High school freshman Okazaki lives at the bottom of the social totem pole: he’s a gopher for bullying classmates, his only friend is as cowardly as he, and he quietly lusts after the girls around him. When a late-night vampire attack changes everything, Okazaki must control an all-consuming thirst and stumble through his first steps as the newly undead.

Happiness is a melancholy tale with brief moments of tenderness. Four volumes in, Okazaki is only just beginning to build trust with Nora, the vampire who bit him; she teaches him how to share blood through the mouth, almost like kissing. His vampire powers allow him to stand up to his personal antagonist Yuuki by socking him in the nose, but when Yuuki himself is bullied and also bitten by a vampire, Okazaki gains an unlikely friend; they even end up saving each other’s lives along the way. Also on his side is Gosho, a loner who worries over Okazaki due to his resemblance to her late little brother. When Okazaki’s bloodlust nearly causes him to feed on Gosho, she embraces him with immense empathy.

These interpersonal relationships underscore various takes on adolescent loathing and grief. Okazaki feels no better about himself as a vampire than his former whipping boy role, though he enjoys Gosho’s company—but her connection with Okazaki seems short-lived as he learns more about living as a vampire. Yuuki is shaken by Okazaki’s punch, but his pushy personality turns out to be overcompensation from having mostly absent parents. The enigmatic Nora is more a creature of the night than anyone’s friend, almost like an unwitting den mother among fledgling pups. Government agents gradually gain ground on all of them, coming to a head during the fourth volume’s cliffhanger conclusion.

Oshimi’s art is dreary, glowing, trippy, and grotesque in turns, according to each scene’s mood. Nights are serene and dark, but the heightened senses of the vampiric characters light up the sky with glowing shapes and fuzzy impressions of the horizon, resembling Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” Vampiric thirst leads characters into distorted, wavy sequences of vertigo and waves of sweat. Scenes of blood-sucking and cannibalism lead to gory moments with torn-open flesh and blood everywhere. Sexual scenes, such as Okazaki touching himself in his bedroom or Yuuki having sex with his girlfriend, are mature in nature. This series has a male gaze, including the framing of Nora’s nipples under her shirt and schoolgirls’ skirts and legs.

Each volume has about 200 pages, including some in color and translation/cultural notes. Comparisons to Oshimi’s earlier manga, The Flowers of Evil, abound: it also features a pervy high school boy whose soul is corrupted by a female. Whereas that series used dire realism, Happiness employs the fantastical lens of vampirism to explore self-destructive moods and relationships. Instances in which characters assert themselves usually give way to powerlessness, and the characters who recognize this cycle seem to navigate the story better than more impulsive characters. So far, the story seems like it has only just begun—there’s plenty of life left in its cold world of distant, unattainable happiness.

Happiness
by Shuzo Oshimi
Art by Shuzo Oshimi
vol 1 ISBN: 9781632363633
vol 2 ISBN: 9781632363640
vol 3 ISBN: 9781632363923
vol 4 ISBN: 9781632363930
Kodansha, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 16+

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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