast on random victims when the urge arises. They essentially sleep around while Karin tries to stay true to Kenta.
I had mentioned earlier, however, that vampires, Dracula in particular, were originally a masculine sexual force. They are sexual predators, seducing both men and women with every bite. Although it might seem odd to some that vampires remain masculine when biting a male implies, at the very least, bisexuality, the vampire remains the dominant force in any vampire-human relationship, regardless of whether the victim is male or female. Female perspectives on the vampire mythos have brought out certain complexities and vulnerabilities to the vampire character. Karin is also written by a women (Kagesaki Yuna) so what female perspective does the series offer?
It’s interesting to note that Kagesaki Yuna (seen above) operates under a male pseudonym when she does work with hentai content. The image of a vampire as a sexual hunter, a predator who must seek out victims, that leeches the life out of others is apparently the masculine portrayal. Although the vampires in Karin ultimately do good by sucking blood, they still (often) do so without the consent of their victims. This masculine existence of casual sex with strangers and violence is seen as hollow and ultimately lacking, as represented by the sterility of the vampire race. Karin’s ability to create rather than destroy blood (I assume that the blood is destroyed when consumed by a vampire… what else would the vampire do with it?) becomes inherently maternal when juxtaposed against the actions of normal vampires. The sex only becomes meaningful when consummated with true love. Losing her ability to produce blood at the end of the manga seems to imply potential redemption from the sinful life of a vampire by settling down and becoming a mother. This might be the feminine perspective we were looking for, but it appears disappointingly conservative and inconsistent:
After Karin is rescued, Ren guards Bridget during the daytime so she can’t get away, controlling her with sex. Months after Karin’s rescue, Bridget calls to let Ren know she is pregnant with his child, the first vampire child conceived since Anju Maaka. — Wikipedia’s entry on Karin’s cast of characters
Such a favorable outcome for Ren and Bridget seems to imply the irresistible allure of the vampire lifestyle. Remember–the threat of Dracula is not only that he sexually corrupts women, but that the victims were willing. While the mangaka has rationalized Karin’s fate as the happiest and thus best possible outcome, it’s not exactly the most desired outcome.