As a writer and an avid reader, I find myself subscribed to the newsletters for several publishers. One of those is Seven Seas Entertainment, which translates Japanese manga and light novels into English. In their latest newsletter, they mentioned a forthcoming light novel which caught my eye simply because of the title: Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. According to Seven Seas, the novel tells the story of how a space race between two global superpowers led to the “Nosferatu Project.” After sending dogs into space, one of the superpowers decides to send vampires into space before sending humans. This seemed right up my alley! Effectively it’s an atompunk alternate history with vampires. After a little more searching, I discovered the light novel series inspired an anime of the same name and the anime had recently been released in the United States via Funimation.
In the world of this story, the space race is between the Zirnitra Union of the East and the United Kingdom of Arnack in the West. The reason these countries arose instead of the superpowers we know from our history is never discussed. The UZSR has a red flag with snakes. The United Kingdom has a flag with stars and stripes, so it’s not hard to guess who stands in for whom. This world also contains vampires who live predominantly in Eastern Europe. These vampires aren’t the monsters of our mythology, but simply another race of people who happen to be sensitive to sunlight, have pointed ears, and sharp teeth. They eat normal food, but they can gain an energy boost from drinking blood. It’s almost as though Neanderthals survived into the modern world. In the alternate world of the anime, the vampire legends arose as a kind of propaganda to stir hatred and revulsion of vampire kind, and to justify invasions into their lands. It becomes a rather clever way to discuss hatred and bigotry without invoking the all-too-numerous examples we can draw from our real history.
In 1960, the UZSR recruits a vampire to be trained as a cosmonaut. This vampire is the Irina Luminesk of the title. She’s to be trained by Lev Leps, a reserve cosmonaut candidate. Lev was supposed to be one of the regular cosmonaut candidates except that he has a temper and attacked a man who abused one of his fellow cosmonaut candidates. The anime follows Irina’s training along with Lev and Irina’s growing affection for one another. As a fan of the world’s space programs, I found it delightful to see space craft based on early Soviet designs, rather than the oft seen American designs. Characters in the story seem to have historical parallels as well. Party Chairman Fyodor Gergiev is clearly based on Nikita Khrushchev. Lev Leps is basically Yuri Gagarin and his chief rival Mikhail seems based on Gherman Titov. One fun thing I noticed is that while the writing on shops and containers in the anime appears to be in Cyrillic script, the words are actually in English.
Of course, the vampire Irina is the focus of the show. We watch as she trains to be every bit as capable as the human cosmonaut candidates, even when many of the scientists testing and training her buy into the superstitions about vampires. I found myself cheering as she overcame her fear of heights to master parachuting. Given that she’s treated as an animal by many of the scientists and politicians, there’s a real tension about whether or not she’ll survive her first space flight and I won’t spoil things by saying whether or not she does.
It’s a shame this anime came out so close to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I suspect many will shun it because of a perceived connection with Russia even though I suspect no such connection actually exists. In some ways, the series is actually rather critical of the Soviets and their treatment of those countries they took control of. What’s more, one of the themes of the anime is that people can change and become better. In a very real way, it reflects the spirit of Yuri Gagarin who said, “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”
I enjoyed the anime enough that I decided to pre-order the light novel so I can get to know the characters better. It will be released on June 23. While waiting for the light novel’s release, you can check out my vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order