Meet Don Dracula, Osamu Tezuka’s Kind Of Terrible Comedy About The Count And His Hemorrhoids
When October rolls around, I always spend as much of the month as I can with Dracula, and it's gotten to the point where I'm actually starting to run out of stuff to watch. I mean, we're still almost a week away from Halloween, and I've seen at least a dozen movies about the Count, so I've been looking for something new to get me through these last few days. Fortunately, a kind soul on Twitter told me about Don Dracula, and I was immediately intrigued.
After all, if you're going to make a list of the most important comic book creators of all time, there aren't going to be a whole lot of names on that list ahead of Osamu Tezuka. He's called "the God of Manga" for a reason, and finding out that he not only did a bizarre all-ages Dracula comic, but that it was adapted into an anime that's available in its entirety on Hulu mean that my week was pretty much set. There's just one problem: It's actually pretty terrible.
To be fair, that has less to do with Don Dracula itself and more to do with how it was brought to America, but I'll get back to that in a second. First off, some background.
Don Dracula is one of Tezuka's more obscure works, to the point where the copy of the otherwise comprehensive The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God Of Manga that I pulled off the shelf for more information barely mentions it. I think it's only in there twice, and one of those is just a description of it as one of several "long serials for children." That's it. And to give you an idea of just what that means, that section is immediately followed by detailed descriptions of fourteen other Tezuka comics from the '70s. Don Dracula doesn't even crack the top 14 from a single decade of Tezuka's career.
Still, calling something one of Tezuka's obscure works is about like calling something one of Kirby's obscure works. You might not have heard of, say, Galaxy Green or Roxy's Raiders, but when you find out that Kirby was working on a pitch for a team of World War II super-spies disguised as a traveling circus led by a feisty redheaded lady version of Indiana Jones, that is somethign that you're probably going to want to see. The same thing happens to me when I hear "Osamu Tezuka's lost all-ages Dracula story about Dracula and his teenage daughter."
As for why it's so obscure, it turns out that only eight episodes of the series were ever produced, and of those, only the first four made it to air. God of Manga blames that on the sponsor going out of business halfway through the production, but while the back half of the series was aired in other countries, it was never available in Japan until it came out on DVD. Considering that they were originally set to air in 1982, that's a pretty long wait, especially when you consider how huge a name Tezuka is. Until you actually watch them, and realize why maybe nobody was in that big a rush to get this one back out there.
So here's the premise, very little of which is actually explained in the first episode: Dracula's castle has been bought -- lock stock and medusa-head-filled clock tower, it seems -- and relocated to Tokyo with Dracula and his teenage daughter inside. They are a pretty adaptable sort, though, so they just roll with it. Dracula sets about finding beautiful women whose blood is suitable for his aristocratic and extremely pompous palate and ends up biting the same large, unattractive woman that he got by accident on his first night in Japan, which is played for Big Laffs. Meanwhile, his daughter, Chocola, is going to night school.
His daughter is named "Chocola."
I should probably note at this point that there's no real explanation for Chocola beyond the words "Dracula's daughter." From what I've seen, she doesn't seem to have a mother and I'm not really sure if she's the biological daughter of a pair of walking corpses or if she's a girl that Dracula adopted after biting, but she's definitely a vampire and she's definitely going to school, and that is both all the information that you're going to get and probably more information than you actually need. The only other thing that we know about her is that she likes sci-fi enough to join her school's sci-fi club. Because, you know, it's anime.
Problems arise when Chocola gets a new teacher in the form of the vampire hunter Van Helsing, who has traveled to Japan from his home in the Netherlands in order to do some killing, and somehow used this murderous desire to get a job teaching children, one of whom he suspects is a vampire and occasionally attempts to murder in front of her classmates. Fortunately for Chocola (and her new boyfriend, Nobuhiko), Tezuka's Van Helsing has a weakness that often strikes at crucial moments, preventing him from delivering the killing blow: Hemorrhoids.
This, incidentally, comes into play in the first episode, where Van Helsing has a bathroom emergency and ends up pooping in Dracula's coffin at the climax, spending the rest of the episode sheepishly scrubbing it out under the watchful eye of his hated mortal enemy.
All things considered, that doesn't really make it a bad show. Admittedly, it's not quite what I wanted when I heard the phrase "Osamu Tezuka's Dracula story, " but I'm all for slapstick comedy and goofball teen antics involving everyone's favorite vampire. That's not what makes Don Dracula so fascinatingly awful.
No, that honor goes to the translation.
As you might have noticed from the screenshots above, Don Dracula is barely comprehensible. At first I wondered if this wasn't intentional and meant to be an additional joke about the Transylvanian Dracula and Chocola having a lot of trouble adapting to the language of their new home, but it turns out that the actual reason is both weirder and even more hilarious. When I asked on Twitter, it was explained to me that Viki, the company that handles the translation, uses volunteers, meaning that rather than professional translators, Don Dracula was likely adapted by college students for practice. In other words, the people doing the translation may not actually speak English.
Which, again, you may have already guessed.
I should note that they're doing a heck of a lot better than I would if I was trying to translate something to Japanese, but still, it's pretty obvious that they occasionally have only the vaguest grasp of what words mean. The result is that the dialogue for the show tends to bounce back and forth between the bizarre and the completely incomprehensible. In its own way, though, that makes it even more fascinating than it would be if it had a translation that was good, or even, you know, remotely accurate. You start questioning everything until the subtitles and the visuals match up well enough that you can actually confirm that yes, you are in fact watching Dracula's daughter's teacher, Van Helsing, suffer from an attack of hemorrhoids just before he puts the stake in Dracula's heart.
The entire series is up on Hulu, and while I can't imagine that it would satisfy any need for spookiness in this most terrifying Halloweek, but trust me, it's worth your time. Who could argue with this?