Recently, vampires have been all the rage. With thematic appearances in popular media, such as the Twilight movies and True Blood, vampires have become the latest hot trend in entertainment. Similarly, anime has several vampire-related materials in recent months, first with a live-action movie adaptation of Blood: The Last Vampire and later Dance in the Vampire Bund.
Vampirism in entertainment is usually portrayed in one of two ways. Some treat vampires simply as supernatural beings above the realms of physics and biology. Heavily based on the mythological basis established by Dracula, these portray the more awesome aspects of vampires, immortality, flight, and magic. Many anime, including Vampire Bund, fall under this supernatural approach. Others explain vampirism as “scientific” phenomena. A common favorite is often an unlikely virus that causes superhuman vampiric behavior and characteristics. While rarer in anime, this approach tends to draw my interest. I always love reading about the various bases for mythologies. While most explanations I see are rather dubious, a few do seem plausible. In fact, one such condition already exists that could potentially describe vampirism.
Porphyria is a rare condition involving a disorder in heme synthesis. Heme has important function in red blood cells and a failure of enzymes can lead to an accumulation of porphyrin, which will have several consequences. Most notable of these symptoms are neurological problems and photosensitivity. As a blood disorder, porphyria is sometimes treated with involve blood transfusion in certain cases. Furthermore, like the royal disease hemophilia, porphyria is also a genetic blood disorder more common among Scandinavians that also tends to run in European royalties. The insane King George III and the brutal Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) both suffer from this condition. Blood, light sensitivity, and royalty… These certainly start to sound a bit familiar.
With such a convenient condition for rationalizing vampires, the lack of a biomolecular approach to vampirism in vampire anime is curious. The few that do attempt to have a scientific justification often use barely believable science. It is not much of a surprise though because most reasonable condition would preclude the fearsome aspects of vampires. Indeed, porphyria can be rather “uncool”. Seizures, anemia and dying skin pale in comparison to immortality and magic. Nonetheless, a believable “vampiric condition” similar to porphyria has been done beautifully in the horror romance anime/ manga, Hitsuji no Uta (Lament of the Lamb).
In Hitsuji no Uta, Chizuna is afflicted with a hereditary vampiric condition. The disorder causes Chizuna to have extremely poor health and a severe craving for blood (which is likely psychological according to Chizuna). She has no super powers; in fact, she cannot do anything physically demanding. Indeed, a lamb with a wolf’s hunger. Compared to Mina Tepes from Dance in the Vampire Bund, this portrayal is vastly different. Although I do not mind how vampirism is set in an anime, I like to imagine a world with vampires. Given the likely biological candidates, if vampires do exist in real life, they would mostly likely be closest to Hitsuji no Uta’s presentation.
Anyways, as a fan of vampires, I have wanted to write a related post for a long time, but I had no good idea and this post was brushed to the side. However, a few days ago I picked up Dance in the Vampire Bund. On the same day in a lecture on biochemistry, my professor referred to the heme pathway. The next day my brother in medical school mentions porphyria. Around this same time, I also talked to a friend about my favorite manga. (As an aside, the friend pointed out that my favorite manga are all incestuous… Angel Sanctuary and Lament of the Lamb). So, with some thought, all these coincidences all happily tie into this rather long entry.
*Before I get hate comments about the validity of this post, I should qualify some points. Porphyria in King George III and Vlad III are diagnosed retrospectively and are subjects to debate. Also, while treatments for porphyria do include blood transfusion, blood sucking does nothing. However, some have tried to associate that blood sucking to the neurological disorders that often come with severe porphyria. Further, many characteristics of vampires I used in this post to connect to porphyria are modern inventions of Dracula and other fictions and have little to do with the original vampiric folklore. Still, I think this is hopefully a fun exploration of believable scientific bases for vampires in anime.