Theoretically, a vampire is one of the sexiest supernatural transformations you can have in fiction. You remain young, you become strong and agile, and nothing can kill you. However, Happiness makes us rethink the vampiric mythos by realizing that it would really suck to have those kinds of powers, at least in a world like ours.
As is the status quo, the mangaka Shuzo Oshimi (Flowers of Evil, Blood in the Tracks) continues to give us a harsh reality check in this work. Some things are only cute, romantic, or awesome when placed in fiction based on wishful thinking. When the same ideas are relocated into a more realistic setting, they can become even more tragic and disturbing than you had thought in the first place.
Vampires have always been a source of horror. In Happiness, the true terror is to witness yourself being uprooted from your family, future, and mortality by the apparent whim of an unnatural creature. Can you still find happiness in these circumstances? The odds are definitely not in the characters’ favor. That’s for sure.
Happiness tells the story of Makoto Okazaki. His life is mediocre. He is the errand boy of the popular boys in his class, a dynamic full of subtle, bullying undertones. His life changes one night when a vampire named Nora attacks him. She sucks his blood and asks him if he wants to live, to which he desperately replies that he just does not want to die.
He wakes up the next day in the hospital, everyone believing he was just the victim of a freak attack. However, he soon realizes he cannot stand sunlight, his reflexes are better than ever, and he has pangs of thirst for blood. Ironically, his new condition improves his social life. He becomes friends with a popular boy and former bully, Yuki, and his girlfriend, Nao. Simultaneously, he develops a friendship/romance with a quiet girl from another class, Yukiko Gosho.
Everything is good for Makoto, until the reality of his new existence soon punches him in the face. He cannot live a normal life with the limitations and needs that come with being a vampire. This world will inevitably expose his loved ones to dangerous people. The best course of action is to let everyone go and deal with the fact he and Nora are now defenseless against their enemies.
Shuzo Oshimi knows how to create psychologically messed-up stories. Nonetheless, it was a surprise to see how well he handled the straight-up horrifying aspects of Makoto’s journey. The fact that he explores the regenerative immortality angle was a refreshing touch. Oshimi usually stays in the path of more intimate and cerebral scares, but here he demonstrates that he has range. At times you could see Happiness reaching body-horror levels of the likes of RIN: Daughters of Mnemosyne and other infamous ero-guro creations.
Additionally, I can say Happiness is one of the few manga series that handles time-skips well. They function smoothly as a way to highlight Makoto’s tragedy of seeing others keep on living while he was stuck. The skips likewise served the purpose of developing other characters like Gosho, who leads a mortal and imperfect life, yet she’s able to find joy on her own.
What Didn’t Work
Happiness has a strong plot, world setting, and character development. Unfortunately, some plotlines could have been better handled. At times while reading, Oshimi feels a bit all over the place; like he is losing precious time focusing too much on certain situations. For example, the cult arc could have taken fewer pages and still served its purpose.
The same happens with some characters. They are presented with the promise of great potential, only to reappear to verbally info dump their development. It is not until the second half of the manga that Nora succeeds in getting more character development. If she had an arc like the one given to Gosho, it would have been far more cohesive and satisfying.
Happiness is a wonderful manga for those who enjoy vampire stories. It handles the mythos well and does not shy away from showing its more gruesome aspects. Yet, if vampires are not your thing and you want some psychological horror, this manga is also recommended.
Oshimi knows what buttons to push to make us feel sad for Makoto and the people around him. There is no cheap drama here. He presents to us a tragedy in which a boy seems to be condemned to never be happy again, at least not in the way he expected his entire life.
Happiness is about trying to grasp that emotion precisely. It will not fall from the sky directly into your hands, and once found, it may not last long. Even so, you can certainly try to reach it, no matter the circumstances. We can only hope that Makoto and Nora can do that by the end of this unique piece of work.
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Hi everyone! I am Javi from the distant land of Santiago, Chile. I grew up watching horror movies on VHS tapes and cable reruns thanks to my cousins. While they kinda moved on from the genre, I am here writing about it almost daily. When I am not doing that, I enjoy reading, drawing, and collecting cute plushies (you have to balance things out. Right?)