- Text Size +
Author's Chapter Notes:

During my senior year of college, I took an English Lit. class on Decadence. It was one of the best classes I've ever taken; I loved every minute of it and it had a tremendous influence on me. Toward the end of the semester, the professor held a "Flowers of Evil" essay competition for which we were each asked to find a modern example of Decadence (a "flower of evil"), describe it, and explain exactly what made it decadent. Eroica was, of course, the first thing that came to my mind. ^_~

 I exaggerated certain things slightly for the purposes of the essay; in particular, I'm sure some people will think I've overstated Dorian's sadism. But other than that, I did my best to give an accurate representation (and endorsement) of the series.

This ended up winning "best essay," so the professor read portions of my essay in class and projected the Eroica images I'd provided for all to see. I was thrilled to be able to give a couple hundred of my fellow students an introduction to the series. ^_^ Incidentally, the prize was a dual-language edition of Death in Venice--in English and German. How appropriate.

Yasuko Aoike's shoujo (girls') manga series Eroica Yori Ai O Komete chronicles the exploits of Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria, also known as Eroica, a notorious art thief. Based physically on Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, named for Wilde's Dorian Gray, and taking his alias from his favorite Beethoven symphony, Eroica exudes Decadence, managing to distinguish himself even in a genre known for flamboyant male characters. His personal style is that of a postmodern dandy and every aspect of his life draws on some Decadent tradition.

The main source of conflict in the series is Eroica's relentless pursuit of Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, a German working for NATO. While Eroica is openly homosexual, Klaus is straight and extremely homophobic. It is clear that Eroica has no hope of winning him over, as Klaus always violently resists his advances, but the thief is relentless, constantly flirting and sometimes blatantly throwing himself at the other man. The first included sample of the manga shows one of Eroica's early attempts at baiting Klaus by comparing them to a rose vine and a wire rope, which he calls "a sadistically wonderful combination." Klaus responds in typical fashion with threats and insults. Other characters repeatedly voice their confusion as to why the thief refuses to give up; however, for Eroica, the answer is obvious. Constantly wanting Klaus and pursuing him means that his desire will never peak or be sated. Like Mallarmé's faun, Eroica knows that desiring the object of his lust is far better than having him. Also like the faun, Eroica has a penchant for collecting articles left behind by his love: their first encounter ends with Eroica's stealing Klaus's tank in an effort to better understand him and his interests.

Aside from chasing after Klaus, the most important part of Eroica's life is his career as an art thief. He is one of the idle rich, an English nobleman, and has no need for additional income. His reasons for stealing art are purely aesthetic. Eroica possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of art and is particularly interested in the Italian Renaissance and the Pre-Raphaelites. He believes that most of the world is composed of Philistines who cannot appreciate or understand the beauty of the art he so loves, and that these masterworks ought to belong to someone who will treasure them for more than their monetary value-so he takes them for himself. This in itself may not seem Decadent; indeed, men such as Pater and Wilde endeavored to create a better understanding of art rather than to hide it away from the unappreciative masses. However, Eroica's highly cultivated aesthetic sense, his extremely subjective response to art, and his artistic preferences are Decadent, as are his methods of stealing. Eroica is an extremely flamboyant thief, making no attempt at disguise and even leaving calling cards bearing his alias behind. He revels in his perversity and seeks to make each heist a beautiful work of art in itself. That he has not yet been captured is due as much to the authorities' admiration for his grace and style as to his skill.

In seeming contrast to his deep love and appreciation of art and beauty, Eroica possesses a distinct streak of sadism, reminiscent of Sacher-Masoch's Greek. He has had little exposure to violence prior to meeting Klaus and he would never willingly harm another being (although he can be extremely cruel in an emotional sense). However, he finds a strange, compelling beauty in the suffering of beautiful creatures, particularly the man he loves. This is best exemplified in the second manga sample, which shows Klaus being beaten by Mischa, one of his enemies. Eroica is meant to be frightened by this; instead, he appears to enjoy it, telling Mischa, "there's a ghastly romanticism in the blood of an iron man." Eroica is eventually able to trick Mischa and his men into leaving, at which point he claims that his remarks about the satisfaction of his "aesthetic sense" were all a bluff. This is doubtful, however, given that he repeatedly shows an interest in Klaus's physical suffering throughout the series. Eroica also takes great delight in manipulating the emotions of those around him, often toying with them like a cat with a mouse. He is far more subtle than the Greek, but it cannot be denied that he is truly sadistic.

Finally, Eroica displays Decadence in his daily life by his devotion to dandyism. He truly takes to heart Wilde's admonition to "be a work of art, or wear a work of art" (Aldington 740). Each article of his clothing and jewelry is carefully selected to create a specific effect, depending on where he is going and whom he expects to see. He can often be seen dressed in the style of the Victorian dandy, complete with high collar and boutonniere; however, his attire generally represents an updated, somewhat more outlandish version of the dandy's wardrobe. He frequently wears gauzy shirts, elaborately draped tunics, long cloaks, and complicated hats. Equally often, he appears in extremely tight pants, high boots, and sleeveless shirts. Even the catsuits he wears as a thief are designed less for concealment than to show off his body, and he always accents them with gauzy scarves or some other eye-catching accessory. Like Sacher-Masoch's Greek, he always appears leonine and beautiful, as well as somewhat effeminate-he also occasionally dresses as a woman, although he is not as convincing as the Greek. Additionally, in true dandy fashion, Eroica's conversation is unfailingly artful and well crafted. He has a witticism for every occasion and is very seldom caught off-guard. He carefully maintains the façade of a beautiful and highly educated but shallow socialite and does his best to keep the art from revealing too much of the artist.

In every aspect of his life, Eroica radiates Decadence. His attitude toward desire echoes that of Mallarmé's faun and his devotion to art and beauty makes him worthy of his Wildean name. His sadistic side causes him to see beauty in pain and emotional suffering, although he does not pursue it with the intense physical cruelty of the Greek of Venus in Furs. Above all, his style of dress and his carefully crafted persona mark him as a dandy, intent on making every look, every gesture, every remark a work of art.

Works Cited

Aldington, Richard and Weintraub, Stanley, ed. The Portable Oscar Wilde. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. "The Afternoon of a Faun."

Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von. Venus in Furs. Trans. Neugroschel, Joachim. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

Yasuko Aoike, Eroica Yori Ai O Komete vol. 1 & 5. Japan: Akita, Princess Comics, 1978.

You must login (register) to review.