(REVIEW) The Clock Strikes Twelve for CALL OF THE NIGHT

This review contains spoilers for the reviewed material. This is your only warning.

Remember 2022 as a banner year for the anime vampire. Between the second part of The Case Study of Vanitas, 5-episode wonder (and future Magic Planet Anime review subject) Vampire in The Garden, and of course, this very anime, Call of The Night, it’s been a solid year for the fanged and fearsome among us. Of course, vampires—more specifically vampires and romance—are not new additions to anime as a medium. Not by a longshot, as I discussed when I first blogged about this series back in July, they’ve been common bedfellows for a long time.

Since then, in my intermittent coverage of the series, I’ve made mention more than once that vampires, traditionally, are symbols of the other. Of outsiders. The thing about symbols of course is that they eventually acquire a life all their own, separate from any single author’s intent. They become entities of their own; concepts that lurk in the collective human subconscious, to be interpreted a myriad of different ways as any individual artist sees fit, certainly, but always retaining a core identity that, if it changes, only does so slowly, over time, and through repeated effort by many individual interpreters.

So, when we look at Call of The Night, a series primarily centered on the 14-year-old Ko Yamori (Gen Satou) and his quest to fall in love with, and thus be turned by, decades-old vampire Nazuna Nanakusa (Sora Amamiya), we must ask ourselves what it is using that symbol to say, and how these things align with its broader storytelling goals.

In a general sense, there’s not really anything complicated about Call of the Night at all; it’s a story about Ko, an antisocial shut-in who starts taking long, lonesome night walks because he’s stopped going to school, coming of age and becoming his own person. Thought about this way, it could be lumped in with any number of other anime.

What lessens those commonalities that Ko and Nazuna’s relationship is somewhat fuzzy for much of the series; are they actually in love? Just friends? Something else entirely? It takes almost the entire 13-episode run for a definitive answer to that question to actually emerge, and that very uncertainty is largely what “vampirism” means within the context of Call of The Night. If we take “vampires” to be anyone who lives outside of normal society, the show’s theming clicks into place perfectly.

Indeed, it is very easy to read Ko, Nazuna, and their relationship in any number of ways. I’ve previously mostly looked at it through the lens of Ko, a fairly strongly neurodivergent-coded character, and quite possibly an aromantic, trying to figure out the foreign field of romance. Far on the other end of the field, I’ve also seen Nazuna called a sexual predator preying on Ko’s insecurities (I think you have to get pretty far into a countertextual reading to argue that, but I definitely get why people might get that vibe at first glance). In hindsight, I’d say neither of these, really, fit the show particularly well, which is a little unfortunate in the former case and a massive relief in the latter.

Instead, Call of the Night effectively presents a world much like our own, where human relationships are complicated, thorny things, full of accidents and insecurity, and in which you can never truly entirely know where you stand. This becomes clearer during the show’s last arc, with its introduction of the detective / vampire hunter Anko Uguisu (Miyuki Sawashiro), who makes it very clear that she does not see human and vampire lives as equally worthwhile. (It’s also worth noting that she guns for Ko more directly than Nazuna ever does.) Her killing a blood-starved vampire kicks off the final quarter of the series, which casts much of what comes before in a different light.

But, crucially, not all of it. At series’ end, Nazuna and Ko redouble their commitment to each other. Call of the Night ends on the line “we’re in this together.” Perhaps, then, what is crucial is not so much what Nazuna and Ko are to each other, but simply that they are something to each other. The very last scene is a kiss; so clearly this is a romantic relationship, but what is almost more important than the establishment of a definitive romance is that this clears out any uncertainty. “You and me against the world” is pretty easy to get your head around, even for the most romantically disinterested among us.

In that final arc, Call of The Night seems to pose Ko a choice; to become human and return to the world of ‘living’ (read: ordinary) people, or to take a gamble on the unknowable dangers of the vampire world. But interestingly, it does not present either humanity or vampirism as “the right choice.” Vampirism is neither a curse nor an automatic liberation. What is more important than making the choice at all is making it honestly, definitively, and with purpose. By the series’ end, Ko makes his.

None of this is to say that the show is flawless. For instance, its only real depiction of a genuinely GNC character, the otokonoko vampire Hatsuka Suzushiro (Azumi Waki) leaves quite a lot to be desired, and, for better or worse, there are many open questions by the time it ends. (Less a flaw, admittedly, and more just a consequence of adapting a still-ongoing manga.) It also probably spends a little too much time leering at various characters’ bodies; some of it makes sense, some of it just feels a little much.

But indeed, even in terms of positive qualities there’s a fair bit I haven’t talked about, such as the show’s absolutely phenomenal directing courtesy of Tomoyuki Itamura, whose pedigree includes not only fellow 2022 vampire series The Case Study of Vanitas, but also work on most of the Monogatari series, and, remarkably, episode 7 of ever-underrated SHAFT comedy And Yet The Town Moves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that episode’s second half is entirely about the wonders of liminality, centering on a story about a young boy who watches midnight tick over into a new day for the first time. Call of The Night, despite many other differences from that series, inherits some of that spirit, a certain sense of midnight-black magic that no amount of cynicism and adult world-weariness can truly erase.

Back when Call of The Night first began, I made the remark that if it could keep up that feeling of nocturnal wonder from its first episode’s closing moments, it had nothing to worry about. Thirteen weeks later, that thought remains unchanged. Nazuna and Ko definitely have, but not the night itself. It’s as young as it’s ever been.

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All views expressed on Magic Planet Anime are solely my own opinions and conclusions and should not be taken to reflect the opinions of any other persons, groups, or organizations. All text, excepting direct quotations, is owned by Magic Planet Anime. Do not duplicate without permission. All images are owned by their original copyright holders.

3 thoughts on “(REVIEW) The Clock Strikes Twelve for CALL OF THE NIGHT

  1. Pingback: Ranking Every 2022 Anime I Actually Finished from Worst to Best – Part 3 – The Magic Planet

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