Manga adaptations of famous literature can be a difficult pitch. They typically need to appeal either to those who enjoy the original work it’s adapting, or draw in fans of the manga medium by its quality. In the case of #DRCL midnight children, there are pieces of both answers in its appeal, but it also transforms the story while remaining recognizable. In my review of #DRCL midnight children Vol 1, I discuss how strong of a first impression this manga gives.
Dread in the Time of Cholera
One of the first ways in which #DRCL midnight children impressed me was its awareness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, on which this manga is based, and its continuous cultural analysis. The book was published in 1897 but discourse surrounding it is alive and well, particularly how its story was influenced by Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Thornley, and her experiences with the cholera pandemic in 1832.
The series is deeply rooted in the supernatural, yet remains keenly aware of the cultural and societal impact of the cholera pandemic in the 19th century. It also reminds us of the parallel between this pandemic’s emergence from the Ganges delta in India in the East; and Dracula’s emergence from aboard the Demeter from the Black Sea Port of Varna, also from the East. Wilhelmina “Mina” Murray, the protagonist, even retells how her mother was left to an agonizing fate due to society’s mishandling of the cholera pandemic.
This all hit me before I could even factor in the fantastic Gothic horror elements themselves. The story tracks similarly to how the original Dracula progressed, with the titular vampire not truly making a full appearance until the final moments of the volume. We see the Demeter’s crew meeting a gristly, terrifying fate while discovering a horrific stowaway. All the while, Mina struggles to fit in as the only female student at the elite Whitby School until she encounters Dracula’s curse, and it feels like a worthy prologue before the main event. It’s dread in the time of cholera, and that’s only one of the incredible traits this manga has.
Breathtaking Gothic-inspired Art Makes This An Addictive Reading Experience
#DRCL midnight children demonstrates its handling well of the balance between its writing and art. When exposition is necessary, it takes center stage, but most pages will be a breezy time with the art doing some gargantuan-level heavy lifting. I had not experienced the works of Shin-ichi Sakamoto before, with works such as Innocence or Kokou no Hito being commonly cited, but this series made me an instant fan.
The breathtaking Gothic-inspired art makes this an addictive reading experience. It provides characterization such as the ethereal, scenery-chewing moments where Lucy Westenra leaves behind her androgynous male-presenting identity as Luke, and is jaw-droppingly detailed when things get gory. Dracula’s manifestation is possibly the coolest, most intense presentation of his character I’ve ever seen, infusing elements of body horror into the already classic Gothic trappings of this tale.
The artwork is also deliberate in presenting the other characters, such as their cultural backgrounds. There’s a memorable 2-page tableau where the original suitors for Lucy are laid out with their backgrounds. There’s the English noble Arthur Holmwood, the American adventurer Quincey Morris, and the reimagined Japanese photographer and prodigy, Joe Suwa. There are even scenes for Mina that stand out due to her identity as the only female student at Whitby, in one moment where she’s surrounded by gawking male students who all look almost the same, serving to differentiate her further.
As Original as a Reimagining of Dracula Can Get
While #DRCL midnight children Vol 1 follows the progression and period similarly to that of Dracula, it still feels like an original way to experience the story. Things such as the log from the Demeter having similar entry dates, to the setting being in 19th Century England much like Dracula’s 1890’s, indicate a clear faithfulness to the source material, while making some mild tweaks.
These tweaks include gender-swapping a character here and there (such as the nun, Renfield) and creating a gender-fluid presentation of Lucy Westenra, whose persona manifests at night. By day, their name is Luke, and he’s particularly close to Arthur much like how the original story goes, but it creates an interesting, beautiful twist on the original. While these changes might ruffle some feathers, Lucy’s scenes are among the best in the volume, her friendship with Mina being interesting while coming dangerously close to passing along her deadly affliction.
Finally, Mina’s story is quite different from how Dracula’s Mina Harker presents. Mina Murray is courageous, outspoken, and unafraid to stand out as an intelligent woman above her male peers. This shows most clearly in her Catch as Can Wrestling abilities, where she can use the force of her opponent’s movements against them to topple them. She’s a fiery redhead tomboy, not the picture of a dutiful Victorian housewife, helping make this story as original as a reimagining of Dracula can get.
I could sing this series’ praises for days on end and not get tired. #DRCL is a compelling approach to the Dracula story, but you could reasonably enjoy the original in its eternally growing varieties of presentation while picking up something new from this. #DRCL midnight children Vol 1 indulges our fascination with the classic story, while also dressing it in gorgeous, Gothic-influenced manga artwork. If Shin-ichi Sakamoto were to ever work on the Castlevania series with such gorgeous style, it’d be an instant winner.
The series also adds enormous cultural relevance in a post-COVID world, discussing the parallels drawn by academics between this story and the historical impact of the 19th-century cholera pandemic. Also worth noting is the fantastic hardcover for its physical release from VIZ Signature, and yes, the spine looks great on your bookshelf, so do yourself a favor and check this one out.
This review was made possible by VIZ Media’s Signature imprint, along with a complimentary copy of #DRCL midnight children Vol 1, available physically and digitally as of September 19, 2023.
- This article was updated on September 16th, 2023