Vampires, Porphyria, and Lament

Hitsuji no Uta Chizuna scan

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.

Dance Vampire Bund Mina Tepes

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.

Hitsuji no Uta Chizuna kimono scan

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.

Hitsuji no Uta Lament of the Lamb Chizuna  DVD cover scan

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).

Hitsuji no Uta Lament of the Lamb Chizuna scan

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.

Dance Vampire Bund Mina Tepes loli

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.

Hitsuji no Uta Chizuna loli

*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.

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49 Responses to Vampires, Porphyria, and Lament

  1. Persocom says:

    Quite interesting I must say. While I’m not into the whole modern True Blood/Twilight craze in any form or way, nor interested in it, I have always enjoyed a good vampire story. I’ve been reading Dance in the Vampire Bund and have become quite sucked into it. I guess it’s more accessible to me (I prefer reading in book form) which helps. However Hitsuji no Uta sounds interesting as well, perhaps I’ll check it out. The possibility that vampires are merely a superstition or hysteria caused by a real disease that only has minor comparison’s to the vampirism we’ve all come to know and love is quite likely. After all, medical science has steadily advanced in the last century and I believe in the end science could explain many other supernatural phenomena as well. I like to cling to the fantasy side of vampires but I willingly embrace the fact that it could possibly have a logical explanation, and one that’s not so romantic. I know very well how people overreact to things they don’t understand, and that could be the reason for the folklore, based on a condition that existed before medical science was advanced enough to have a clue.

    • Yi says:

      @Persocom: I prefer a romanticized fantastic portrayal at times as well. Either way though, I always appreciate a good vampire story regardless of the explanation.

  2. Sellers says:

    Well, it is difficult to base a successful series off of characters that are fundamentally disadvantaged compared to the norm. So, the stereotypical, present-day vampire had to have certain abilities to counteract the whole photosensitive, blood-drinking, isolating and almost always melodramatic existence. Immortality and magic seemed like a fair compromise, I suppose.

    Personally, I’ve (unfortunately) began to slip it an automatic “so there’s a dramatic vampire. He’ll now go on to engage in trite, wangsty acts. Probably seduce a dark-haired women. huh.” defense (of my time) mechanism. Which really is a shame.

    It’s entirely possible that the western vampire was influenced by an actual disorder. It wouldn’t be the first time the inexplicable was revised fantastically, in order to to comfort the bewildered. People like thinking they understand everything, that they’re knowledgeable.

    I wouldn’t mind reading Lament of the Lambs, as it would be a refreshing break. But it’d be difficult for multiple series in the same vein to coexist.

    Oh, and real life vampires are all immortal magic wielders. I know because I make my living as a vampire hunter/slayer/maid/mage/slayer/etc. Seriously. OK, maybe not seriously…

    I will now precede to detour myself in a hate-filled post questioning your scientific and historical basis for a post involving removed folklore and animation…the disclaimer was probably unnecessary, mate. Thanks for your opinion 🙂

    • Yi says:

      @Sellers: Seducing a dark-haired women motif does get overused a lot.
      “Oh, and real life vampires are all immortal magic wielders.”
      Wouldn’t that be kind of cool though?
      The disclaimer was probably unnecessary to be sure, but I thought it’s better to cover my bases.

      • Sellers says:

        It would definitely be cool. Would we get immortal, magic angels to counteract them?
        If so, were do I sign up?
        Suit yourself disclaimer-wise; it made me giggle a bit, so I’m fine with it.

  3. Ningyo says:

    Vampires have always been the rage; an elegant royal non-human that can have intricate relations with people not limited to killing them – too good for fiction to pass up. Only, Bela Lugosi was doing it right, and Twilight is doing it wrong, or so people say.
    This porphyria is very interesting, though. A vampire disease, huh? Can’t comment too much on it, as my biology has gone out the window, but that vampire better be blood type AB, or she’s going to need plumbing to get rid of those blood clots. Hope I got that right, actually. AB.
    Certainly very convenient, but I suppose unused because their research hadn’t gotten as far. They probably don’t need to go as far, with how anime doesn’t normally adhere too much to realism anyways. If you look at it, Mina Tepes hardly has half the muscle mass needed to do all the bone crunching things she does; she’d never be able to hit that hard, and even if she did, she’d break before the other guy would.

    Hitsuji no Uta is a good spin, nice to see that sort of variation. All this talk of vampires is reminding me of Darren Shan’s series of books – he had some pretty creative ideas going about that, back when he was still good :/

    • Yi says:

      @Ningyo: I suppose vampires have always captured pop culture’s imaginations. It just seems so ubiquitous recently…. Twilight…
      Realism in anime is hard to come by and I’m fine with that. After all, I watch anime partly to escape reality.
      Will need to check out Darren Shan sometime as I have no idea whom you’re talking about. Hehe.

  4. kluxorious says:

    everyone has this vision that vampires are hot, and applied to both genders. That’s why people keep fantasizing about them.

    However Vampire Bund crushed that fantasy for me =(

    • Yi says:

      @kluxorious: “Vampire Bund crushed that fantasy for me =(”
      That’s unfortunate… 😦
      I like Mina Tepes though… but I’m also somewhat of a lolicon.

  5. Shinra says:

    Vampires are ok for me…. Kinda cool actually…. The 1st Anime Vampire i love was Saya from Blood+…. But Vampire Bund was alittle Boring…. Totally LOVE Noto Mamiko as Vampire in Kaibutsu Oujo…..

    I’ll stop here since my brain is always blank on this topic….. the only word that i can think of is the word “Awsome”.

  6. glothelegend says:

    Well, here’s a bunch of manga I’m about to now read. This was a blammer of a post.

    • Yi says:

      @glothelegend: I had to google blammer to know what it meant…
      I suppose this post was also one because I linked to several of my older posts.

  7. Shin says:

    Explain to me in detail why vampire lolis are so erotic?

  8. Canne says:

    Great post and nice mentioning Lament of the Lamb. I love that anime and it’s one of not many manga I read.

    It is only make sense that vampirism is rarely explained seriously because sick and weak people are not good materials for entertainment unless one has unique taste or one is making a tragic anime like Hitsuji no Uta.

    Blood craving is probably psychological. I felt it sometimes when I see real blood because it reminded me of ketchup 0_O

  9. Katsura-chan says:

    Awesome post ^^
    Vampire is a fantastic creatures i really like and it’s fantasy who never bore me or cease to amaze me.
    But i don’t like to think them as sick or some weak people afflicted with a disease or something, i like science but usually i’m bit disturbed when my favorite fantasy characters are normalized in the real world.
    It removes the fantasy of them, it’s like to say that Sleeping Beauty went asleep because some drugs contaminated her and not a powerful spell.
    I like to see powerful, deadly and spooky Vampires, this is how i like to imagine them in my head.
    But i’m not disturbed when Vampires are merged with a real world like in True Blood, their mightiness is preserved.
    And obviously a loli vampire is even more creepy to me 😀

    • Yi says:

      @Katsura-chan: I agree a lot. I don’t think I would love vampires so much if I did not suspend science and just immerse in the fantasy. The romanticized version is very beautiful indeed.

  10. Reltair says:

    Nice informative post. A lot of the vampire movies/books/series today seem to stem from ideas used in Dracula (great book by the way). I wonder why the author decided to make vampires immortal? *shrug*

    In the past, didn’t some people believe that drinking the blood of young woman would grant them immortality or extend their life span? Or my memory is just messed up.

    • Yi says:

      @Reltair: The blood bath thing reminds me of Countess Elizabeth Báthory. I think she contributed a lot to that legend.

      • Sellers says:

        Right, as far as I know, she was the only widespread practitioner of luring hundred of young women to your castle so you could latter murder them and bathe in their blood. As a child, I doubt I’d ever believed I would have to write that statement. Christ.

        Drinking blood, as far as I know, was never really practiced on that scale. And I’d have to say I’m thankful.

  11. moemoekyun says:

    Honestly I like vampire like in trinity blood series
    yeah I am ok with vampire as well really hoping they are real tho I don’t mind killed by vampire one day LOL >_>;;;

  12. UnchainedMelody says:

    Ironic that there is a character called Tepes given the ‘birth’ of the vampire from Vlad. Or so some say. I suppose the most annoying thing is how they are portrayed these days… To read about a more ‘realistic’ take on the concept would be interesting.

    Shoving the obvious aside with Twilight, something that modern stories, be it anime, book or movie, whatever the medium they seem to lack the ferocity they once had say, 20 or even 30 years ago. With authors, such as Anne Rice, the evolution into however it is we percieve them these days has changed, and with things like Twilight or True Blood, they have even more of the ferocious predatory feel stripped away so often it’s hard to get something that really has the ‘feel’ you expect from something that stalks out nightmares.

    • Sellers says:

      Wow, I totally forgot that part. For example, in the book I Am Legend (unfortunately, I’ve neglected to see the movie as of now) the protagonist’s primary foes were vampiric, hideous ravagers. Present day vampires are now (generally) depicted as tragic (rather than horrifying) and beautiful (rather than grotesque). I think both allow for interesting scenarios, but I also think that very few works are successful in utilizing vampires effectively.

    • Yi says:

      @UnchainedMelody: The ferociousness does seem to be going out of fashion. Vampires have moved away from being a horrible menace in the black-and-white days to the romantic good-looking beings.
      Very good point. ^ ^

  13. Fabrice says:

    Recently there are quite a few vampire anime/manga being adapted.
    shaft’s last 2 series were vampire ones.

    and look at twilight how that made a revolution (even thought im not fan of it)
    after it, more and more vampire series and books were made.

    ill check out Lament of the Lambs

    anyway nice post!

  14. bluedrakon says:

    Hey, I don’t read post to be ed-umicated. I read them for the art (wha?).

    Nice post on the whole current craze. I have had watched Blood+ and liked the take on the background. I have also been reading Vampire Bund and like Blood+, they have a diff spin on it. Thou I am sure I picked it up for the Moe – lol

  15. I am watching Vampire Bund and reading the manga, and I also read Vampire Knight ❤
    I love vampires, they are so fascinating…well, not all of them, I hate Edward from Twilight, if I were Bella, I would kick his a** and get the hot werewolf =P
    Anyway, I really liked the comparison between past (myth) and present (porphyria), it was very informative, coz I didn't know about porphyria .
    Thanks for the good post Yi ^_^

  16. Hmm… I think I have heard a little bit about Prophyria or the scientific explanation of vampirisim, but not in specific details or even know the name. I’ve heard of the titles you’ve mentioned too, but I’ve always been afraid to pick them up thinking I might not be interested in, but after reading some of what you wrote, I’m getting curious about them.

    As for the supernatural… that can also be divided into two categories as well now ^^; The traditional Dracula vampirism and the Twilight vampirism. One has weaknesses and the latter do not. I’m still adverse to the traditional because that means they’re not completely immortal and they shouldn’t be. Daylight walkers without the aid of some kind of vampirical science kinda piss me off, lol. Which is why Dance in the Vampire Bund is probably one of the only modern vampire stories I like. I also did like Bite Club. Something that DC/Vertigo Comics released about vampire mafia. That had a good balance of supernatural and scientific vampirism.

    Good post and good to learn about these other vampire stories. The King George reference reminds of me that King George movie about how royalties need to have blue blood and he literally had blue blood/urine XD

    • Yi says:

      @lightningsabre: Very good point on a balance of supernatural and “vampirical science.” I think that’s something we see a lot these days, and I love seeing something with a good balance of those.
      I really like Vampire Bund too!

  17. anonymass says:

    Alucard ♥

  18. lovelyduckie says:

    That was fun reading. Currently the only series I’m reading involving vampires are Hellsing, Vampire Knight, Rosario+Vampire (but this one I kind of dropped), and Vampire Resurrection. BUT I actually own the manga Lament of the Lamb, I just haven’t read it yet. I had been considering reading that series last night actually, but in the end chose something else to read. I still plan on reading this series in the near future, I’ve been enjoying working through the pile of unread manga I’ve been collecting. In junior high I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and lately I’ve been debating maybe watching this series beginning to end. I had dropped it after Angel had left. I’m also a big fan of True Blood, Eric is so awesome. “I already gave you a gift…the gift of not killing you”.

    • Yi says:

      @lovelyduckie: I would highly recomment reading Lament of the Lamb, especially since you own the manga.
      I never really got into any of the vampire dramas/ TV shows, such as True Blood or Buffy; I am a big fan of movies like Underworld though.
      That quotation sounds really cool though. I can imagine how awesome that scene must have been.

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I liked the first Underworld movie a lot. The other ones weren’t bad but I REALLY liked the first one.

        also typo I meant *Princess Resurrection

  19. Guy says:

    That Mina Tepes certainly is cute, in a lolirific way. I am not going to comment too much about vampires, but feel free to hit me up on some messengers (weird I don’t have you there yet). I’ve read vampire books, I’ve played Vampire: the Masquarade, and to be honest, it’s understandable why vampires have an allure, especially if you know anything of Claude Levi-Straus’ structuralism, but the appeal also means it gets overdone.

    Maybe I could be coaxed into writing something about it 😛

    BTW, Haemophilia sometimes caused people to act in a “vampiric” manner. Their bodies needed iron/blood, and caused them to act this way; just like children with a calcium deficiency would eat the calcium-based covering of houses.

    • Yi says:

      @Guy: Yep yep. Hemophilia is the other royal blood disease. It is even more prominent among European royalties as a traceable hereditary disease.
      I have not heard of Claude Levi-Strauss, but after reading a bit on him, his structuralist approach to myths is indeed very interesting.

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  21. I have met hundreds of people with porphyria online at support groups. I know of no one who has blood transfusions. Some have heme transfusions, but that is medically distinct, and it is used rarely by the modern patients I know. What is commoner is removal of blood through phlebotomy. This is done primarily for the subgroup Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, which group builds up excess iron, which needs to be removed, and which causes skin rashes. Some other porph subgroups also have skin rashes without the iron buildup, and are very light sensitive, which does indeed suggest the “vampire” event. The only individuals famous for drinking human blood, who had porph, were Vlad and his relative Elizabeth, plus the fictional doctor on CSI who thought human livers would help her. Eating liver of any kind would usually be a poor idea for porphs, as they have certain dietary restrictions. Some porphs are anemic, especially in youth, but drinking blood would probably cause more disruption than help.
    Most porphs cannot even take iron pills, let alone eat bloody servings of roast beef.

    • Yi says:

      Thanks for the detailed and relevant notes. They help to highlight how much myth and legends distort reality. And how much fear of the unknown and different can turn into tales of misunderstodd monsters.

      Appreciate the comment! ^ ^

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