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Vanitas no Shuki — In the City of Flowers & The Hellfire Witch

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Time to ponder over vampires and the society MochiJun is introducing in her new work!
[WARNING!] This post contains spoilers fro chapters 2 and 3 of Vanitas no Shuki, and a few vague Pandora Hearts spoilers right at the end!

I was going to write up my thoughts on chapter 2, but not only was it comparatively a lot shorter than chapter 1, I also didn’t have enough time to sit down and talk about it (what with the old KiraKira going down and all). So here go my thoughts on chapters 2 & 3 of Vanitas no Shuki!
I'm just going to warn you that this is more of a point-out-the-obvious post full of me going bannanas and asking WHY WHY WHY all the time like the noisy chatterbox I am.
Mémoire 2: 「Noe —花の都—」(In the City of Flowers)
Mémoire 3: 「Jeanne 業火の魔女」(The Hellfire Witch)

Are you being a good Girl/Boy?

I know I am!
Pleas support the official release by Yen Press that comes out every month on the day it's released in Japan, available for kindle on Amazon all over Europe!!
Please note that I will be referring to the official English terminology a lot to make things easier for those following the official release.

Terminology

I won't be explaining any terminology that was already listed in previous posts, but if we get extra information on certain key words I will be adding them to the terminology list in new posts.
The order: Japanese term, followed by special furigana reading in parenthesis if there is one, followed by romanisation in italics if I consider it necessary, followed by the official English translation, followed by definition after the hyphen.

  • 呪持ち (のろいもち) Noroi mochi [ Curse bearers ] — Translating literally as "curse carriers", the noroi mochi (curse bearers) are vampires who's names have been wrapped by the maladies.
  • 魔導書 (まどうしょ) Madousho [ Grimoire ] — Written with the kanjis for "magic" 魔, "guide" 導 and "book" 書, madousho translates perfectly and literally as grimoire.
  • こちら側 · そちら側 (こちらがわ · そちらがわ)Kochira-gawa · Achira-gawa [ "This Side" · "That Side" ] — The translation is literal. So far the term "this side" seems to be referring to the human world.
  • 異界 (いかい) Ikai [ Other World ] — Count Parks Orlok is Lord of the "Other World". The kanjis used here are the ones for "different" and "world/boundary". The more common translation for this term would be "underworld", but as "other world" does also technically refer to the next world I'm wondering if Yen Press was trying to keep it vague. I'd say it's referring to the vampire realm, but there's a high chance it isn't.
  • 境界 (きょうかい) Kyoukai [ Boundary ] — The element that seems to divide "this side" from "that side". Literal translation.
  • 女王 (じょおう) Jo-ou [ The Queen ] — A mysterious Queen who appointed Count Parks Orlok to keep watch over vampire activity in Paris. We do not yet know anything about her.
  • 9人殺し [ Nine-fold murderer ] — Thomas Berneux's alias. A curse-bearer that has become notorious in Paris for committing violent murders. Both Vanitas and Count Park Orlok are after him.
  • 紅いガントレット"カルペ・ディエム" [ Crimson Gauntlet "Carpe Diem" ] — The weapon Jeanne holds. I'm assuming I don't have to explain what carpe diem means.


What we know about Vampires:

  • Anything related to Vampires is covered up in the human world.
  • The police officer refers to the human world as "this side" when he lets Vanitas and Noé out of prison, and the "other side" is most likely referring to a vampire realm of sorts.
  • "After the old war, Vampires were forbidden to drink human blood, and most of the disappeared beyond the barrier." — this "other side" sounds more like a different world. The barrier Vanitas speaks of is probably the line that divides both worlds.
  • ........... If they're not allowed to drink blood, what on earth are they feeding on? Themselves? (ew, cannibalism) (also wouldn't that be counter-productive?)
  • "Upon discovery, curse-bearers must be isolated and beheaded by a bourreu."
  • Vampires are completely convinced that once once a Vampire's true name has been defiled there is no way back for them.
  • Count Parks Orlok does not believe in the power of Book of Vanitas.
  • Luca does believe in the power of Book of Vanitas. This dichotomy of beliefs between Orlok and him underlines that the children's book The Vampire of the Blue Moon is, most likely, generally regarded as just a myth, though the fear of the curse is genuine. 


「ようこそ、花の都、パリへ」

"Welcome to Paris, the City of Flowers"

I can't exactly call myself an expert on Paris, especially since I've only been there once, but I'm noticing a lot of details in Vanitas no Shuki that clearly show that MochiJun has put a lot of effort into accurately portraying 19th century Paris. I hope you didn't miss Notre Dame, the fictitious Galerie Valentine holding a suspicious resemblance to the Galerie Vivienne, and the famous booksellers by the riverside.

Heck, even taking a look back that one double-spread in chapter one with Vanitas and Noé falling off  la Baleine there's a bunch of details that look pretty authentic:
lol I spelt "panthéon" wrong

I'm however using the Turgot map of Paris published in 1739 to keep my bearings in place, so even though I'm pretty sure that's the Panthéon (completed in 1790) I can't place this bird's eye view accurately on the map, seeing as Vanitas no Shuki takes place in 19th Century Paris. I'm pretty sure that's the river Seine that runs through Paris though, so that island in the middle has to be the Île de la Cité with Notre Dame on it. Even the title of Mémoire 2 makes reference to an actual pedestrian street in Paris called la Cité des Fleurs!
Interestingly enough the Eiffel Tower is nowhere to be seen, which has me guessing that we're in Paris sometime before 1887, which is when its construction began. I'd like to think that seeing as Notre Dame and other historically accurate elements have made an appearance this world that MochiJun is building has followed a very similar history to that which we're familiar with.
Additionally there's this odd tower that MochiJun seems to have purposely slipped into the shot and made blatantly obvious that I don't think exists in real-life Paris:
Right now I'm leaning towards thinking the tower might be the one in which Vanitas and Noé are standing in in this illustration:
But the tower in Mémoire 3 is fuck ass tall and in this illustration you can barely see the rooftops of the buildings surrounding it, so either they're at the base of the tower or I'm completely wrong ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But historical accuracy aside, I'd like to praise MochiJun's introduction of Paris. Noé is a country bumpkin to which everything in a great city like Paris is new and exciting. The city practically glows in MochiJun's pages, conveying the thrill Noé is feeling, and undoubtedly the cover of gold through which he is seeing the city through. It makes me want to go back there myself!!


Factions

Three chapters into our new story and there appears to be a few different factions and organisations on the move, though it is yet unclear whom is friends with whom and what "side" they're on.
First of all we have Count Parks Orlok, a vampire appointed by "the Queen" to keep a watchful eye on vampire activities in Paris. Now the term here used to refer to this Queen is 女王 「じょおう」jo-ou, a term akin to saying "Queen Regnant". In other words, this queen is monarch not because she married the king, but because she's the one next in line. As far as I'm concerned, the French monarchy did not have any Queen Regnants, as the right to rule was always passed down to the male firstborn. There are 3 possible explanations for this Queen:
  • That MochiJun has made a mistake and chose the wrong terminology to refer to this Queen. We're all human, 'tis only natural.
  • That Vanitas no Carte, despite so far depicting Paris and its historical buildings accurately, is still, nonetheless, a work of fiction, it does not match the real world 100%, and therefore the monarchy is different.
  • That this Queen (and this is the most likely of the three options) is Queen of the Vampires. Now that's something to look forward too! 
Secondly, we have what looks like some sort of organisation that is currently lending Vanitas a had.
These three all have little pet bats flying around with them and dress in what clearly appears to be a uniform. However, Count Parks Orlok - and by logical extension the Queen - does not only seem to believe that the Book of Vanita's can't cure a curse-bearer, but also denies the existence of "cursed grimoires". In other words, there's a fair chance that The Vampire of the Blue Moon is genuinely considered as just a children's bedtime story by the top of the brass Vampire society. Yet here there is an organisation that looks suspiciously vampiric (I dunno about you but I associate bats with vampires) that is very obviously helping Vanitas out... thus believing in the power of the book of Vanitas. Yet there's no proof that Dante (ダンテ) and his pals* are vampires, so is it perhaps a human organisation that is receiving some sort of aid from vampires / a vampire?
Last but not least we have the church and it's chasseurs, which haven't made an appearance in these two chapters and about whom we still don't know anything yet. I get the feeling they're on the human side, whilst the bourreaus work for the vampires.

* [ Johann's name is katakanized as ヨハン Yohan. ]

Vampire names

If you thought Mochizuki Jun was going to keep her literary references inside Pandora Hearts, think again. Just as PH was full of arrows pointing towards Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, she has decided to pack in a bunch of names clearly referring to famous vampires!
Though his name is now Parks, Count Parks Orlok's character is clearly a reference to Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu, and it's not just in name: he looks just as creepy as him, if you ask me! (minus the moustache, the fancy monocle and the scar...)
Note also the mysterious Lord Ruthven*, for whom Jeanne seems to or was at some point working for as a bourreau (executioner), clearly takes his name from Lord Ruthven, titular character in the 1819 short story The Vampyre. He is supposed to be a suave British nobleman, but we'll have to wait and see what sort of character he plays in Vanitas no Shuki. We still don't yet know whether he's still around and kicking or not, seeing as he hasn't made an appearance.
Last but not least, though this time in a less punch-in-the-face-blatantly-obvious manner, there's Noé's childhood friend Mina, who was executed long ago, whom most likely gets her name from the character Mina Harker from the 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. The original character was, however, human until she was cursed by Dracula and doomed to become a vampire at death.
Now, this doesn't necessarily mean anything - These characters are new characters that MochiJun has created, and will most likely deviate from the figures they are loosely shaped after. We however know from Pandora Hearts that MochiJun doesn't use literary references arbitrarily, and though I find it a simply logical decision for her to use famous vampire figures in a vampire manga that so far appears to have been very meticulously crafted, I also suspect that we might eventually come across similarities between the two sets.

* [ Apparently Lord Ruthven's name in Japanese is written as ルスヴン卿 Rusuvn-kyou, yet it appears written as ルスブン卿 Rusubun-kyou. ]


Other Speculations & Questions


Noé

It has become apparent that dealing with curse-bearers and wanting to save them is more than just a side-quest to understanding the Book of Vanitas for Noé: it's personal. From what we know, a childhoFod friend/possible family member? of his (Mina) became a curse-bearer and was executed, proving to be a traumatic experience for young Vanitas that comes back to him in a bloody flashback as Count Parks Orlok and Vanitas fight over the fate that awaits curse-bearers.


Oh boy, that's a hell of a lot of blood. What happened there, I wonder? Did Noé witness the execution and get drenched in Mina's blood? Did he manage to free her, obstinate as he was to save her, and she in turn bit him, or perhaps murder someone before his very eyes? Did she perhaps kill the other boy that's also wearing blood-drenched clothes? Is he dead already too?! 

"Even if you saw a curse-bearer right in front of you, could you still think that blue moon was beautiful?"
It doesn't look like Noé's fondness of the Blue Moon is welcome by other vampires, much less by this little shit bishonen who I wouldn't particularly classify as an optimist. Still, it doesn't seem as though Noé has ever changed his mind about the blue moon, and he most definitely did not react negatively to finding the Book of Vanitas. He seems dead determined to defend its "healing properties" and Vanitas's actions as "rightful", though it would be interesting if somewhere along this journey Vanitas proved not to be the saviour he seems, and the blue moon truly a symbol of misfortune... How would Noé react to that, I wonder?
But depressive guessing aside, I'm in love with dorky Noé and how much of an honest idiot he is. His purity is too cute, he is too clean. I want him as my baby.

Vanitas

Vanitas is slowly becoming the most suspicious character out of the cast so far introduced. Despite us still knowing little about Noé, I feel as though I can trust him as a character - not because I have him down to a science, as we're only 3 chapters in and that's pretty much imposible, but because I believe I've gotten a basic gasp on what sort of character he is. With Vanitas the story's a bit difficult: I feel like he's a danger zone. Of course, danger-zone characters are always the most interesting to analyse and watch grow, but I feel we're looking at a secretive character (though perhaps not Jack Vessalius level) with dangerous objectives (Perhaps more on the dangerously sad and tragic side like Vincent.)
Other than his outburst in mémoire 1, where for a moment he stopped being fun-Vanitas and turned into chaos-madman-Vanitas, declaring he was going to save all vampires in a bloody way, we also have this little moment in mémoire 3:
Vanitas, you're not allowed to make such a sad face only to turn around and look so suspicious. Or is it relief? Is your past that dark? I can't get attached to you Vanitas, you're going to die at the end of all this and I can't afford any more tissues.

Luca & Jeanne

Oh boy, these two were the icing on the cake in mémoire 3.
So Vanitas speaks of a vampire known as "The Hellfire Witch" that killed vampires who sided with humans during "the old war". Apparently this vampire held the Crimson Gauntlet "Carpe Diem" Jeanne (ジャンヌ) is wielding... so I'm assuming that this is Jeanne herself and that she was present during the old war, or she has inherited this weapon (along with the name "Jeanne") from the original Hellfire Witch (unlikely, as it seems that the story is going for the first option). Which brings about two questions: How long ago was this "old war", and how long do vampires live? I'm assuming their lifespan is longer than humans, like any good old vampire in classic literature, but just how much longer, I wonder?
If Jeanne is the original "Hellfire Witch" (which she probably is, I'm just leaving some room for doubt since she hasn't actually told us herself yet) it sure doesn't look like she enjoyed doing what she did, not by her reaction when Luca (ルカ) reminds her she's not an executioner any more. I'm thinking these bourreaux don't kill their victims gently...
But leaving whatever Jeanne is aside...
...It looks like she's pocketed Vanitas and Noe's hearts in a vignette - and no wonder! Look how gorgeous she is!! There was some serious doki doki going on in this double-spread page, and now I'm forced to wonder if we're going to have a love triangle in this manga. It sounds innovative for MochiJun, but I'm only saying that because romance wasn't exactly the focus in Pandora Hearts as much as personal growth. I'd say it's just MochiJun showing us how stunningly beautiful Jeanne is (besides Oz was also smitten with Sharon back when Pandora Hearts began, and that didn't mean anything), but the fact that she and Vanitas got a double-spread illustration together before the manga began its serialization has me thinking there is nooooo way Jeanne is going to step into the sidelines after this.
She definitely doesn't look like she likes him, though...

Moving on to Luca:
Oh boy Luca, what's that you got around your left ankle baby-boo? Are those the remains of shackles I'm seeing? because it sure looks like one... are you some sort of runaway slave? Did you escape the vampire world, or where you in the human world from the start?
More importantly, do you remember those chains I pointed out in mémoire 1 when I spoke about female characters and how I wanted them to make an appearance on stage?
Oh boy, look at that... Luca's bro has the same set whoever this person in mémoire 1 has, which has me thinking the arms in mémoire 1 either belong to Luca's brother or to someone inside the same facility/prison he's in. The shackles they have are very particular, though. Perhaps it's a similar concept to how Kairoseki (seastone) is used in the famous manga One Piece by the marines because it weakens Devil Fruit users - there's a fair chance this thing here is made of something that weakens vampires, though the only cliché I can think of right now is silver and garlic (and somehow I don't think they're made out of garlic). We know vampires are supposed to be strong, or at least stronger than your average human, so if this really is a facility that's keeping vampires imprisoned then there's bound to be something that keeps them in there.
Additional, why did it feel as though Luca wasn't allowed to say his brother was the curse-bearer he wants to cure? Here's the thing with Luca:
There's a white orb in the palm of the Gauntlet... could it be astermite, the mysterious power stone introduced in mémoire 1?

Aha! Jeanne calls Luca "Your Highness". So who is Luca, really? Is he royalty, or is this just something Jeanne likes to do? If he's royalty, is the reason why he's not allowed to say his brother is a curse-bearer because it would become a scandal in the vampire world?
And did Jeanne escape from being a bourreau to be with Luca, or did Luca save her? Why are they together, and why is she so devoted to him? Questions questions questions.


Final Thoughts

Chapters 2&3 have been just as brilliant as chapter 1, and my expectations ares still very high for Vanitas no Shuki. I'm trying my best to pay attention to every silly little detail, because we all know how MochiJun likes to hide stuff in her illustrations and even under rocks (see sensei? I learnt my lesson. This time I'll be prepared), but I'm bound to miss stuff here and there. So far I'm seeing a lot of similarities with Pandora Hearts, and before people start throwing rotten tomatoes at me defending Vanitas no Shuki as an entirely new story and not a rehash of something old (which I totally agree with, like, yes, absolutely, who's disagreeing with that?), I'm referring to the narrative elements we've seen so far. Not only does terminology carry the same feeling, but the new use of "this side" and "that side" reminds me of the Abyss and the human world in PH, as does the prolonged lifespan of vampires remind me of how Baskervilles lived a very long life.
Not only that, but it looks like fate is going to make a reprise and play a big role in here, as it did with PH. I like to think that with the idea of different worlds existing introduced at the every end of Pandora Hearts MochiGenuis is hinting that all her works operate under this same rule, and that Vanitas no Shuki is simply another version of "the story" the Jury talked about. There's also the fact that they're all by the same author, so there's bound to be similarities in the terms since they've been constructed by the same mind, but right now I'm almost completely convinced that Vanitas no Shuki belongs to this string of alternative universes. I'm also guessing MochiJun is playing with the fact that any of her works are, well, hers, therefore she is the God of them all, so of course they're all linked. I feel like she's breaking the 4th wall and allowing herself a bit of fun with it.

Anyway pretties, extremely sorry for the long post, and thank you for reading my ramblings. I didn't think this second post would be this long, but I began writing and couldn't stop. Sorry if half of it is useless information. I was sort of disappointed that the murderers talked about in chapters 1 and 2 had such an anti-climatic finale, but I'm glad that Amelia wasn't a one-chapter thing! 

See you in the next post, whenever that is!
Posted on: 08/03/2016



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4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this pretty (and not really that long - the longer the better!) analysis, because it makes re-reading the chapters all more interesting with all these details pointed out. I also think that comparing "Vanitas no Shuki" with "Pandora Hearts" is a good thing to do, because (as you noticed) it's never a copy. MochiJun gives us, the readers, a whole new story "just" with some elements resembling her earlier works. And of course, the main theme and the atmosphere seem to be the same. And it's a very good sign, because that's what we love her stories for (right?). Oh, I also love the "MochiJun's big library of alternative universe" theory, since it makes perfect sense and is a good base for other stories too. Would be nice to get more mangas after PH and VnS with the same themes (but when will it happen?...).
    So, thank you once again and can't wait for the new analysis!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed reading! MochiJun likes to hide a lot of clues in her drawings so I'm trying to pay attention to every little detail, but I'm pretty sure I've missed something... I can never fully predict what this woman is going to do X.X

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  2. the artwork of the city is so breathtaking i cant get tired of it

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    1. I'm pretty sure MochiJun has a very competent team of assistants with her, but I just can't help but marvel at how intricate some of the shots of the city are... it's just breathtaking...

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