Hey, guess what I forgot to post on Monday...
Makoto Okazaki has it rough. Now, I’m not talking about how he has to deal with the bullies who have made him into their gopher, or how he has to deal with all of his pent-up adolescent sexual urges by himself. I’m saying he has it rough because he’s the male protagonist in a new manga from Shuzo Oshimi, who gave us “The Flowers of Evil,” and it looks like her thing is putting these guys through hell at the hands strange women. In Okazaki’s case, at least he’s not at the mercy of a potential psychotic. He just winds up getting bitten by a female vampire on his way to return a rented video one night. Now Okazaki has to deal with the wearying effects of the sun, abnormal strength and a thirst he doesn’t know how to quench just yet.
Oshimi’s looks to be more interested in vampirism’s transformative effect on normal life than as a springboard to supernatural action. Those of you expecting something along the lines of “Twilight” or “30 Days of Night” will likely come away disappointed. A better comparison would be Park Chan-Wook’s “Thirst,” where an ordinary man was infected, then went on to infect his wife and watch his life unravel form there. The same thing happens to Okazaki, as he’s thrown completely off-balance by his new reaction to sunlight and his reaction to the blood he can now sense from his female classmates. Even though he’s able to finally stand up to those bullies, it brings him no satisfaction. All of this just takes him further away from the person he was, and that’s the most unsettling part of this business for him.
It’s because of this approach that I can forgive Oshimi for playing loose with one of the key aspects of vampire myth. Also, we’d have no story if Okazaki was burnt into ash the minute he stepped out the door on his first day back to school. I’m also curious to see how long he’ll be able to go denying his thirst as it has already led to one problematic scene where a girl he near-assaults turns out to be remarkably forgiving of his circumstances. Oshimi also demonstrates some real growth as an artist as we see her build on the nightmarish psychedelic approach she demonstrated in the final chapter of “The Flowers of Evil.” Compared to that title, “Happiness” is off to a much stronger start by making its protagonist’s fears credible and exploring some less-well-trod ground in the vampire story genre along the way.