Throughout my travels across the Japanese pop-culture landscape, I am ashamed to say that I have never once partaken in a work with the word “gaiden”–or “side story”–in its title. Well, until now, as I have just finished reading Dance in the Vampire Bund Gaiden: Dive in the Vampire Bund.
This isn’t to say that up until now I’ve been unfamiliar with the concept of a side story. I’ve seen a good number of Dragon Ball movies in my time, and I’ve watched all of them Gundam OVAs at least once. For the uninitiated, the Dragon Ball movies (or just Shounen Jump movies at this point) were breaks from the main story where Goku and crew would fight yet another out-of-this-world evil menace in between exchanging blows with Freeza, Buu or whoever else they were fighting in the main TV series when the movie came out. You’re not supposed to stress over continuity too hard here, but one assumes these things happened at some point between the various other epic battles for the fate of universe. On the other hand, the Gundam OVAs typically involved completely different casts of characters from the main TV series, and were meant to flesh out the world in ways the main TV shows simply couldn’t due to the various focuses of the main plot. Dive in the Vampire Bund is a mix of both of these: It grants our heroes a break away from the main story, introduces some new characters, and fleshes out the world in ways the main story can’t. And it’s not half bad, either!
Our story begins with two young hoods–the all Japanese Masaki, and the half-Japanese half-Brazilian Akira Garcia Fujisaki–on a guided tour of the Vampire Bund. But being hoods, these two have an ulterior motive. See, Masaki set up a rendezvous with someone on the inside who agreed to turn him into a vampire, and Akira is simply “along for the ride.” Predictably, things go sour, resulting in both Masaki and Akira getting turned. And as vampires, the first orders from their master is to raid a shipment of mysterious ampules along with a group other young vampires. While the aim of the operation is to destroy every ampule, Masaki, being a hood, steals some for himself. One police intervention and a few explosions later, Masaki and Akira are left on their own, and decide to head back to the group’s HQ.
Upon arriving, the two are shocked to find that everyone is dead. That is, save for a nude girl stuffed in a suitcase. Akira and Masaki help the girl get back on her feet, and she introduces herself as Ruli. Masaki, being the cocky fellow that he is, ends up leaving the two in order to try out his new found powers as a vampire. Eventually Akira and Ruli end up meeting the Akira we’re more familiar with. You know, Vampire Bund’s main character. Upon learning their situation, Akira informs them of a vaccine that can turn them back into humans. However, this vaccine can only be used within 48 hours of being turned. Akira (of the Kaburagi variety) makes a quick call to Mina about the vaccine, and in short order–and in a short dress–Mina arrives with lots of fanfare, as per usual. However, she comes bearing bad news: turns out the Bund’s supply of vaccine has been contaminated, and the only clean supply is being shipped over. But as luck would have it, that’s the exact same shipment Masaki and Akira had destroyed. However, Akira (brown version) knows that Masaki stole a few ampules. So with that in mind, the characters are sent on a dizzying race through the Bund to find Masaki before their 48 hours run out.
As far as its feel and attitude go, Dive in the Vampire Bund is a lot more like a Shounen Jump movie than something along the lines of a Gundam OVA. It’s a short and sweet break away from the main plot that gives more or less all of the characters some time to shine, along with throwing in some new ones for good measure. The book is written assuming we already know the characters from the main story, so their appearances are fleeting, giving them just enough time to show off their stuff before they exit. Jiji takes everyone through a series of bizarre shortcuts for a couple of pages, Hama gets to shoot at things for a little bit, and Alphonse acts like a douche. Even Mina herself only gets a scant amount of page-time to be bossy and queenly, but since she commands such a presence, her small amount of involvement is more than enough for Mina fans to get their fix. And that dress! Dear god…
Akira’s the only one out of the main cast who’s more or less on the page all the time, but since this is a Shounen Jump movie (Let’s pretend. Bund doesn’t even run in Jump, natch.) we don’t learn anything new about him either. As one would expect, character development and character revelations are shoved onto the new guys in heaping helpings. Because they’re only really around for this book, these characters are painted in broad and archetypical strokes. Akira’s a hood with a good heart, Masaki’s more bark than bite, and Ruli is your docile and naive young woman. We learn Akira and Ruli’s life story within Dive’s 200 odd pages, and their pasts are just as archetypical as their personalities. However, Tamaki Nozomu’s a pretty good writer, so while these characters come off as shallow, you don’t especially care. You’ve seen this sort of thing before, but it’s not poorly done.
The same can be said of the story. While there are hints of a deeper conspiracy behind the contaminated vaccines and ampules, those hints aren’t explored here. As such, the main plot of this book focuses around the cat and mouse game between Akirax2’s crew and Masaki. And it’s not really a Death Note caliber game of cat and mouse either, but it moves at a brisk pace, isn’t boring and–once again, thanks to Tamaki’s writing ability–doesn’t especially come off as cheap, even though it could be. Vampire Bund has always kept the Hollywood aesthetic close at heart, but that was always underscored by a high level of complexity when it came the inner-workings of the vampire world, rich with political intrigue and strong character drama. Dive just feels like a Hollywood movie sans the complexity. Like I keep saying, Tamaki makes it work, but Dive certainly feels shallower than its several-volume-strong counterpart. And that’s to be expected, so it isn’t an issue. It just is.
However, there is some amount of depth to be found in Dive. Akira (Brazilian flavor) and Ruli’s travels reveal other aspects of the Bund the main story never got a chance to touch upon. I’m not really one to get sucked into intricate fantasy worlds, but the world Tamaki builds in Vampire Bund is actually quite interesting to me. What makes his world work is an unrelentingly realistic portrayal of a supernatural situation, making even mundane things such as immigration into the Vampire Bund interesting. Similarly, having the crew brave the Bund’s ‘hood reinforces this strong realistic bend.
Generally, a lot of this story takes place within areas of the Bund were ordinary vampires go about their lives. Tamaki stretches his artistic muscles by designing all manner of strange vampires in interesting outfits, in the end offering up characters who look like extras out of Megazone 23 Part II. This is not a bad thing. There’s one character in particular who bares a hilariously striking resemblance to Marilyn Manson, and another who’s a 100-year old cigar-smoking vampire baby. This focus on the common people and the more mundane aspects of the Bund is welcome shift away from Vampire Bund’s usual settings inside the palace, or at school. We even get to see the Bund in the day time!
Artistically, the art in Dive comes from a time when Tamaki’s art seems to be in a decline. Tamaki is a capable artist, but at times his forms strike me as too stiff. The same problem persists here, along with a couple of characters having bad cases of big-head syndrome in a few panels. But on the whole, the art is usually well done. Even when suffering from big-head syndrome, the characters never look outright bad. As per usual, Tamaki puts all of his efforts into the action scenes, which are kinetic and exciting, but somewhat short given the nature of this book
Seven Seas’ release is up to their usual standard of quality when it comes to the English re-write, and the book itself is solid and well made. I’m not a huge fan of the graphic design on the cover, but that’s a minor nitpick.
All said, Dive in the Vampire Bund is worth your money. I won’t say how much money, but if you’re a fan, I think you should buy it. It’s a good break from the main plot, even if it’s somewhat shallow. Everyone gets a chance to be cool, and it’s never boring. But at the same time, it’s not as much of a page turner as a typical volume of Vampire Bund usually is.