Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vampire Knight (manga, vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino

Yuki Cross is a member of the Disciplinary Committee at Cross Academy and a Day Class student. She and the other member of the Disciplinary Committe, Zero Kiryu, have been given the task of keeping the Day Class away from the Night Class as much as possible, not an easy task considering the beauty of the members of the Night Class. What most of the Day Class students don't know is that the Night Class is composed of vampires - the headmaster of Cross Academy hopes that this school can foster peace between humans and vampires. This volume introduces the main characters and sets up a lot of the relationships between the characters.

Kaname Kuran, a pureblood vampire, found and rescued a bloody and amnesiac 5-year-old Yuki from a vicious vampire. Since that day, Yuki has had something of a crush on Kaname. Yuki was adopted by the headmaster of Cross Academy, and their "family" grew a bit when the headmaster took in Zero, whose entire family was killed by vampires. Although Yuki has a crush on Kaname, she also cares for Zero, which complicates things. In addition, Zero is hiding a terrible secret.

I first started reading this series in the magazine Shojo Beat, so I know a bit more about where the plot is going to go than is revealed in this volume. As far as the artwork goes, this is a lovely manga. Hino does a wonderful job at capturing the beauty of her vampires. Even when Kaname and Zero do things that I don't like (I believe one of the editors for Shojo Beat mentioned that Zero's nickname among some of the staff is "Neck Rapist" - he earns that nickname in this volume, by the way), I can still appreciate their character designs. I recently found out that this series has been made into an anime that I think has only just started airing in Japan - I hope that it eventually makes its way to the US, because I think this would be an enjoyable series to see in action and in color.

As far as the story goes, it's sometimes hard to tell what Hino is trying to do. I've never seen any of Hino's other works, but her freetalks in the sidebars of this volume indicate that she's mostly done romantic comedies. It's still possible to see that influence in Vampire Knight, which is part of the reason why this volume is so odd. It's clear that Hino is trying to write a serious story, with dark character pasts and lots of blood. However, there are lots of panels in this first volume where Yuki and Zero are like some kind of comedy team. The headmaster is also a big source of comedy, as he teases Zero, gushes over Yuki, and sparkles with the force of his apparently naive dream to promote peace between humans and vampires. The difference between the more light-hearted scene and the darker scenes is so great that the more infrequent light-hearted scenes become jarring.

Readers who are looking for a lot of action may be disappointed by this series. Although there are occasional action scenes throughout this first volume (and later in the series), the focus is on character development and the relationships between the characters, making this a slower-paced story than some might expect.

I'm sure every reader will have their own preferences for how things should turn out with Yuki and her guys (at this point, Zero and Kaname - no idea if the number will grow). Despite my love of tragic characters like Zero, I, personally, am rooting for Kaname - he's just so cool and elegant. I do worry, though, since there are indications, even this early in the series, that Kaname might not be the nice, trustworthy vampire Yuki thinks he is. I sometimes wonder if he wasn't responsible for whatever it was the wiped 5-year-old Yuki's memory - if, in some later volume, I find out that he was, I imagine I'll end up siding with Zero. Until then, yay for the long-haired vampire aristocrat!

As far as the extras go, there's author freetalks in the sidebars focusing on how Hino developed this series and its characters, notes on the Day Class uniform, a 3-page humorous continuation of the volume focusing on the Night Class, a few humorous 4-panel comics, notes explaining the kanji used in several characters' names (Aido Hanabusa, Kain Akatsuki, Souen Ruka, Kiryu Zero, and Kuran Kaname), plus notes on a couple terms (-sama, Xocolatl).

I kind of wish that the notes for the names had gone into a little more depth - as far as I can tell, the order of the names in the notes reflects the original Japanese order (Kuran Kaname), while the order used in the manga reflects Shojo Beat's decision to use a Western order (Kaname Kuran). This sort of thing is really confusing, especially when Shojo Beat decides not to even mention anything about their decision to go with a Western name order everywhere but in the explanations in the back. Another thing I would've liked is a few cultural notes - I believe that the magazine had several useful notes that weren't included in this volume (like a little bit about Kaname's comment to Yuki: "You always speak so formally to me. It makes me feel a little lonely...").

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - This bloody and action-packed series focuses on the two non-human members of the Hellsing Organization, an English vampire-extermination group: Alucard, an anti-hero and ancient and powerful vampire, and Seras Victoria, a police officer-turned-vampire. In the anime series, the Hellsing Organization deals with random murderous vampires and tries to stop someone who is creating artificial vampires. Those who'd like something that focuses more on vampires and lots of bloody action might like this anime series. This anime was inspired by a manga series, and there's also an anime OVA that is more closely based on the manga than this TV series - however, both the manga and the OVA glory in bloodshed even more than the TV series does, so they might not appeal to fans of Vampire Knight quite as much.
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another romantic fantasy series featuring a nice and determined heroine and lots of characters with secrets might like this series. Both Vampire Knight and Fruits Basket have a mixture of drama and humor, but Fruits Basket takes a lot longer to get darker than Vampire Knight does. Several of the characters in Fruits Basket remind me of character in Vampire Knight: for instance, Shigure, a member of the Sohma family, is often like the headmaster, and Kyo and Yuki, other members of the Sohma family, share similarities with Zero.
  • The Awakening (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Vampire Diaries series. Elena is a beautiful, popular high school girl who is intrigued by Stefan, a brooding and mysterious newcomer who is the only one to ever resist her. Damon is Stefan's sexy and dangerous brother, who, in order to get revenge against Stefan, is willing to take Elena from him by whatever means necessary. What Elena doesn't know at first is that both Stefan and Damon are vampires - by getting closer to them, she's involving herself, her friends, and her family in their dangerous world. Those who'd like another story involving high school romance, vampires, and a brooding vampire character who hates what he's become might like this book and series.
  • Trinity Blood (anime TV series) - In a distant future, vampires and humans are at war. The Vatican has allies and a special group designed to keep the peace as much as possible and to protect humans. Abel Nightroad, a deceptively clumsy and absent-minded priest with a secret, travels from place to place as a representative of the Vatican. Esther, a young woman he meets, may be the key to peace between humans and vampires. Those who'd like another story that mixes humor, action, and drama and involves vampires might like this series.

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