At this juncture in pop culture's collective mediocrity, the vampire is considered passe. Upon the release of Anne Rice’s "Interview with a Vampire," there was a little explosion of vampire-related media.
That died away only to be resurrected once more by the release of "Twilight" and the deluge of tween and teen romance novels focused on relationships with supernatural creatures.
But we are in another lull, probably exacerbated by superhero films and "Star Wars" being the dominant force of pop culture.
Zombies have been left in their graves, vampires have been staked, and while teen fiction concerning the supernatural is as profitable as ever, the film rights aren’t nearly as lucrative as they might have been ten years ago.
Japan is not immune to the draw of bloodsucking monsters. Anime has been a generally wonderful source of refreshing supernatural content, especially regarding vampires. ‘Blood +’ is well known as a classic of supernatural anime and the medium as a whole.
The lesser-known and absolutely stunning ‘Shiki’ gave a Japanese twist to the traditional vampire while creating one of the tensest anime of all time.
"Call of the Night" may join the annals of original and interesting Japanese takes on the vampire. Written by Kotoyama, who also does all the art, it follows Ko Yamori, a 14-year-old who has given up on school and life during the day to enter the world of the night.
While in any other setting but Japan, this would mean a lot of opportunities for skeeviness, in this series, the suburbs of Tokyo are pleasant, if not somewhat alien, when viewed under the streetlamps. Bars, salarymen heading home, maid cafes, karaoke, and arcades, all bathed in incandescent blankets, act as an alien world to those who have spent their lives under the sun.
In this nightscape, Ko meets the most alien of all creatures to stalk the night, vampires. Specifically, Nazuna Nanakusa takes a bite out of him and finds his blood particularly delicious.
But a simple bite does not turn a human. The human must be in love with the vampire to turn.
This becomes the emotional driving force behind the series. In the words of a tacky pop classic, Ko wants to know what love is. He wants to be a vampire more than anything and is dedicated entirely to falling in love with Nazuna.
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This sounds rather strange to a Western audience, surely. Especially if you haven’t had much experience with anime and manga where the male characters tend to have a real hard time processing any sort of romantic feelings, perhaps this plays into Japanese ideas of masculinity or cultural issues concerning gender.
I can’t speak for Japan, but I can say that once you get past the idea of a kid annoyingly spending so much time with an attractive vampire, kissing her, and still not being able to love her, you’ll find that there are some tender moments scattered in the eight volumes of "Call of the Night" released in the States.
The budding romance between Nazuna and Ko is the heart and soul of "Call of the Night," but what propels and fleshes it out is the side characters. A bevy of attractive vampires stalks the city along with Nazuna, all with their own proclivities and oddities.
A cross-dressing man who swings both ways, a woman who runs a maid cafe, and another who works as a nurse while supplying young vampires with a steady supply of blood. Ko spends plenty of time with these folks and learning that vampires aren’t monsters, just undead creatures trying to survive in their own way.
All the while, a vampire hunter lurks, a counterpoint to the passivity of the vampires with her penchant for violence. Here we are introduced to an interesting idea that vampires are weak to items from their human lives.
Vampires begin to forget their pasts at a certain point as a method of protecting themselves. By collecting that vampire’s human possession fueled with emotion, a hunter can turn that into a potent weapon that could weaken or kill the vampire.
That offers enough of an interesting and different take to make this more than your average romcom with a supernatural twist.
One of the biggest kudos I have for "Call of the Night" is that the author does a wonderful job of avoiding filler. Even when a plot is only there…it’s reliably entertaining regardless of how little it affects the overall story. The world is big yet tight. Characters are fleshed out enough that they can pop in and out and never feel like you missed something. And even throwaway secondary characters tend to be weird enough that they’re endearing.
Balancing romance, humor, and serious drama moments can be tough, especially in a medium like manga, where authors get very indulgent in aspects they feel the reader will latch onto (particularly sexuality). And while Kotoyama draws some lecherous panels and splash pages, it isn't as in-your-face as many of his contemporaries.
"Call of the Night" is one of my favorite manga of recent years, managing to be a melange of multiple genres while keeping things fresh and forward-moving without the need for constant filler. Its' vampires aren’t necessarily terrifying, but this isn’t a horror comic. This is an outlet to show how those who live different lives aren’t so different from the rest of us.
You can find out more on "Call of the Night" on Viz's website.