Monday, August 22, 2011

Blood Alone, Omnibus Collection 1 (manga, vols. 1-3) by Masayuki Takano

Synopsis:

Misaki is a young vampire who lives with Kuroe, a young man who makes a living by writing novels and occasionally agreeing to do things like finding a person's lost cat. From what I could tell, he doesn't seem to be all that hard up for money, so I guess his books sell well.

Kuroe apparently used to be a vampire hunter (and a police detective?). Because of an injury Kuroe suffered when he tried to save his sister from being killed (?) by a vampire, his eyes are immune to vampire tricks. I'm assuming he became Misaki's companion/guardian not long after she was turned into a vampire.

A few chapters in this omnibus deal with supernatural-related things: a killer who can move to a new body after the body he's currently in dies; Kuroe worrying that Misaki might be killing people in secret; an assassin on the run from the Insegrod Sparuda, a league of vampiric assassins and mercenaries. However, most of the chapters read like something from a slice-of-life series: Misaki trying to find a lost cat; Sainome (a police officer?) trying to process her feelings of resentment and anger towards her father after his death; Misaki trying to figure out what to do when Kuroe gets sick. The description on the back of this omnibus volume is misleading, making it seem like it's more vampire/supernatural-focused than it really is.

Review:

I finished this several weeks ago and have been debating what to write about it since then. Prior to reading Katherine Dacey's review of this omnibus collection, I didn't know much about this series other than that I thought the cover looked kind of pretty. Dacey's review and all the various comments made me curious to see what I would think about this series.

Dacey's post does a good job, I think, of laying out the concerns some might have with how Misaki and her relationship with Kuroe is presented. This is one of those times where I kind of wish I could rewind time and read this manga before reading a review about it, because I honestly can't say if I would have thought much about Misaki and Kuroe's relationship if Dacey's review hadn't made me hyper-aware of it.

Ever since I was a teen, I've read works in which young heroines fell in love with older heroes. I don't think Misaki's crush on Kuroe would have struck me as that unusual, particularly since Kuroe seems just about perfect – nice, protective, and concerned about Misaki's feelings. I don't think Misaki's little girl behavior would have struck an “off” note with me, either. Bumbling, girlish girls like her can be found in a lot of different manga, and certain details leave readers to assume that Misaki's true age and her physical age are pretty close.

I do think that, even if I hadn't read Dacey's review, I would have cocked a brow at Sainome's reaction to Misaki and Kuroe's relationship. Sainome seems to be attracted to Kuroe, but views getting his attention as a battle she has already lost to Misaki – basically, she and Misaki are presented as romantic rivals, and, although Sainome is closer to Kuroe's age, Misaki has already essentially won. When Sainome learns that Misaki and Kuroe really do sleep in the same bed (because Misaki is scared of ghosts and things, according to Kuroe), she's not particularly shocked or upset – it's just another example of how Misaki is closer to Kuroe, even though Sainome has known him longer.

Compared to Dacey, I definitely didn't have a strong negative reaction to Misaki and her relationship with Kuroe, but I also had a different point of comparison. Like others, one of the first things I thought of when I read Dacey's review was Dance in the Vampire Bund. I've only seen the anime and have no desire to read the manga. While the story interested me, I was extremely turned off by the way Mina and Mina's relationship with Akira were presented. Physically, Mina was essentially a sexualized child. Although Akira at first scoffed at the idea of being attracted to a flat-chested child, he eventually did declare his love for her. I can at least say that Blood Alone is not at the level of Dance in the Vampire Bund in this regard. I think that what Takano was going for was not “sexy,” but rather “sweet.” Misaki's crush on Kuroe, Kuroe's protectiveness and affection for Misaki, Kuroe being willing to go on “dates” with Misaki even though he supposedly doesn't notice Misaki's crush on him – everything involving Misaki and Kuroe is supposed to be sweet and cute. That puts it several steps above Dance in the Vampire Bund, in my book. I never got the feeling that I might need brain bleach at some point.

For me, the main failing of these 3 collected volumes was not the way Misaki was presented or the almost-romance between her and Kuroe, but rather that the story was kind of boring. There seems to be some kind of overarching story, something to do with Misaki and how she and Kuroe came to be companions, but the pacing is slow and strange.

It's like what Takano really wanted to do was write a slice-of-life series. A good chunk of the 3 volumes wouldn't be out of place in a story about the everyday life of an ordinary guy taking care of a young girl. So far, Misaki isn't much of a vampire. She can't go out in the sun, if she's in real danger then her Straruda (“the element in a vampire's blood that gives them their powers” - it manifests itself a bit like another personality) kicks in, and she has the ability to bend a person to her will. However, she tends to forget she has powers, and in the entire 3 volumes there's only one time she's in enough danger that her Straruda kicks in. Mostly, she just goes around acting like a cute little girl, blushing and sighing over Kuroe and getting a bit jealous whenever she thinks others are interested in him.

There are two other recurring characters who are vampires, Sly and Higure. Sly is so far little more than someone Misaki can go to when she needs information. He's not an enemy and he occasionally worries about Misaki, but he doesn't go out of his way to help her or keep her safe. Higure is more interesting to me. Physically, he looks at least as young as Misaki, and he can act young and cute when he wants to, but, unlike Misaki, I never got the feeling that he could have just as easily been replaced by a regular human boy. He seems to enjoy chatting with Misaki, but Kuroe is wary around him, and Higure seems to view humans with a certain amount of mental and emotional distance. He likes having them around, but he understands very well that he isn't like them and will outlive them. Misaki, on the other hand, seems to think of herself as being mostly a human girl.

I would love it if future volumes took a deeper look at Higure and Misaki, particularly if there is more to Misaki than just the cute girl who had something scary happen to her in the past. I would also love it if, in general, the series focused more on supernatural-related things, with the slice-of-life stuff being just short, quiet breaks between tenser, darker chapters. Blood Alone's few action scenes were terrible and occurred more often during chapters dealing more with darker, supernatural stuff, but otherwise those chapters were some of my favorite in the omnibus collection.

I'm currently not sure whether I will continue this series. From the comments left on Dacey's post, it sounds like volume 4, at least, might be worth my time, so I might read that before deciding to quit or continue. I don't know if future volumes will go in the kinds of directions that would interest me, but it's not entirely encouraging that it took Takano 3 volumes to accomplish so little.

Extras:

A 1-page glossary at the beginning lists some of the vampire-related terms used throughout the omnibus volume and explains what they mean. Thank goodness most of these words didn't come up often, because it usually wasn't easy to figure out what these words meant without the glossary.

Not really Blood Alone extras, but still worth a mention: After the 3 Blood Alone volumes, there are several Vampire Cheerleaders character pages and a 12-page preview of the Gunslinger Girl manga.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund (manga) by Nozomu Tamaki; Dance in the Vampire Bund (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another story starring a physically young vampire and her beloved protector may want to check this out. Like I said, I've seen the anime but haven't read the manga it's based on. The story is better and more interesting than Blood Alone's story, but enjoying this series requires that one have a certain tolerance for the way Mina, the main vampire character, is presented. I've written about the anime, so you can take a look at my post for further details if you're interested. Keep in mind that I only saw the censored version of the anime.
  • Vampire Princess Miyu (manga) story by Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano (from volume 2), art by Narumi Kakinouchi - There are also a couple anime versions, neither of which I know anything about. This series is more focused on horror and supernatural elements than Blood Alone, and Miyu is definitely not a cute, bumbling little girl, but, from what I can remember, the series has a similar slow pace and episodic feel. I don't remember there being any romance, although those who are so inclined could view Larva, Miyu's handsome and mysterious companion (guardian?), as a potential love interest.
  • Mushishi (manga) by Yuki Urushibara; Mushi-Shi (anime TV series) - I've so far only seen a couple episodes of the TV show, but what I saw looked excellent, lovely, and slow-paced. Had Takano achieved a good melding of quiet slice-of-life moments and supernatural elements, it might have looked something like this. For those who'd like another supernatural story and don't care if it doesn't feature vampires, this might be a good series to try.
  • Yotsuba&! (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma - I'm not sure if this series would have occurred to me as a read-alike if I hadn't read Dacey's review. Like Blood Alone, it stars a young girl who lives with an older man who's not related to her. However, there is no element of romance in the relationship - Yotsuba is a very young girl who has no known family members, and the man she's living with is basically acting as her adoptive father. It's a slice-of-life series, so nothing much happens, but it's cute, sweet, and enjoyable all the same.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Were you disappointed that there were very few chapters featuring supernatural elements and showcasing Kuroe's abilities to fight supernatural foes? If so, then this series might be for you. Like Blood Alone, this series stars a vampire (Chiropteran) and her protector. This is a more action-oriented series, but it's still kind of slow-paced compared to a lot of action series out there. The main character believes, at first, that she's an ordinary human girl, until her happy and relatively normal life is disrupted. In order to save everyone, including what's left of her family, she must remember who she used to be and how to fight.

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