Classic Western Monsters in Anime
Not sure what anime to celebrate this Halloween with? Well, we've got you covered. It's no secret that America has had a huge cultural influence on modern Japan and, while you may not think of classic Hollywood monsters first when it comes to examples of this, it's undeniable that they occupy a special place in the consciousness there as well. Let's find out what representation Western horror fans get from anime.
The original prince of darkness kicked off America's love affair with horror in the early depression era and likewise introduced the land of the rising sun to the monsters we all know and love. A lot of early anime and manga have characters that take clear inspiration from Bela Lugosi's classic portrayal of the character—most notably Devilman—but anime directly adapted the famous vampire as early as 1975… sort of.
Enter Minna no Uta, NHK’s immensely popular TV and radio program that’s been highlighting lighthearted songs aimed at children, occasionally with some accompanying animation. What we’re focusing on is the Dracula no Uta short that aired as part of this program, which tells the story of a mosquito who struggles to find some blood to eat but stays optimistic through its plight. Oh, but the mosquito is actually Dracula. Yeah, we don’t get it either but at least it’s kinda cute. Kind of a weird way to introduce the most famous character in all of horror to the medium, but it was the 70’s, Universal’s monster movie momentum had long since passed and even America mostly saw Dracula as little more than a cutesy Halloween mascot, so this sort of take on the character isn’t really that out of place.
Small wonder then, that the next anime to use Dracula also adopted a lighter tone. Don Dracula, based on the manga by industry god Osamu Tezuka of the same name, follows the vampire moving from Transylvania to Tokyo with his servant Igor and his daughter Chocola. This move is motivated by the vampire's desire to hook up with hot Japanese women and drink their blood, leading to wacky hijinx. Yeah, it's a sexually driven comedy for kids. We swear this retrospective gets less weird eventually.
That’ll have to wait though, as we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned. See, back in 1972 Marvel Comics released Tomb of Dracula, an incredibly successful horror comic series written by Marv Wolfman, who’s known for creating the most famous incarnation of DC’s Teen Titans team. Marvel asked Toei Animation if they wanted to adapt the series into a 90-minute film and the latter somehow decided that was a great idea for a 70-issue comic book. The result is just as nonsensical as you can imagine. It’s ugly as sin, has no sense of pacing, introduces characters and plot points only to drop them immediately and quickly became a staple of bad-movie nights among film nerds.
Anyway, we know who you’re really here for. Kota Hirano’s take on Dracula (dubbed Alucard in the Hellsing series) is a badass, gun-toting version of the character whose vampiric powers turn him into an almost Lovecraftian embodiment of cosmic horror. Not to downplay his emotional range and deep character writing, but this incarnation of the character absolutely nails the famous “rule of cool”. Every panel or frame he’s in overflows with style and his actions in the story are just as awe-inspiring. It may be a good thing that almost nobody in Japan had tried to take the character in a darker direction, because they would have inevitably been made obsolete by this paragon among seinen manga heroes and it stands to reason that none have tried since then.
Like Dracula, Frankenstein got his start in otaku media with a kid-friendly incarnation, but unlike Dracula, this wouldn’t happen until 1984’s Tokimeki Tonight, a shoujo romance show where Frankenstein has a bit-role as a silly oafish character. He’s actually pretty fun to watch here, mostly because of the performance from Tatekabe Kazuya. This guy is one of the most endearing voice actors in anime, being active throughout almost all of its history. He’s most famous for playing Takeshi Gouda from Doraemon from 1979 until his death in 2015 and the industry is undoubtedly worse off without him.
Around the same time, Marvel apparently decided they wanted to see how much further the bar could be lowered as they teamed up with Toei for another animated masterpiece-of-crap. And indeed, The Monster of Frankenstein succeeds at being somehow worse than Sovereign in every way. At no point does a full second go by without some sign of incompetence making an appearance. It’s another great addition to any camp movie library.
Our last Frankenstein for tonight is the Berserker of “Black” (yes, the quotes are a part of her name) from last year’s Fate/Apocrypha. It’s a cliché cute anime girl character with the moniker of Frankenstein’s monster lazily tacked on (and not even mentioned half the time) and try to make itself look less stupid. It has nothing to do with Frankenstein beyond the name and it sucks. Next.
There’s actually surprisingly little mummy exposure in anime, for whatever reason. The earliest example of note was Mummymon, the reluctant but intimidating antagonist of 2000’s Digimon Adventure 02. Thankfully, it’s the strongest debut in this article as while he’s nowhere as cool as Alucard, Mummymon can be surprisingly intimidating for a horror character in a kid’s show. What’s even better is that his mummy iconography actually plays into his character arc, which turns out to be really touching and sympathetic, but we wouldn’t dare spoil it here.
From then on, it’s hard to find any really famous mummies. There’s a minor character named Mummy in One Piece, but that just got our hopes up for nothing, since he doesn’t look like any mummy we’ve ever seen. One quality example comes in the form of Mummyla from the forgotten but still enjoyable 2008 series Hells. Unlike the stupid berserker lady, Mummyla actually draws heavy visual inspiration from her monster origin to make her cute anime girl aesthetic unique. It actually works pretty well too, which is impressive for a character who’s a corpse.
Let's finish off with an anime from earlier this very year: Miira no Kaikata. This show’s mummy, Mii-kun, is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and you'll want to keep him there because good lord is he precious. We've seen monsters be cutesified, but never this successfully. Everything from the simple but pleasant design to the wonderful performance by Ai Kayano is on point here. It may seem a bit anti-climactic to end a Halloween monster showcase talking about something cute, but if you want to spend this season with something like that, you may as well spend it with the best.
Of course, we can’t talk about every single appearance of classic monsters in anime, but we hope this series of highlights was enough to do them justice. Let us know in the comments if we missed any of your favorites (sorry Wolfman) and be sure to let us know what your favorite monster in anime is.