In the 19th century, Dracula symbolized the foreign threat, the morally corrupting force preying upon British women. Now, in the 21st century, the vampire queen Mina Tepes dances seductively on a construction site, waiting for her man to catch her from falling. What has the vampire mythos become and what is it saying?
There is an interesting dichotomy in the vampire mythos that allows it to captivate audiences:
The vampire’s nature is fundamentally conservative — it never stops doing what it does; but culturally, this creature may be highly adaptable. Thus it can be made to appeal to or generate fundamental urges located somehow ‘beyond’ culture (desire, anxiety, fear), while simultaneously, it can stand for a range of meanings and positions in culture. The simultaneity at work here, it seems to me, explains why the vampire has lived so long. — Reading the Vampire, page 141
Nina Auerbach concludes along similar logic, but adds another dimension:
In both cultures, vampires turn to women to perform the extreme implications of their monstrosity — erotic friendship in England, social rebellion in America. In general, with striking exceptions (particularly in the American 1970s), vampires are male creations; their most stellar incarnations are male; but in their well-bred inhibitions, many need women to act out their natures for them. — Our Vampires, Ourselves, page 7
If the vampire represents both the forbidden yet reflects aspects of society, if the vampire utilizes women to deliver its message, how can we use this to understand Mina Tepes?
Mina represents the alluringly forbidden.
Mina Tepes is strong in many ways: she’s wealthy, politically and physically powerful. We know from the last episode and early in this episode that her vampire kingdom is very rich. Not only that, Mina is also a queen and queens generally imply a certain level of political power. Lastly, her strength was on display when we saw her easily destroy another vampire in the first episode. In this episode, she quite easily subdues two of her attackers.
More interestingly, however, is that she also lacks something many girls (in anime) seem to have an abundance of: sexual shame. She willingly strips before Akira despite her immature body, even taunting him in the process:
Contrast this with Yuki, another girl in the anime:
Yuki clumsily drops two bento boxes just because she didn’t want Akira to see her panties. If Yuki represents the ‘normal’ we see in every anime, Mina is everything a traditional Japanese girl is not. As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that Mina is a vampire. Vampires have long stood for the queer and forbidden. For anime, there certainly is something queer and otherworldly about a young girl who is both powerful and confident in her own body.
Mina thus seems to be a metaphor of the modern woman (increased buying power and economic independence, increased political power, increased awareness of one’s own sexuality), so why is she a vampire? How is she a threat, or more importantly, a foreign threat? More importantly, however, the anime clearly does not reject her. Despite glorifying his sexual prowess, the novel made it plainly clear that Dracula was an immoral threat. Dance in the Vampire Bund, on the other hand, remarks that while there is something scary about Mina, it wholeheartedly embraces her. How does the anime go about doing that?
It’s interesting to note how vampirism robs Mina of agency. Instead of being economically and politically powerful in her own terms, she was born ‘this way,’ i.e. a queen and rich. Had Mina been a real girl, her power would require explanation. As a vampire, it becomes ‘the other,’ something mystical that normal people can’t really comprehend. Her nakedness, on the other hand, not only parodies her sexual maturation by contrasting it against her objectively nascent body, it also reduces her to the object of the gaze.
The fact that Mina has blonde hair and likes to dress in Victorian attire only highlights how ‘foreign’ she is. Although Mina is literally foreign, I suggest she represents contemporary Japanese girls (i.e. kogal) and their increasing penchant for Western language, products, etc.:
Yet as Kogals use language, fashion, and behavior to set themselves apart from the parent culture, they increasingly entangle themselves in a culture of escalating consumerism and materialism. — page 241
But the anime doesn’t reject her. A gothic lolita walking down the street should look plain ridiculous, but no one in the anime seems to even remark upon it. Instead, she stands out against the rest of the cast of characters, who are trapped in their uniformity and thus conformity.
The fact that Mina looks like a twelve year old only highlights how morally wrong she should be. It is no question that girls in the the modern era are becoming aware of their sexuality at a younger and younger age, not just in the West but certainly in Japan as well. Is this ‘right?’ The answer to this question is not so important as the fact that the audience often can’t turn away regardless of how they answer the question. The anime doesn’t reject her seemingly prepubescent sexuality, but even taunts the viewers with a “we know it’s wrong but who cares?” attitude. Unless we literally turned away from Mina as she displayed her flat-chestedness before us, we just proved the anime’s point. We may outwardly say that young girls shouldn’t be sexualized at such a young age, but in the safety of our homes, we have no problem following the camera as it pans across every inch of her body.
In fact, by not rejecting the sexually perverse, the anime rejects the ‘normal:’
The apparent fact that Akira may have glimpsed Yuki’s panties seems to barely register with him. It certainly didn’t distract him enough from catching the two bento boxes. Rather, the anime rejects the traditional concept of sexuality, the coy playfulness between blushing girls and boys. The anime thrusts a naked loli before Akira and thus the audience, daring the viewers (including Akira) to touch. Akira hesitates only so much because it seems wrong, but he (and the audience by extension) hardly believes it to be wrong.
(Curiously, Akira also gets naked in the second episode, but the camera takes a very conservative approach. We stay a safe distance away when his entire body is in the frame.
When we do get up close and personal, we are only treated to his upper torso and even then, much less than what we see with Mina.)
Despite all of Mina’s “monstrosities,” the anime doesn’t reject her. The anime wants to protect her; in fact, the anime asserts that Mina desires protection, which is a strange conclusion, but I’ll get to that in a bit. This is the simultaneity of the vampire’s appeal. Although Mina represents everything threatening about the contemporary modern girl (‘foreign,’ sexually mature, shameless), she is nevertheless alluring to the audience. What I find troubling, however, is not so much the fact that the anime embraces these liberating qualities of the modern girl, but contrives to fit them neatly in a conservative framework. Sure, Mina’s powerful, but she still requires Akira’s protection.
Akira, as his normal self, can’t really help Mina. We clearly see him get pushed out of the way while she single-handedly fought off the attackers:
So if being the modern man isn’t enough for the modern woman, what does the anime suggest?
The anime seems to say that man need to revert back to his bestial nature, to become animalistic. Only by doing so can you subdue the modern woman, where she no longer stands on her two feet but needs to be carried. By shedding his clothes, Akira rejects society and, according to the anime, its arbitrary morals and rules. The threat of the modern girl can only be subdued by appealing to nature. In society, we strive for gender equality. In nature, men are (generally) physically stronger than women. In nature, we assume that deep down women (generally) just want to be protected and cradled.
Am I supposed to believe that the vampire queen needs a shounen hero to pick her up and carry her like a helpless little girl? Of course Mina doesn’t need his help, but, implied by her facial expression in the screenshot above, she still wants his help. The anime seems to imply that liberated, powerful women are nothing to be afraid of — they still just want a prince charming to sweep them off their feet. The only difference is that charming has been redefined, implying that the effete modern man won’t get the job done.
Ghosts, werewolves, and manufactured monsters are relatively changeless, more aligned with eternity than with time; vampires blend into the changing cultures they inhabit. — Our Vampires, Ourselves, page 6
Perhaps Akira’s chivalry and lycanthropy are related. Perhaps the inclination to help women “just because” is an animal instinct. After all, in an equal society, shouldn’t we all help each other regardless of gender? In the end, the message might not be anything new. We have often seen in recent decades that the response to feminism have often been the (re)assertion of the (hyper)masculine.
I think this should be addressed in the main article rather than the comments:
Consider Akira’s “protection” in this perspective: not an assertion of strength or dominance, but a statement of fealty and submission (in keeping with his childhood oath). Conversely, it is a token of power on Mina’s part to be able to have such a knight in shining armor black fur (which she could most likely do without, seeing as she shrugs off a missile attack). All she has to do is call his name and he will leap forward. The power play is even more obvious in the instant-classic gel scene.
The idea behind this argument is that Mina has pragmatic power. In exploiting the traditional power dynamics of relationships, in which men are heroes and women are damsels in distress, i.e. playing by men’s rules, she will have more real power than Akira at the end of the day. And that would be a legitimate argument if Mina really did have more real power at the end of the day (though to be honest, we want an equal society where nobody is stronger than the other). But what power does she have, exactly? To put it another way, why does Akira submit to her? Is it because of her brains? Is it because of her abilities? The answer to both questions is no. Rather, Akira chooses to be Mina’s faithful knight only because she is an adorable loli, a childhood friend, i.e. everything that she has no control over. As a result, she is no different than the strippers who take their clothes off for money; once their looks fade, no one will give a shit one way or another about them. It is thus a demonstrably false idea that the commodification of young women’s “moe-ness” is a form of real power. If she wasn’t moe, what man would be willing to be her dog (pun quite intended)? But luckily, she’s a vampire and they can contrive to have her stay loli (and moe) forever.