Happiness, Vol. 1
Phew! After a length absence I am back! My schedule at the new school was a bit more overwhelming than I had expected, but with winter break underway, I’ve got time to catch up on my hefty backlog of books. So, apologies all around, and now… on to the review!
Makoto Okazaki has the typical life of a high school freshman. He’s short, shy, bullied and generally at the bottom rung of the social ladder. Things at home don’t seem to be much better as his parents constantly compare him to his more successful older brother. Things start to change for Okazaki when, after a night time attack, his body begins to undergo some distinctly unnatural changes. From Shuzo Oshimi, creator of the critically acclaimed Flowers of Evil, comes a new tale of the struggles of awkward adolescence, Happiness, Vol. 1!
If the cover and night time attack didn’t tip you off, then I’m about too. Happiness is a coming of age story filtered through a vampire story. The changes of puberty combine and entwine with the vampiric changes that Okazaki begins to undergo and are used by Oshimi to wonderful affect. The result is a series that combines traditional horror elements with the character work of his previous work, Flowers of Evil. Amazingly, neither side suffers from this combination.
Throughout the first volume, the vampirism is treated as a horrific and disturbing thing, providing a nice change of pace from the more romanticized take on vampirism that dominates pop culture at the moment, to say nothing of the numerous Japanese vampire franchises where vampirism is just an excuse to give people super powers. Admittedly, Okazaki does reap some benefits from his state, but for the most part the physical change’s he’s going through at shown to be weird and terrifying to him. Oshimi does a very good job at getting this across, too. The way he mixes Okazaki’s vampiric awakening with his sexual one is wonderfully creepy, complete with scenes of him catching a girl’s “scent,” with the unspoken implication that he’s perhaps picking up their menstruation. It’s a little gross, a little weird, a little goofy but does a great job at blending puberty with vampiric changes.
There are wonderfully creepy scenes like that scattered throughout the volume. Another memorable moments come after a brief fight with a bully and is more than a little reminiscent of a similar scene from Guillermo Del Toro’s Chronos. Oshimi doesn’t limit himself to in panel acts, and plays around with the physical layouts of the panels and their borders to further emphasize the breakdown in Okazaki’s world as his vampiric urges tug and threaten to overtake him. In one sequence the firm grid structure fades away as the panel’s begin to melt and churn. They take on more angular shapes and the artwork warps as if it’s being viewed through water.
If there’s any negatives to Happiness, Vol. 1, it’s that it’s not really doing anything new with the concept. It’s just doing it all far more competently than most recent vampire stories have. That said, it’s still a wonderfully unsettling and engaging read that left me eager to see what Shuzo Oshimi has in store for us.
Happiness, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.