Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Dark Hunters (OEL manga, vol. 1) story by Sherrilyn Kenyon, art by Claudia Campos

Synopsis:

Amanda wants nothing more than to be a normal person, in a normal family, living a normal life. Unfortunately, her family is anything but normal, and they've managed to chase off Cliff, the guy she was hoping to marry. That becomes the least of her worries when Desiderius, who is something called a Daimon (basically, a vampire who feeds on souls), kidnaps Amanda, thinking she's her twin sister, and chains her to a gorgeous leather-clad hunk.

The gorgeous leather-clad hunk, Hunter/Kyrian, quickly figures out that Amanda isn't who Desiderius thinks she is and does his best to get them both out of danger while simultaneously making wisecracks. Like Desiderius, Kyrian also appears to be a vampire, but he's really a Dark-Hunter, someone who is tasked with killing Daimons. Kyrian does his best to keep Amanda at arm's length, but it's hard for the two of them not to start bonding, what with being chained together.

Amanda just happens to know someone who can remove chains made by a Greek god, and that person just happens to be Julian, a friend of Kyrian's back when they were both human and living in ancient Greece. Amanda learns that Dark-Hunters are those who have given up their souls in return for vengeance - in Kyrian's case, he wanted vengeance against his wife, who had betrayed him to the Romans.

Once again, Kyrian tries to keep Amanda at arm's length, and once again it doesn't work out. Other Daimons have entered the fray, and they've destroyed Amanda's house. After making sure Amanda's friends and family are safe, Kyrian takes Amanda to his place, the only place where he can be sure she'll be safe. And that's where they finally start to succumb to the feelings that have been building between them since they met. Too bad that the warm fuzzy feelings they share together somehow manage to rob Kyrian of his powers - how will he protect Amanda now?

Commentary:

I used to gobble up Kenyon's books like potato chips, but, even when I still really loved them, I knew they had some serious flaws. One of those flaws is that they tend to be giant infodumps. Kenyon has built a very complex world, and she is incapable of communicating the details and rules of that world in a subtle, natural way, resulting in lengthy expository conversations and passages.

That problem carries over into this OEL manga adaptation of Kenyon's paranormal romance Night Pleasures (this title is not specifically mentioned anywhere on or in this volume that I can see, but that's definitely the book it's based on).

I think a one-shot OEL manga or OEL manga series based on Kenyon's Dark-Hunter world might have been ok, but I'm not sure anything short of a major re-write could have saved this Night Pleasures adaptation. Instead of focusing on the action, the romance, and/or the angst that Dark-Hunters practically drip with, instead of allowing the rules of Kenyon's world to naturally be revealed as the story progresses or just assuming that most of the people reading this OEL manga probably already have some familiarity with Kenyon's Dark-Hunter world, readers are treated to pages of the characters standing (or sitting) around and talking about as many world rules and character back-stories as possible.

This makes for some incredibly wordy pages in a format that usually tends to rely as much, if not more, on its artwork than its words. I know there's wordy manga out there, but I tend to think of American comics as being wordier than Japanese manga. And this book was trying so hard to be seen as Japanese manga - it's even in "traditional Japanese right to left manga format," rather than in the left to right format that would make more sense considering it was originally written in English. While the right to left design was done well enough that I actually didn't notice it at first (I am that used to reading right to left manga), I can't shake the feeling that those involved in the creation of this series/volume were trying a bit too hard to make it more "legitimate" for manga fans.

The long expository conversations don't just seem odd for the format, they also sacrifice the story in favor of world-building. By the end of this volume, Kyrian and Amanda have had a few longing-filled glances and "I'm attracted to you" moments and are to the point where they feel ok cuddling (in original book, replace "cuddling" with "having sex"), and Amanda says "It's like we're one--mind, and body, joined" without either of them cracking up. Except there hasn't really been much time for romance to develop. Amanda knows Kyrian's tragic back-story, Kyrian knows Amanda was considered a freak by her peers when she was younger because she foresaw the death of a friend (a back-story tidbit that swooped in practically out of the blue), they both had lots of adrenaline in their systems, and they're both good-looking. That's basically what their relationship is based on. I can't remember if the original book is much better in this regard, but I think the book's page count at least gives the reader more time to feel like they've gotten to know the characters.

And speaking of this being based on a romance novel... Kenyon's books have sex in them. That can be a touchy thing to deal with in a visual format, since there is always the potential to at least ramp the intended age group up, if not completely push the work into porn territory. Still, it's possible for a manga series to have sex without being explicit about it: Yuu Watase's Ceres: Celestial Legend is an example. Kenyon's books are intended primarily for adults. One would figure that those reading this OEL manga would either be people who read and enjoyed her books (the category I fall into) or people who enjoy manga and would likely look Kenyon up if they enjoyed this. According to the back of the volume, the intended audience is actually age 13 and up. I suppose that explains why, instead of a tastefully done sex scene, readers are given a cuddling scene. I wonder why this wasn't aimed at older teens?

This volume just has too many problems overall. There are story details that make no sense:

Why did Desiderius not just kill Amanda (who he thought was actually her Daimon-killing sister) and Kyrian? He chains them together on the assumption that Amanda would try to kill Kyrian, but what he's really doing is introducing the possibility of failure to his plan. It's just stupid.

Why did the Apollite queen become enraged when the Apollite woman sent to seduce Apollo had his son? Her idiot rage doomed all her people to either die at an early age or eat souls for the rest of their days.

Supposedly, Kyrian is not an idiot, so why did he stop to take a bath and have a glass of wine when he and his wife should have been using the extra time to get more distance between them and the Romans?

Some of these Moments of Stupid have explanations within the volume, but those explanations are pretty weak, in my opinion. If something is explained better in the original book...well, why? Shouldn't this work be able to stand on its own?

I wish I could say the artwork, at least, is solid, but it's not. It has some great moments - I love the panel where Talon is hit by an astral blast and Kyrian's facial expressions when he's being cocky are pretty good. Unfortunately, particularly as the volume progresses, Kyrian's design becomes really inconsistent. On one page, his features might be rounded and a bit boyish, while on another page his features might be sharper. The sharper-featured look was more common, and I preferred it more, but it was jarring for his "look" to change so much throughout a single volume. Also, even though I liked Kyrian's sharper-featured design, there were still things I didn't like about his character design. Like his eyes, or, to be more accurate, his eyelashes. They would have been the envy of any manga girl - it's a personal preference, but it's not a look I like for manga guys, especially tough, kick-butt manga guys. I didn't really have any feelings one way or another about Amanda's design, and I liked certain aspects of Talon's design, but I hated how Nick looked.

Getting back to the whole inconsistency thing, there were certain details in the artwork that could have used a bit more checking over before publication. For instance, a big deal is made of the fact that Kyrian has tons of scars, and Campos makes sure to draw them. Some of the time. Other times, the scars are gone, such as in the scene where Julian is taking care of Kyrian's wounds, or the scene were Kyrian meets Amanda after his bath. The scars should be there, but they aren't. At the beginning, a big deal is also made of Kyrian's black eyes. Even as Amanda notices they are black, they aren't black in the actual artwork. No, this work is not in color, but it's not hard to communicate "black" in black-and-white artwork. Sometimes Kyrian's eyes are black, sometimes they aren't. Kyrian has also mysteriously appearing pants at the end of chapter 6. Only moments after dropping his towel in front of Amanda and saying "Ancient Greeks never had a problem with public nudity," he is revealed to be wearing what appears to be pants.

It seems I am always disappointed by OEL manga/graphic novel adaptations of books, and this is no exception. If I continue on with this, it will probably be via ILL requests, and only because I want to see if it gets better once all the exposition has finally been dealt with. And also because I'd like to see what Campos comes up with for other character designs. I took a peek at the preview of the next volume, and it looks like she forgot (on purpose?) the hideous design she came up with for Nick in volume one, because he actually looks a bit more appealing and completely different from the way he was depicted in this volume.


Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - As much as Kyrian likes to make fun of this series, he talks like one of its characters, and, when he's not sitting around explaining his own tragic past or how his world works, he kicks "vampire" butt just like Buffy. This series has humor, romance, and action - give it a try if you haven't already.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - The book this OEL manga series is based on. However, if you're on the younger end of the intended audience for the manga, this book might be a bit much. Like I said in the commentary section, the OEL manga may not have sex, but this book certainly does.
  • Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives (OEL manga) - If you really are on the low end of the intended audience, you might like this, another series with vampires and romance. The main character is a Goth girl who likes all kinds of things no one else in her small town does. Much to her delight, a boy she is convinced must be a vampire moves in to town. I can't remember if this is the point at which this manga begins, but you get the idea - the focus is a Goth girl and her sexy-yet-nice-and-mostly-nonthreatening vampire boyfriend.
  • Vampire Hunter D (anime OVA) - Something about Kyrian's look reminded me of this, just a teenie, tiny bit. Please, Vampire Hunter D fans, don't pelt me with vegetables for that. Anyway, although I think I remember the girl in this having a crush on D, this is not a romance. It's all about action, gory stuff (or so I recall - I think I was in my teens the last time I saw this), and D being cool and kick-butt. For those who find this to be too old, there is a much newer movie, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, but I haven't seen it and don't know if it's any good.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is another book with a woman who starts off wanting to have nothing to do with all the paranormal stuff that gets dumped on her lap. In this book, the "paranormal stuff" includes a sexy dragon in human form who seems guaranteed to cause her nothing but trouble.

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