2017’s A Small Charred Face is the American edition of Kazuki Sakuraba’s 2014 book Honto no Hana Wo Mise Ni Kita.
The English-language translation is by Jocelyn Allen. A Small Charred Face contains three novellas about the Bamboo, or as others call them, vampires.
A Small Charred Face
The Bamboo migrated from China to Japan comparatively recently. They are careful to avoid behaviours that might provoke the humans into hunting them down. Law-abiding Bamboo never kill humans. They are also forbidden to help humans. Any human-Bamboo interaction is dangerous.
The lone survivor of a gangster attack is an orphaned human boy named Kyo. Against regs, the Bamboo Mustah takes pity on him and hides him from the gangsters. Kyo becomes the human pet of vampires Mustah, Yoji, and later, Marika. He finds the vampires kinder than the humans of his former hometown.
This idyll cannot last forever. It may take the Bamboo authorities years to find out about the human pet, but if there’s one thing the Bamboo have, it’s time.…
The story begins just after gansters gang-rape Kyo’s sister. She begs for death. After that, I just couldn’t immerse myself in the story.
Aside from a need for blood and the inability to withstand sunlight, the Bamboo differ from the bog-standard vampires in several ways. The first is that their personalities, their characters, cannot grow and change. Each Bamboo will be the same Bamboo in a hundred years. They find the human ability to grow and change fascinating and irresistible, which is what gets Kyo’s pals into such trouble.
I Came to Show You Real Flowers
Missing an arm, an ear, and part of her nose thanks to events in the previous story, Marika teams up with a new human, Momo. Together, outcast and weakling unleash a reign of terror on a handful of unfortunate victims. Alas for Marika and her quest for human companionship, human friendship is fleeting…
“A dragon lives forever but not so little boys…”
In fact, Bamboo don’t live forever. A lucky few live for 120 years or so. Then they flower, which benefits the species but not so much the individual Bamboo.
You Will Go to the Land of the Future
For centuries, the Bamboo lived among the humans in a remote part of China. They gave occasional assistance to the humans, which gave them a role as mysterious, revered supernatural beings. Change has come to China and new settlers have arrived, settlers with no regard of old, outmoded ways. What to do? Stay? Flee deeper into the mountains? Find an entirely new home? They choose the last. Led by a young princess, they set out across the sea and find a new future in the islands of Japan!
This novella seems to be set during the Cultural Revolution, decades before the other two stories. I cannot imagine anything that would inflame outrage in young Communists quite like a community of blood-sucking aristocrats. Literal blood-suckers.
The young princess is not senior enough to be the designated heir and far too smart for her family’s comfort. Poor princess. Being smart and unusually resourceful won’t earn her any reward beyond the ability to see exactly what sacrifices might save at least some of her family.
Given the all the violent deaths, executions mandated by doctrinaire legal systems1, and alienation between friends and family, this was surprisingly not depressing. It even manages moments of happiness amid all the disillusionment and loss. Of the two works I have read by this author, I think I prefer Red Girls, but only because I find vampires a bit draining.
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1: Given the cognitive limitations of the Bamboo, I suppose there’s not much hope of rehabilitation. In that context, perhaps their approach makes sense.