Interviews with Monster Girls- Hikari
The second monster girl I will be taking a closer look at is the ever-energetic vampire, Hikari, and the first monster girl Tetsuo is introduced to. The vampire myth dates back centuries, with the first recorded use of the word occurring in 1743. While the word vampire is two hundred some years old, vampire related myths date back to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, where they were known as the seven evil spirits or demons, depending on the source. Vampires are of course no stranger to anime, and while I would love to talk about real vampires, you are going to have to settle for Hikari this time. She is much easier on the eyes, however.
Depending on the myth, vampires have a rather wide range of traits and abilities, from the more realistic to the fantastical. I will, of course, be sticking to those traits and abilities that can be explained by science and skipping the more magical ones. One such ability that is discussed during episode 6 of the anime is whether or not Hikari can see herself in the mirror, since traditional vampires cannot. The resulting antics are as amusing as they are heartwarming, but, yes, she can see herself in the mirror.
I’ll let Hikari herself explain the next two common vampire traits, fear of crosses, and being killed by a stake through the heart.
Yes, a stake through the heart is a grievous injury to a human, but would it kill everything else?
If you stabbed a squid in the brachial heart, you would severely wound it, but not kill it outright. This is so because the brachial heart pumps blood through the gill and not the entire body, so one gill would be impaired, but not both. So, a squid or octopus is probably the only thing that could survive a stake through the heart, as long as it is a brachial heart.
Hikari’s Vampire Traits
Some of the other traits that Hikari shares with vampires include pale skin, a strong sense of smell, glowing eyes, dislike of sunlight, and a desire to drink blood.
Like other vampires Hikari has very pale skin, but unlike other vampires she has blond hair instead of dark hair. While the change in hair color is a break from vampire traditions, it actually fits with the science of pale skin. This means I will be talking about melanin, which you will remember from the anime hair color and anime eye color lessons. Melanin is the pigment from which human skin derives its color. There are different types of melanin, including Eumelanin and Pheomelanin, which are involved in human skin, hair, and eye color. There is also Neuromelanin, found in the nervous system, but its function is not entirely clear at the present time, though it does have a connection to Parkinson’s disease.
Irish author Michael Scott once said, “At the heart of every legend there is a grain of truth.” So where is the grain of truth in the vampire myth? Well, to begin with, vampires are known for having very pale skin and Hikari is no different. If you haven’t heard of it already, there are people and animals known as albinos. Albinos have a rare genetic condition known as albinism, which affects one in twenty thousand people worldwide. This is a condition where the body does not produce melanin, leaving the skin very pale. Melanin production is the main way the body protects itself from UV radiation and why indigenous people living near the equator have darker skin, and those of us living further away from the equator get a tan during the summer due to larger amounts of UV light exposure. If you have a lack of melanin, your skin is at a risk of being damaged by UV light, which means more sunburns, and a higher risk of skin cancer. Also, an albino would have whiter hair and not blond hair like Hikari.
So, of course, individuals with albinism would want to stay out of the sunlight, and be more active at night, ala vampires. While Hikari does not have the common vampire problem of burning up in the sunlight, there are grains of truth in this part of the vampire myth. The first is an allergy to sunlight. While there are several different subtypes, the result is the same, with the skin breaking out into red itchy rash after exposure to sunlight.
The second is a vitamin deficiency known as pellagra. pellagra occurs when the body has a lack of vitamin B3 (niacin). In primary pellagra the individual’s diet lacks vitamin B3, while in secondary pellagra another condition impairs the body’s ability to absorb and/or retain vitamin B3. The end result is the same, and skin exposed to sunlight will begin to break down and bleed after repeated exposure.
Some vampires are said to have glowing eyes, and Hikari is no exception to this.
As to why this might be, let’s take a moment to remember that vampires do not like sunlight because their skin will break down if it is exposed to too much ultraviolet light. Therefore it makes sense for vampires to do their hunting at night. With less light being present during the night, the eyes of the vampire would have to change to be able to see in low light conditions. The eyes of all mammals are fairly similar in their structure and function, but nocturnal mammals have an extra structure that daytime mammals do not. This structure is called the tapetum lucidum, and it is a reflective coating found beneath the retina. Light will pass through the eye and focus on the retina, which detects, light allowing us to see. Any light not absorbed by the retina is then absorbed by the tissue behind the retina (sclera). In nocturnal animals, the tapetum lucidum reflects the light not absorbed by the retina back onto the retina, allowing it to allow a bit more light to be absorbed to create a better image.
This also means that any light not absorbed in the second trip through the retina will be reflected back out of the eye, making it appear to glow in the dark.
This glow will be more extreme when shining a light in the eye of the animal.
Dislike of Garlic
Vampires do not like garlic, and while Hikari does like garlic, Interviews with Monster Girls does give a good explanation as to why vampires do not like garlic. It goes back to the idea of vampires being more active at night due to their sensitive skin. Even with a tapetum lucidum and improved night vision, vampires will need more than just eyesight to effectively function at night in the dark. Tracking by scent is a powerful tool than a number of animals use, and strong-smelling scents could disrupt an animal’s ability to follow a scent. It can also be used to deter animals as well (think of a skunk) and how a little spray might make it hard to smell things for a while. Garlic has a rather strong smell, and could make it more difficult for someone with a really good sense of smell to track anything after being exposed to garlic. This all makes logical sense, but I think durian would make a much better vampire deterrent than garlic. We are talking about the king of fruits which can smell like garbage. FYI- you are not allowed to take durian on public transportation in southeast Asian countries like Singapore.
Drinking Blood is perhaps the most iconic vampire trait of them all, and there are several real-world animals that feed on blood, which is technically called hematophagy. The most well-known of the hematophagic animals are vampire bats, mosquitos, and leeches. The advantage to drinking blood is that it is extremely rich in nutrients such as proteins and lipids. Also, these nutrients need significantly less digestion before they can be absorbed, simplifying the digestive process, and biology loves to keep things simple. The less energy and nutrients an animal needs to expend even in the process of digestion is less energy and nutrients the animal needs to find, which means it has an advantage over animals that need more.
Humans can actually feed on blood and a number of cultures have blood based food items like sausages, puddings, soups and stews. FYI– I’m not really a fan. According to Tetsou and Hikari, a vampire’s desire to drink blood stems from anemia. Anemia is a condition where the body does not have enough functional red blood cells. There are a number of different ways anemia can, occur including dietary. The most logical explanation is that vampires have difficulty absorbing key nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron. Blood is rich in iron and other nutrients, and they might be easier for the vampire’s digestive system to absorb when dissolved in plasma instead of inside cells that need to be broken down first before being absorbed.
There is actually a neat little bit of medical trivia in the anime as Hikari mentions really enjoying liver and onions, and tomato juice. Liver and onions might seem a little unappetizing to some but the dish is high in nutrients that help red blood cell production. It used to be part of the treatment for anemia, before more modern treatments like blood transfusions became more wide-spread.
Tomato juice is also effective for some types of anemia to help replace vitamins and nutrients needed for the hematopoietic system (red blood cell formation) to function properly. While the government in Interviews with Monster Girls provides blood packets for Vampires so they do not have to feed on people anymore, I found it amusing that there are vegan vampires that do not drink any blood at all. These vampires still have an urge to bite, described by Hikari as itchy teeth.
Hikari’s vampire traits are given the most thorough explanation out of all the girls in Interviews with Monster Girls and I have to say the anime does a very good job on all accounts. I particularly liked how it went into detail with the science, especially with how a vampire’s dislike of garlic is tied to a strong sense of smell.