Here’s an anime I might have missed out on if it hadn’t been for that dumb anime first episode wheel post series I have going. Or maybe not, because I was already a little interested in it. Call of the Night / Yofukashi no Uta is a recently finished 13-episode anime, another manga adaptation. It’s an unusual one this time — if I had to categorize it, maybe “supernatural urban fantasy romance”? And definitely a vampire romance, and not even exactly the first one I’ve covered here if Kizumonogatari counts. (edit: also, general plot/ending spoilers below, etc.)
Kou Yamori is a middle school student. Sort of a student, since he’s recently quit attending school out of frustration over its social norms. Kou specifically doesn’t seem to get the idea of romantic love — not a huge surprise considering his age, but when he turns down a classmate who confesses to him for just that reason her friends dump on him. This seems to be more the last straw than the factor that really drove him to quit, but in any case he’s not going to school anymore, and somehow the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services isn’t getting involved either.
Instead of going to school, Kou goes out late at night, leaving his family’s apartment in the city to wander the streets and hang around in a park near his home. Kou is alone, but he seems happier walking the city streets when they’re nearly empty than he would be attending school.
His solitude doesn’t last, however. Just as he’s about to give in to the temptation of a vending machine stocked with alcohol, he’s stopped by a mysterious blonde girl who asks him what a kid is doing buying booze.
Thankfully, she’s not a police officer, but just some girl taking an unusual interest in this kid. She tells Kou that he needs to let go and enjoy himself and that the night is the perfect time to do it. After showing him a few of the wonders of the nighttime city like a few drunk office workers throwing up on the sidewalk, she suggests they return to her place so she can “help him sleep.”
This should be throwing up all kinds of red flags, but Kou goes along with this girl anyway. When she leads him to her apartment and invites him to lie down next to her, that red flag is triggered, though it turns out to be the wrong one. She soon reveals her true intention: this girl, Nazuna Nanakusa, is a vampire who wants to suck his blood.
Surprisingly, Kou is strangely okay about her drinking from his neck, even as he thinks it might turn him into a vampire himself. When Kou remains very much a human after getting bitten, he’s surprised, but Nazuna tells him that to actually be turned, he has to first fall in love with her before she bites him.
To her shock and considerable embarrassment, Kou then declares that he will fall in love with Nazuna so she can make him into a vampire. Nazuna gets red in the face — a running theme for her when talk about romance comes up — but she tells Kou he can do whatever he wants. And the following night, Kou is back out, and he meets Nazuna again, starting a strange human/vampire sort of friendship. Not quite a relationship in the way we usually talk about it, but an unusually intimate friendship, because most friends don’t sleep on the same bed and get their blood sucked by the other. Unless I’ve really been missing out.
As the series proceeds, the cast grows quickly, and Kou is soon surrounded by a set of mostly women, some of whom are also vampires who also want to suck his blood even if just to see how it tastes since Nazuna insists on how excellent it is. But Kou also has a couple of classmates and childhood friends, still human like him, who show up in his life and act as a tether to the normal human world.
Still, Kou continues not to attend school, somehow seemingly living this delinquent nocturnal life without any issues despite still being a kid. As he spends more time with Nazuna almost every night, he begins falling into the world of vampires, one that’s seductive but also potentially extremely dangerous. Despite all that, Nazuna still can’t turn Kou into her follower: those romantic feelings have yet to emerge, so no matter how many times she bites him, he remains a human.
Does Kou really understand what he’s getting himself into? Does Nazuna? And are they prepared for the consequences both might face from this underground vampire society if Kou can’t — or won’t — be turned?
Call of the Night is an interesting series. It’s not much like any other anime I’ve watched before. Technically it’s sort of a coming-of-age show, and there’s some slice-of-life in there, but it’s nothing at all like the other series I’ve covered in those categories. It’s also nothing much like the few other vampire-related fiction works I’ve taken in like Kizumonogatari. The closest I’ve come to this before was probably the Tsukihime visual novel, which also partly features a story about an older hot blonde vampire lady getting involved with a well-meaning but sort of delinquent schoolboy, but it’s not much like Tsukihime either. It’s a unique sort of work, and in the good sense (given that, say, Pupa was also pretty “unique.”)
As usual, when I love a show’s style, I’ll talk about that before getting into the substance of the plot and characters and the rest. Studio Liden Films did a great job animating Call of the Night, with a special emphasis on night scenes like the above. I’ve never seen the night lit up like this, all in blue and purple, with the stars shining improbably brightly in an urban environment — but that’s all right, because it looks excellent and fits the fantastic feel of the series despite its realistic modern-day city setting.
That praise extends to the characters and to mangaka Kotoyama. This guy has a distinctive style that I recognized right away: he was also responsible for Dagashi Kashi. I haven’t watched that series and was never very interested in what I knew of it aside from the hot main girl character whose name I don’t know, but maybe I should check it out.
And of course, that praise also extends to the opening and ending sequences, featuring tracks by the group Creepy Nuts, including the “title track” to the entire series Call of the Night. I already went on about these themes so I won’t again, but I will say this is one of the very few anime series I bother to always keep both the OP and ED on for, no skips.
So the style is excellent, but how’s the substance? A story about a vampire girl letting a middle school boy do his best to fall in love with her and actually sucking his blood all the while — there are all sorts of potential pitfalls here. While the relationship between Kou and Nazuna isn’t the only element in this story, it is the central one, running through and relating to all Kou’s other relationships. It’s also quite a strange relationship, no doubt about that, aside from the whole vampire thing.
I think some viewers had an issue with the perceived age gap in Call of the Night. Though Nazuna is still more or less supposed to be pretty close to Kou’s age since aging seems to stop or slow massively once you become a vampire, she’s also been around for at least a few decades, living a carefree existence of wandering around, boozing, and playing video games in her empty apartment.
This is another case where that old “would this feel weirder with the genders flipped” question comes up for me. My feeling is that it shouldn’t matter that much. Kou might be unusually forward and mature for his age, but he’s still barely experienced life at this point. Then again, neither has Nazuna if we consider what kind of life she leads. So you might argue she’s practically not very far from Kou in mental and personality terms, but this still isn’t exactly the kind of relationship I can “root for” like I can with the usual romantic comedy anime. Isn’t Akira a far better fit for this kid? She seems interested in him, and she has the childhood friend buff too.
I’ll admit this is still a bit of a sticking point for me with Call of the Night, especially considering the ending of this season with Kou basically confirming something like love for Nazuna and Nazuna returning his feelings. But even considering that particular weirdness, on balance I really enjoyed the series. Am I just trying to bullshit my way out of a difficult spot?
I don’t think so. Because aside from the obvious strangeness of this relationship, Call of the Night connected with me in a way that was hard for me to pin down at first. Back when I really started on this romantic comedy anime/manga trip two years ago, I wondered about the importance of having a relatable protagonist to latch onto. I don’t think it’s necessary to be able to relate to the lead in that way, but it can help, especially in this sort of fish-out-of-water situation where your protagonist has no clear idea about what he’s getting himself into.
And as I wrote above, Kou’s feelings are extremely relatable to me, with his desire to escape from everyday life and from the social norms that tie us down. To him, this new world of vampires is a world of freedom, where he can break free from those expectations and norms he doesn’t understand or like.
This might come off like a strange comparison, but it’s something like piracy. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, during the two great ages of Caribbean piracy, some sailors living under hard conditions of discipline and poverty in their legitimate and legal employment became pirates to escape that sort of life. Pirates lived free lives, even electing and deposing their captains by vote.
Pirates also sometimes carried out some horrific acts and lived under the constant threat of a hanging. They defied both the law and most every social norm of the time at a price. And though the vampires in Call of the Night try to blend into human society as much as possible, they also live outside the law and take serious risks, having to deceive or seduce humans into getting blood out of them and producing followers.
Kou is initially enthusiastic about joining up with the vampires and does his best to fall in love with Nazuna so that can happen. Near the end of this episode run, however, he starts to see some of these realities that Nazuna has been concealing from him, perhaps partly out of fear that he’ll lose interest but also because she’s naïve about their arrangement herself. Halfway through the season, Kou is temporarily kidnapped by a few of her vampire colleagues, who do their best to steal Nazuna’s “prey.” When that fails, they make it clear when Nazuna fights her way to him that if he doesn’t become a vampire within one year, they’ll kill him since he knows too much about their society at this point to continue living as a human without putting them in danger of discovery.
Series like this, where one guy is surrounded by a lot of beautiful women, are often accused of being wish fulfillment stories. Maybe there’s some of that in Call of the Night as well — 14 year-old me would have loved to have been in Kou’s position, at least at first. Running around with my cute vampire girlfriend at night, somehow getting away with skipping school while still maintaining my grades (which is never explained and I don’t get at all, but lucky for him I guess) — what more could I have wanted?
In a way, this series is all the more relatable to me today, which might be sad. I don’t much enjoy my life or the responsibilities I bear that I took on because I felt they were my duty to carry. Trying to live within the bounds of respectable society can be hard, at least for a misfit like me.
But then that’s exactly why I don’t get that “mindless wish fulfillment” feeling at all from this series (or from a few other romantic anime I’ve watched that receive similar criticism.) Kou’s actions are not free of consequences, and the choice he has to make, whether to remain human or to become a vampire if he can, weighs on him. A pure escapist fantasy would gloss over all that.
So while the ending of the season with a confirmation of Kou and Nazuna’s feelings for each other wasn’t all that satisfying to me from that perspective, it’s all right — the story obviously isn’t anywhere near over, so that ending doesn’t mean Kou’s chosen a definite path for himself anyway. As the detective Anko suggests, he might not even have the capacity for romantic attraction: a minority of people in the real world don’t, and that’s possible in this case, though again, it’s perhaps more likely that a kid his age just doesn’t understand his own feelings yet. It’s all still kept ambiguous, but in a way that works well enough when you consider that the manga is still running.
There’s my recommendation, then. I liked Call of the Night, and so did a lot of other people apparently considering its high ratings. It seems likely to get a second season based on that popularity, though who knows with anime. This one might still put some viewers off, but then that’s the case for a lot of anime and other works I write about here, so it’s nothing new.
For now, it’s back to work and my dreary bullshit “respectable” life, what fun. Until next time.