Manga Grab Bag: Trash Vampires Edition

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From the amount of vampire stuff on this blog, it’s no surprise that I’d be reading vampire manga too, is it? This mixed bag wound up with some distinct highs and lows.

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Bloody Mary (vol 1-10)

“Bloody” Mary, a vampire with a death wish, has spent the past 400 years chasing down a modern-day exorcist named Maria who is thought to have inherited “The Blood of Maria” and is the only one who can kill Mary. To Mary’s dismay, Maria doesn’t know how to kill vampires. Desperate to die, Mary agrees to become Maria’s bodyguard until Maria can find a way to kill him.
“Bloody” Mary is not your typical vampire. He can withstand sunlight, holds a reflection in mirrors, refuses to drink blood—and wants 17-year-old student and priest Maria to kill him. But to Mary’s dismay, Maria doesn’t know how to kill vampires. Desperate to die, Mary agrees to become Maria’s bodyguard until Maria can find a way to kill him at last.

This series has joined my increasingly lamented list of “why can’t they make BL anime out of THESE series instead of yet more sexual assault-laden bullshit?” While Bloody Mary is undeniably trashy, its earnestness and avoidance of key pitfalls puts it squarely in the “endearing” category.

This is the kind of series where the young, beautiful main characters angst about how much they want to DIE but CAN’T; where priests Don’t Work Like That, where everyone has a weird family conspiracy hidden down in the basement, where cat ear hoodies march merrily alongside gothic Lolita fashions and traditional lush gothic shoujo art. Think Kaori Yuki without the incest, and a touch of Advent Children on the side. It very much wants you to take it seriously, bless its bloody cotton socks.

But aside of all the adorably edgy trappings, the series has a good heart. Mary and Maria have a sincere bond with a very light tsundere edge, but the series goes light on the “I don’t care about him ANYWAY” misdirects. Despite that “please take me seriously!” narrative, the writing knows well enough that it needs some breather moments to let the reader invest in the characters learning to heal and rely on one another, and it works. They never kiss, making this one of those series that assholes would inevitably argue about if they knew it existed, but the emotional climax involves on character realizing “I want to be with him,” so I think we can go ahead and clock this one as a romance, folks.

The other members of the cast have their charms, only occasionally derailing the plot of what’s otherwise a fairly tightly paced ten volumes. And the vampire mechanics are an odd blend of “vampires are genetic and transformed humans are a taboo” and “incorrectly vampiring someone results in slowly rotting corpses.” The story isn’t afraid to dip into horror in addition to the romance, giving the plot some meat but not detracting from the main draw. Also? No sexual assault. Nada. Not a whiff of it even with the “oh no I must feed on you to live” angle. The treatment of suicide might put some people off (Mary has more than one “comedy violence that doesn’t take” gags), but there’s a comparative amount of tastefulness that keeps it out of grimdark territory. If queer vampires are your bag, this is a solid and completed read.

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My Boyfriend is a Vampire (vol 1-10)

Being beautiful is never easy, especially if you’re an eighteen year old boy like Ryu who is constantly mistaken for a girl because of his delicate good looks. Ryu is, in fact, anything but delicate. He is the ringleader of a group of tough kids in an all boy’s school, and he’s quick to beat the living daylights out of anyone who even hints that he resembles a girl.

If that wasn’t hard enough for a regular teenage guy to cope with, his life is about to take a shocking turn for the worse. When Ryu stumbles upon strange happenings in the forest, he gets sucked into a world of vampire intrigue and sinister romance that he never knew existed. And he learns that there are worse things than being turned into a vampire: being turned into a girl?!

I checked this one out in full guilty pleasure mode. TSF fantasy works can hit a sweet spot from time to time, whether it’s for transfeminine folks imagining magically waking up with boobs and a vagina with no hassles of transition or (in my case), a kind of catharsis to seeing a boy who’s been mistakenly labelled “girl” get really mad about it until the story changes him back properly at the end. I’ve mostly moved away from those kinds of stories, but the vampire gimmick and hope of some queer romance lured me back in.

This turned out to be a mistake.

TSF manga is usually all kinds of problematic—any enjoyment trans folks get from it is usually incidental compared to the cis audience being catered to—but this one not only doubled but tripled down. Rather than the masculine, fight-prone Ryu finding that he can express feelings he’s always had but been scared of as a girl or something like that, he’s instead discussed as “gaining a woman’s heart” that makes him both more docile and suddenly interested in men. To really highlight how Totally Not Into Dudes he is when he has a penis, the manga also throws in a big ‘ol batch of homophobic language.

And just so you can be sure that this gender-bending drama only and exclusively works along cis and straight lines, Ryu loses his feelings for his love interest (which have been brewing for months) when he temporarily regains a dick, and the third act ticking clock is that it’s SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE to perform a vampire lifebond between people of the same gender. That’s not just falling into boring tropes at the end, it’s a panicked shriek so that nobody thinks doing a gender drama might lead to anything GAY or nothin. And hey, while we’re at it the hero is also Not Like Other Girls, as the majority of the other women in the series are shrill, jealous, or outright evil.

Even if all of that weren’t a problem, the art has an aggressive case of sameface, and the vampire mechanics are that particularly lazy school of “we want the sexual coding of drinking blood but none of the consequences.” So these vampires are an “evolution” of humanity that has super strength, lives a long time, and CAN drink blood, but also goes out in the sunlight and can eat regular food when they’re not looking to PG-bone somebody. Yawn. I’d gotten almost all the way to the end of the series, but it ground my interest down to absolute zero.

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The Case Study of Vanitas (vol. 1-3)

Rumors revolving around The Book of Vanitas, a clockwork grimoire of dubious reputation, draw Noé, a young vampire in search of a friend’s salvation, to Paris. What awaits him in the City of Flowers, however, is not long hours treading the pavement or rifling through dusty bookshops in search of the tome. Instead, his quarry comes to him…in the arms of a man claiming to be a vampire doctor! Thrust into a conflict that threatens the peace between humans and vampires, will Noé cast in his lot with the curious and slightly unbalanced Vanitas and his quest to save vampirekind?

Most people probably know Jun Mochizuki for her work on her previous manga, Pandora Hearts. I’ve only read a few volumes of that series, so I’m afraid I can’t offer you a comparison of the two. I can say that while I’ve appreciated what I read of PH, Vanitas is far more dialed in to my particular tastes, from the vampires to the gothic-leaning aesthetic and body horror to the blatant Vampire Chronicles homages. It’s also got queercoding out the ears, though it’s hard to say how that’ll shake out since it’s an ongoing series. Basically, it screams Made For Me.

Most of what goes on in these first volumes is scene-setting: establishing the vampire court, hinting at the Tragic Backstories of our leads, and building up the threat. Most of the beats here are pretty well-established—Vanitas is functionally an exorcist, we have the mystery man/naïve newcomer dynamic, there’s decadent courtly secrets, and the series’ vampires maintain at least a few monstrous things about them in addition to the expected sex-coding.

What gives it an extra edge are the small ways it finds to play with those common setups: vampire Noé is the one dazzled at everything he sees (I cannot convey how amazingly good he is, y’all) while human Vanitas is the hard-edged secret keeper, the elements of possession genre sparks well with the usual ancient nobility stuff; and the secondary cast adds a great deal of charm, particularly the dhampir detective trio, who have all the fun of the reapers from Black Butler but none of the transmisogyny or overhanging threat of shotacon.

The push-and-pull of Vanitas and Noé’s “I don’t like you, but I’m not letting you out of my sight (because I’m a bit fascinated)” dynamic is the heart of things though; while it remains unclear if their relationship will move beyond subtext there’s plenty of Noé finding himself increasingly entranced in between engaging bits of verbal sparring—and plenty of ominous foreshadowing, basically from the word go, that something bad will be happening to Vanitas at Noé’s hands. It’s prime tragic gays if it follows through to the letter of the law, but it’s not clear how truthful that narration is of yet.

The female characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Dominique is an old friend of Noé’s who enjoys masculine clothing and flirting with ladies, and Jeanne (yeah, that one) is a quiet bodyguard seeking to atone for past sins. On their own, or in the brief window when they got to hang out together, I found them delightful—they’ve got memorable designs and potential stakes in their arcs.

I was less wild about how they’re treated in relation to the two male leads. While Dominique might be Noe’s platonic friend, the fact that she’s the only one he can drink blood from (for Plot Reasons) leaves the looming threat that she’ll be stuffed into the “pining childhood friends” box, with her interest in women treated as a game or distraction. Jeanne, meanwhile, has been repeatedly harassed by Vanitas because he finds her humiliation “cute”—with way too much implication that she’s developed a tsundere sort of affection for him. It’s…not. Awesome.

Still, those moments are few and far between enough not to ruin the experience and everything else the manga does well, from the crackling tension between Vanitas and Noé to the sometimes genuinely inspired bits of body horror from the soul-warping villain. My opinion will depend on how they stick the landing, but for now I’m seriously on board.

(As a bonus if you’re into physical volumes, these are really nice—the covers are embossed and feel a bit heavier than the average manga trade, hence the slightly higher price.)

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3 comments on “Manga Grab Bag: Trash Vampires Edition

  1. Manga Addict Alice says:

    Finally, another VnC fan!

    VnC is amazing, it’s currently one of my favourite series! The characters are fantastic, Jun Mochizuki’s gothic artwork is simply gorgeous and the heavy queer coding earns it another thumbs up in my eyes. I just hope it ultimately goes in a positive direction, rather than just being baiting which would be very disapointing. I also agree that the role reversal of the vampire lead being dazzled by the human world while their human counterpart is the serious, all-knowing character is a nice touch.

    • Vrai Kaiser says:

      At this point I’m guessing the love story will pay off to some emotional extent, but if what i’ve heard about PHearts is any indication, we’re not guaranteed a happy ending of any sort.

      • Manga Addict Alice says:

        I’m really, truly hoping that it will. But if VnC turns out anything than PH it’s going to destroy us, but I plan to remain in complete denial until that actually happens.

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