steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Mina the Vampire

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I was about to watch Dance in the Vampire Bund, and lnhammer asked for a report on it. I suppose this is that report. However, I feel unqualified to give it in many ways, since I'm not well versed in the conventions of either anime/manga or modern vampirage - so, what's new and interesting to me may be a hoary old cliché to people more familiar with these forms. As far as anime is concerned, I've basically seen a few shoujo series, with a distinct emphasis on magical girls. As for vampires, it's been Christopher Lee, Salem's Lot (starring Hutch - quite disconcerting in 1979), The Lost Boys, Fright Night, a few random episodes of Buffy, and more recently the first Twilight movie and the two Bristol-based series of Being Human. Oh, and Mona the Vampire, of course.

One of these vampires is not like the other

There's also a manga, on which the series I watched is based, and which I gather differs from it in important respects. I've not read that, though I noticed that this anime, while being suitably conclusory, definitely nods towards future plot developments. So far, though, it's the only series.

Dance in the Vampire Bund picks up on a lot of modern vampire tropes, the major one being the difficulty of finding a way for vampires and humans (and werewolves) to co-exist. The proposed solution in this case is to purchase a small reclaimed island off the shore of Tokyo, as an independent homeland for vampires. Financially this is no problem for the vampire queen, Mina Tepes, whose kind have been building their stock portfolios since Gilgamesh put the first city wall contract out to tender in Uruk, but there are plenty of political problems along the way. Dance is not devoid of clichés (even from my limited knowledge), but it is quite lightfooted in its use and sometimes subversion of them. For example, the bath of blood in which we see Mina bathing, Elizabeth Báthory style, turns out to be a special sunblock gel. Of course, the subversion of vampire clichés is by now a cliché in itself, but I like the rather meta way they address this issue in the first episode, which features a gameshow in which the reality of vampires is debated by, amongst others, a writer of vampire manga [ETA not just any writer - it's Nozomu Tamaki, author of this very manga], and which undermines a number of the genre's default settings - for example the assumption that vampire queens are sexy and impossibly voluptuous.

The plot is complex, meshing the politics of the various competing vampire factions, a local junior high school where Mina enrols briefly, and human-vampire dealings in general, as well as a set of tricky personal relationships, many with long backstories; but at its heart lies vampire queen Mina, and particularly her relationship with Akira, the teenage amnesiac boy who (as he slowly comes to recall) is a member of her devoted werewolf guard and her sworn personal protector.* Not that Mina necessarily needs much protection. She is a skilled exponent of waif-fu, as she occasionally demonstrates, and quite capable of giving it to attackers in the neck, but usually she does not need to fight because she is also several steps smarter than everyone around her, an arch intriguer, and possessed of a preternatural power of command over (most) other vampires by virtue of her royal bloodline, which derives from Vlad of that ilk. In her attempt to build a place where vampires can exist peacefully, and where the fangless (those vampires who've foresworn human blood) can live without fear of persecution, she has her heart in the right place - or seems to - but she is passionate, vain, wilful, worldly and wily, quite capable of deceiving those who love her (and whom she loves) for her own ends. Altogether I found it a fascinating series - not least as a study of the conflicting yet inextricable demands of the personal and the political, which extend in Mina's case to her own body - and in a specifically gendered way, as we shall see. I suspect that Cleopatra has a prominent a place in her literary bloodline - and wonder whether the scene where we see Mina skipping with some fangless children might even be a direct allusion to Enobarbus's "I saw her once/ Hop forty paces through the public street". But this is a resolute Cleopatra with a head for figures, who would never flinch from Actium.

As you'll have guessed by now, I really enjoyed Dance in the Vampire Bund. It's clever, nicely animated, and complex enough - especially with its elliptical style and habit of fast cross-cutting between scenes - that on several occasions I had to rewind to check I hadn't missed an important visual detail while reading the subtitles (or vice versa). However, it's a controversial series, mostly because Mina, although centuries old, has the appearance of a nine-year-old girl. Given that she appears semi-naked in several scenes (though more typically she wears full-length dresses), and that on a couple of occasions she teasingly flirts with Akira and even creeps into his bed to sleep it's probably inevitable that the series has gained a reputation as lolicon. There's nothing kawaii about Mina, but it's true that she's not exempt from the tiresome fan-service shots of rippling school skirts, to which most of the teenage girl characters are also subject. Looking on Google images just now, it's clear that much of the artwork associated with the series (as well as the closing credits) tend to sexualise her, too, even if the story proper doesn't. If someone were turned on by young girls they could certainly find material in Mina. On the other hand, they could also find material in the Mini Boden catalogue.

As I was watching the series I was consciously trying to do so on its own terms, rather than distracting myself with gatekeeperly thoughts of a "What if a child/pervert saw this?" nature. That seems the least one can do for any work of art - and if I ever get around to reading Nabokov or watching the James Mason film I'll try to do it in the same spirit. But such questions inevitably pose themselves afterwards - questions about the intentions of the makers (the fan service), and about the dynamics of what is going on on screen.

For the moment, I find that - while I'd happily lose the fan-service - I'm not overly bothered by Mina's child-like appearance. Partly this is because if there is a the lolicon theme it is not modelled by any of the characters, at least in relation to her.** I don't think she as much as kisses anyone throughout the entire series; nor, more importantly, does anyone find her sexually attractive, although many are devoted to her. This is actually an important plot point. It turns out that she maintains her physically immature appearance precisely to avoid having to marry and enter a sexual relationship with one of the remaining pureblood vampire families. Appearing prepubescent is her way of maintaining her celibacy and thus her power. (Mina also has an alternative appearance as a decidedly unchildlike gold-skinned woman, but she keeps this secret so as not to be forced to marry.) As well as Cleopatra, then, she has learned some lessons from the Virgin Queen, for whom sexual denial was the price to be paid for political power. The series's most brutal scene (though thankfully not a graphic one) comes when the heads of the clans with a claim to her hand insist on a "purity test" - as it is their right to do every ten years. It is made clear that this physical humiliation is intended primarily as a way to "put her in her place". However, both as a female and as a "child", Mina is consistently underestimated by her antagonists. Is the Bund a political master stroke, or just the vampire equivalent of the Petit Trianon, where Mina can play at a role that is unsustainable in reality, as her enemies would like to think? You'll have to watch it to find out.

* I happened to watch this the night after seeing the first Bourne movie. I think that's enough amnesiacs who lose their memory while on a mission, at least for a while.
** More problematic is a subplot in which an older teenage girl's obsession with the 13-year-old boy next door - about which she feels self-disgust - turns out to be reciprocated. No doubt things like that happen in real life from time to time, but I wouldn't have minded a few "Don't try this at home, kids" signals.

I made a second attempt at okonomiyaki. This time, I went to the trouble of sending off for the proper sauce...

Okonomiyaki sauce

I'm very pleased I did, because despite what my recipe said about Worcester sauce being an acceptable substitute, the real thing is actually very different: thicker, sweeter, and - well, with a different taste. Here's the result:


It tasted good, but I still have much to learn. Next time I'll be trying some variations.
Tags: books, real life
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