Vampires are ubiquitous; from vampires that walk among us (psychic and otherwise) to the mythology and media of every culture, we encounter vampires. These creatures and their lore are also universal: no matter how different a culture is, there will be vampiric stories of many forms. This, in turn, has led to everything from bestselling vampire fiction (think Anne Rice) to popular blockbuster films (Interview with the Vampire and Van Helsing) to books about the lifestyles of real vampires. Though the Japanese culture differs in many ways from our Western culture, anime and manga are often awash with stories of vampire mythology, and what is perhaps most interesting is that their many vampire characters are usually styled after the Western pop culture notion of what a vampire should be. As our own ideas of vampires evolve, they are continuing to show up in Japanese culture.
In spite of having plenty of Japanese mythology to fall back on (including non-blood-sucking animals), the vampire has gotten quite a bit of the limelight in anime and manga. One side of the Western-style vampire is often used: the seductive but dangerous immortal. The realities of a true vampire lifestyle hasn't quite reached mainstream Japan pop culture yet, so this is not something one would expect to find in a vampire anime.
Truth be told, our own idea of the vampire has certainly changed over time. Formerly seen as terrible creatures, the majority of Americans are now familiar with the stylized blood-sucker, who is elegant and well-spoken. This is an on-going metamorphosis, and there's no doubt our biggest influence would be from Bram Stoker's book Dracula.
Being one of the originators of the West's fascination with vampires, does Dracula show up in anime and manga? You better believe he does. In Hellsing (reminiscent of Dr. Van Helsing in the book), the main character is named Alucard. Dracula spelled backward, that is. This Alucard wanders a red-skied night, sleek and creepy, not exactly the count of his namesake. Meanwhile, the manga novel Dark Wars: Meiji Dracula, has Stoker's count leave Europe to spend some time in nineteenth-century Japan. Hideyuki Kikuchi, the man behind Dark Wars' clever idea, was also the brainchild of a manga called Vampire Hunter D.
Still, considering that Dracula was published more than one hundred years ago, there has been much added to the image of the vampire since then. If one reads the original novel, they'll see that this Dracula is not the most attractive person. The more attractive vampire archetype has had numerous influences, including movies and Anne Rice's books. So while Hellsing's Alucard may not be everyone's idea of a pretty man, they have plenty else to choose from. Nightwalker, about a vampire detective named Shido, has its beautiful, eye-catching male vampires. Shido himself, with his long purple hair, may not be realistic looking, but he'll get girls to buy the DVDs. Cain, the gold-tressed vampire and sometimes lover of Shido, was the one who brought his protégé to the dark side and now teases him whenever he can.
Expanding the mythology of the vampire would be something found in Trinity Blood. Here vampires are broken up into different groups, including Krusniks, vampires who prey upon vampires. Along with this categorizing, Trinity Blood also dreams up a future world where vampires and the Vatican are at war. Is this a mirror image of the old days when churches searched for supposed vampires? According to Trinity Blood, the future Vatican will become much more liberal, allowing women to take clergy positions, among other things, but the idea of stamping out the undead remains as strong as ever. The twist is that some Krusniks are part of the clergy themselves.
Not all vampires are portrayed as evil and dark, however. Fans of anime and manga are bound to notice a liking of all things cute in some artists' work. Called "kawaii," it's often about extra big eyes, facial expressions, and clothing, as well as attitude. So, of course there have to be kawaii vampires as well—adorable ones like the heroine of Moon Phase. She sucks blood, but she also wears a hat with cute little cat ears and acts positively helpless and harmless...until she tries to jump on someone and sink her fangs into their throat. So in anime and manga, vampires can take on comic timing, too. In Princess Resurrection, a one-of-a-kind dark wit comedy, a goth princess carries around a chainsaw while meeting up with vampires. As you can imagine, her boyfriend is less than enthusiastic about her company. Not that he gets much say, considering he is her slave as well.
Oftentimes vampires can be heroes, meaning that in anime they (for the most part) often don't have negative connotations attached to them. This, however, isn't always true. In Descendants of Darkness, for example, a vampire is loose in Nagasaki killing people and it's up to the protagonist Tsuzuki to stop her. Still, it could be noted that she's acting the way she is because the antagonist of the series brainwashed her, and she never meant to do anyone harm. Furthermore, she still remains undead after Tsuzuki saves her, except that with his help she's able to regain her mind and act like herself. Just as in the West crosses are said to stop vampires, here, too, religion comes into effect, with Shinto prayer strips being used vanquish the evil in her and bring back the woman's heart.
The cultural notion of vampires evolves over time, just as mythology does, but the core idea stays the same, as this is something that has repeatedly fascinated us. Countless books are being written about vampires all the time, and we can see how Bram Stoker's Dracula, other novels, and movies have influenced our Western image of the vampire. It's interesting to know that the Western vampire has also had its influence in the East. Whatever our idea of vampires evolves into next, we can be almost certain that evolution will also show itself in anime and manga.