A classic horror story with a new flourish of the pen.
Story & Art: Shin’ichi Sakamoto
Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Translation: Caleb Cook
Touch-up & Lettering: Brendon Hall
What They Say
A chilling and beautiful retelling of Bram Stoker’s horror classic.
In this beautiful, evocative, and often surreal retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a fearsome enemy arrives from the east, bringing with it horrors the likes of which have never been seen in the British Empire. Standing opposed are Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray and her stalwart companions, united in a cabal that eclipses gender, nationality, and station until the day that they can achieve victory.
As Mina struggles to find her place as Whitby School’s first and only female student, a devilish horror is unleashed upon the academy and its unsuspecting students: Count Dracula. However, when this unspeakable evil lays claim to her beloved Lucy Westenra, Mina stands ready to join forces with her fellow students and fight against it with everything she has.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Even if you’ve never read the original Dracula story (guilty) there’s a good chance that you know it just from cultural osmosis and other forms of the story told throughout the years. A vampire named Count Dracula terrorizes the English countryside before being hunted down at his castle in Transylvania by Van Helsing. Over time Dracula has changed forms more times than I can count and Van Helsing got turned into an action hero. The characters have wandered all over the world in all languages, including Japanese.
The latest appearance of this familiar cast comes our way by means of Shin’ichi Sakamoto, a manga-ka who is best known for their previous historical fiction work “Innocent” and its sequel “Innocent Rouge.” I can’t think of another manga artist more prepared to draw period-specific clothing and style with such exquisite detail. Sakamoto’s art isn’t just gorgeous, its composition is also top-class. There’s a full range of detail, motion, and fantastic imagery here. It’s just a visual treat.
All of the characters from Dracula have been reimagined as children in a boarding school of elites. Some of the characters have been given a makeover more than just age. Quincy is now an African-American boy from a wealthy ranching family in Texas, and Joseph is now a Japanese student. Lucy has become Luke, with a twist, that tosses some more delicious gender and sexual charge to a genre that is already rife with it. (I could probably formulate a whole essay about gender, sexuality, Dracula, and how this story throws ‘boy’s boarding school’ into the mix!) Someone somewhere is losing their tiny minds at the diversity being tossed in here, but they can go kick rocks in hell. Mina remains the sole woman in the cast, and she has become a red-headed stepchild who won’t be cowed. Although Sakamoto needs to ease up on Mina’s wrestling refrain.
The story spools out in a quick succession of scenes that are disorienting because of the way they jump around in the timeline. That’s really my only complaint about this otherwise excellent book. While disorientation is expected in horror, this confusion is simply because of the non-linear storytelling. The original framing device of the novel being told via letters and diary entries gave Sakamoto a bit too much free reign to jump all over the place. The other problem I have is a lack of context for why some of the students are behaving the way they do. Why is Joe off in a room with a crazy kid who is dressed like a nun? Why does he get his own room in the dorm? Who got Mina, an orphan and a girl, into a prestigious academy? I hope these questions are eventually answered.
If you came here looking for horror there is plenty of that to go around. The Demeter voyage opening the story is far better than the recent film covering the same ground. I don’t find many things scary, especially not books or comics, so I may not be the best judge of fear-inducing. This probably says more about me as a reviewer, but the most unsettling moment in this volume for me didn’t come from a moment of traditional horror. It came from seeing where Mina was at in both the final chapter of the story presented in this volume and the last page teasing what is to come.
The final chapter of this volume is the pilot chapter 0, which is a truncated version of what we get in the first several chapters of the full manga. The key difference is the characters in the pilot appear a few years older, late teens rather than early. That makes their relationships less the budding affection of puberty and more grounded in future adult affairs. It also hints at a character that we haven’t met yet that I can only assume will be this version of the story’s Van Helsing.
A somewhat disjointed yet mesmerizing twist on the classic Dracula story, #DRCL pushes the freaky imagery up to 11 on the horror scale. The messing around with gender roles in a boarding school setting isn’t out of scope for the setting or the genre, but the mash-up with the classic vampire is interesting. I wish we had been given more context for the history the kids have with each other. In particular, I would have liked to have seen what Lucy and Mina’s relationship was like before evil walked in the door. The artwork for this manga is divine, equal parts lace and blood, and Viz’s presentation of the material makes it a lovely book for the shelf.
Content Grade: A –
Art Grade: A +
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A +
Age Rating: Mature
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: September 19, 2023