Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters


Well, that was weird.

I jest, but Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters is not the book I was expecting, presenting strange and twisty turns in Kim Newman’s long-running vampire mythology. It’s also literally not the book I was expecting when it was originally announced as Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju. The promotional synopsis for that book was the following:

In 1899 Geneviéve Dieudonné is working as a doctor on a ship of vampire refugees from Dracula’s Britain, as Christina Light, a vampire who can literally turn into light, persuades the Emperor to cede a section of Tokyo to her as the Vampire Bund, a Shanghai-like international settlement of the undead and her own power base.

New Year’s Eve 1999 in the Vampire Bund in Tokyo, and Christina is on the cusp of completing her hundred-year plan to become an ascendant power in the world. Only vampire samurai Nezumi stands in her way…

In this fifth gripping novel in the acclaimed alternative history vampire series, Newman takes his story to turn-of-the-century Japan and a world of cyberpunk, kaiju, and yakuza.

Evidently, the sprawl of time and bifurcated setting proved impossible to jam into one volume, as One Thousand Monsters covers only the first paragraph of that summary, limiting the action to Geneviéve’s and Christina’s struggles to establish a vampire refuge in Yōkai Town, a walled and guarded ghetto in Tokyo to which the folktale monsters of Japan—the yōkai—have been banished by order of Emperor Meiji. In the expected Anno Dracula manner, these yōkai are vampires themselves and the novel follows the cross-cultural intrigues of vampires both European and Japanese as they struggle with the terrifying mortal sorcerer who keeps them prisoner.

Given the original press release’s overt reference to Nozomu Tamaki’s manga franchise Dance in the Vampire Bund, I expected One Thousand Monsters to delve deeper into the rich vampire lore of Japanese animation and comics. Instead, major supporting characters are drawn from the works of Henry James (with perhaps a winking nod to Stephenie Meyer) and E. C. Segar, with many (but not all) of the Japanese references taken more from traditional folklore and the golden age of Japanese cinema (including unexpected appearances by Akira Kurosawa’s most famous anti-hero and anachronistic references to Nikkatsu’s exploitation films).

I wonder if perhaps, for once, copyright got in the way of the usual “spot-the-reference” game—which would be weird, since Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Drusilla appears rather nakedly as herself—but it could as easily be simply the result of Newman not being a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, Peacemaker Kurogane, the Hakuōki series, and other series I hoped to see referenced. Thankfully, the book does include a call-out to Teito Monogatari—the seminal dark fantasy series known in the West from such adaptations as Tokyo: the Last Megalopolis and Doomed Magalopolis—and its charismatically evil villain Yasunori Katō (visual inspiration for M. Bison) and a few soft lob references to the most famous characters in Japanese horror cinema.  

Instead, Newman digs deep into the history and mindset of Geneviéve Dieudonné, telling the main plot of the book from her point of view and providing flashbacks sketching in the early days of Dracula’s rise to power, providing an interesting counterpoint to the original Anno Dracula. Come to think of it, this is the first Anno Dracula novel in which Dracula himself doesn’t appear. Former Carpathian Guard Kostaki acts as the focal character for the more traditional vampire B-plot, tempted by new darkness and questioning his identity.

This reduction to two viewpoint characters emphasizes the claustrophobia already inherent in restricting the characters to Yōkai Town, an artistic choice that left me squirming even as I couldn’t read One Thousand Monsters fast enough, anxious for the characters to break free of their confinement. Release finally comes in the form of an apocalyptic battle, a conflict thrilling enough that I didn’t mind not getting Geneviéve visiting the Asakusa Jūnikai or meeting Saitō Hajime.   

The end of One Thousand Monsters promises the 20th century half of Daikaiju is still on its way, so perhaps I’ll get more anime and manga references then. Despite my disappointment at not getting quite the story I longed to read, I still couldn’t put this book down. Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters is a strange and unexpected novel, a layered look into the mind of Kim Newman’s favorite heroine peppered with unexpected pop culture references. Fans of the Anno Dracula universe may not get what they expected, but there’s still much to like.

Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman was published October 24th, 2017. This review is based off of the Kindle version of the novel, purchased at the reviewer’s own expense.

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Review: Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters

Well, that was weird. I jest, but Anno Dracula—One Thousand Monsters is not the book I was expecting, presenting strange and twist...