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Thursday, December 1, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND (2005/2014)



As I discussed in MYTHIC MANGA, the serial DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND is an unusual beast. The first "super-arc," so to speak, was reprinted into 14 collected volumes, but did not have an ending as such. In 2014 author Nozomu Tamaki began a new arc, SCARLET ORDER, that proved short enough to be collected into 4 volumes. It's still not quite the end of the story, for Tamaki purposely left some plot-threads dangling. However, there's now enough of a "beginning, middle, and end" to judge the nature of the underthought informing BUND.

Here's the summary of the serial's setup that I wrote in this 2011 post:

I reviewed Kim Newman’s alternate-world take on the DRACULA mythos, in which Dracula became consort to the Queen of England and turned Old Blighty into a haven for his vampire spawn. I wasn’t enthused with the Newman work, but Nozomu Tamaki wreaks wonders with the same basic idea. Here it’s a man-made island that becomes a haven for a kingdom of bloodsuckers: quite naturally for a manga-series, the island has been built off the coast of Japan. The heroes of DANCE are Mina Tepes, queen of the vampires, who facilitates the worldwide emigration of her people to the island, and Akira, her werewolf bodyguard. DANCE also sports a large cast of allies and villains, most of whom are incredible hot-bods. But Mina and Akira are the focal heroes, and their complicated relationship is the core of the series as they defend their makeshift kingdom (the “bund” of the title) against assorted threats—meddling human beings, assassins, conspiracies, and, most formidably, three vampire overlords, the last survivors of “the 100 vampire clans.” Grotesque horror and frenetic action dominate the storylines, though Tamaki makes considerable time for comic byplay and the Japanese “cult of cuteness.”

Since the original manga came out, BUND has been targeted for some of its "lolicon" elements. I wrote, quite presciently if I may say so, that I didn't think Tamaki was simply presenting these elements either to sate the taste of lolicon-readers, or even just to appeal to the aforesaid "cult of cuteness." I wrote:

...Tamaki is clearly playing around with the concept of “lolicon,” teasing the reader with the possibility while making clear that Humbert Humbert doesn’t live here. In the first DANCE continuity, Mina meets Akira for the first time in seven years, and uses an assortment of stratagems to make him want to serve as her bodyguard willingly, rather than out of a sense of impersonal duty. One of these stratagems includes disrobing in front of him. Her pre-pubertal form doesn’t entice Akira, but making him uncomfortable accomplishes the same end: that of helping her manipulate him into her service. This is made palatable by the fact that she does have an abiding love for him, and clearly would like to assume her mature form in order to be with him. During a dream-sequence in TPB volume 6, Mina imagines herself living a normal human life, which attests to her romantic desires for Akira, though only in mature form.

I might have added that because Mina has the form of a child-- even though technically she's much older than the college-age Akira-- sex isn't a force that can get in the way of their friendship. To be sure, since it's a Japanese work, it's strongly suggested that the "Vampire Bond" between the two was brought about by the forces of destiny. Still, Tamaki goes to considerable lengths to make the relationship work on its own dynamic, apart from its basic samurai/daimyo structure.



I also remarked in MYTHIC MANGA upon the tendency of some manga-artists to structure their long arcs after the model of prose novels. This was clearly evident in the original arc's use of numerous subplots, and it pertains just as much to the shorter arc as well. The principal subplot concerns Mina and Akira's encounter with a pair of vampires-- one Japanese, one American-- who date from the period of Admiral Perry. (MADAME BUTTERFLY is even wittily referenced, as Tamaki knows that this is a touchstone for many readers.)






There's also some follow-up on subplots from the previous arc. One is that of the character of Josie, Japan's diplomatic liaison to Mina's bund.




Both Josie and the vampire couple function in the SCARLET ORDER help Mina and Akira come to understand the significance of a mystic gemstone known as the "Akamitama." Both Mina's allies and her enemies struggle to acquire this particular McGuffin, but for once, the item in question is not just something for the opponents to fight over. Rather, the gem proves to be a gateway into the distant origins of the vampire race, which even the oldest "living" vampires are not privy.

I'll hold off on discussing that origin in detail, but aside from its strong construction, I find it particularly pleasing that it confirms the "anti-lolicon" theme that I discerned in the earlier arc. Vampires are in essence spawned by a mystic force known only as "the Darkness," and its goal is much the same as that of the three vampire-lords from the first arc: to successfully begat a child to perpetuate its heritage. Tamaki's description of the Darkness' methods reminded me somewhat of the Hindu myth of Prajapati, who creates a woman to be his mate. Like Prajapati, the Darkness must then seek to overcome the woman's resistance to spawn the offspring he desires. But the unnamed "Woman" does resist the dark god's purpose, just as Mina resisted the corrupt desires of the three lords, and from the fact of the Woman's defiance springs the history of the vampire race.

As yet I haven't read the original criticisms of BUND as summarized in this Wikipedia essay. I assume that those criticisms stem from a misreading-- purposeful or otherwise-- of Tamaki's intentions, Frankly, I think even Nabokov's original LOLITA-- which generally gets a critical pass because of all the high-falutin' philosohizin' that makes it sound Really, Really Literary-- is constructed with enough ambiguity that it's possible for the Patron of Lolicon to enjoy it on that level, rather than interpreting the novel morally, as Nabokov *may* have intended. In contrast, while the aforementioned Patrons *might* be able to get some jollies from BUND, it seems to me that Tamaki does everything possible to de-eroticize the sight of Mina, in such a way that it might work against the fantasies of the Patrons even better than Nabokov's staid academic hauteur. Additionally, the fact that both Mina and her distant ancestor prove themselves formidable in fighting against being kept "barefoot and pregnant" by an obnoxious male gives them much more relevance to feminism than one could find in Dolores "Lolita" Haze.

I will note in closing that not everyone will be pleased with the cliffhanger-like conclusion of SCARLET ORDER. It doesn't bother me because I'm reasonably sure Tamaki means to use that cliffhanger as a jumping-off point for a new arc, one that will probably, like ORDER, take place some time after the previous arc's culmination.




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