Vampire Knight 9 by Matsuri Hino: C+

After the revelations in volume eight, the world of Vampire Knight goes—please pardon my indelicacy, but this is really the only way to put it—batshit crazy.

Pureblood vampire Rido Kuran (our villain) completes his resurrection and summons his followers to him. Said followers feel no compunction about snacking on the day class students of Cross Academy, so the noble vampires of the night class must protect them. Kaname challenges the vampire senate, Zero gains thorny super powers along with some self-control, Yuki squares off against Rido, and the Hunters Association arrives to exterminate the night class, but is held off by Headmaster Cross and his hunter pal, Toga.

This synopsis might make it seem as if the volume is action-packed, but “incoherent” is actually closer to the truth. I honestly have no idea why half of this stuff is going on. Perhaps it’s because it’s been three months since I read volume eight, but that just goes to show how little of this series is actually memorable beyond its main characters and its prettiness. Zero’s evolution is genuinely interesting, though, and makes for some cool moments near the end of the volume.

The art of this series is usually its best asset, but Hino’s style is far more suited for depicting pretty, angsty vampires than scenes of battle. Many times, I was left puzzled by what was happening—“‘Shunk?!’ What just went ‘Shunk?!’”—and kept confusing Rido and Toga, since they both have wavy shoulder-length black hair and an unruly forelock.

I am left to conclude that Vampire Knight is like a morsel of dark chocolate: its bittersweet taste lingers on your tongue while you’re consuming it, but its impact doesn’t last much beyond that moment.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Vampire Knight 8 by Matsuri Hino: B

vampireknight8Have you ever seen anyone claim, in defense of Vampire Knight, “It gets better! Wait until you get to chapter 35!”? Well, it turns out that they’re half right.

Chapter 35 is a game-changer, with the full details of Yuki’s forgotten past coming to light along with unexpected revelations and their attendant complications. I found part of what occurs easy to predict, given the final moments of volume seven, but was genuinely surprised by a few things and absolutely delighted by Zero’s tortured reaction. (And yes, I am being terribly vague on purpose. It really is that big of a spoiler.)

However, I wouldn’t say that the series is necessarily better as a result of this dramatic turn. Kaname’s evil relative, Rido, has emerged as the villain of the piece, but he’s a recent addition and woefully undeveloped. Shifting allegiances are tough to pin down, Kaname behaves inscrutably, and the political maneuverings of the vampire realm can be confusing.

These flaws aren’t anything new—and are ameliorated somewhat by the gorgeous art—so I’d advise against developing unrealistically high expectations. Shocking developments aside, volume eight essentially offers more of the same.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Vampire Knight 5-7 by Matsuri Hino: B

vampireknight5Vampire Knight is a series with a plot that makes sense while you’re reading it, but is difficult to summarize in a coherent manner. In these three volumes, the story moves away from Zero and his angst to focus more squarely on Yuki, who is increasingly more insistent upon uncovering her missing memories. She correctly surmises that Kaname is hiding things from her and confronts him several times, only to have him evade the question. Meanwhile, whenever she attempts to remember on her own, she experiences blood-drenched hallucinations. Her visions get progressively worse, prompting Kaname to whisk her away at the end of volume seven with the words, “It’s time to wake up… before you go mad.”

vampireknight6Other things are going on in the background: political factions in the vampire world are at odds over their government, with some wanting to restore the monarchy (which would make Kaname king) and others in support of the senate; Zero is suspected of killing a pureblood vampire, but is not actually the culprit; Ichiru, Zero’s brother, enrolls at Cross Academy with the apparent goal of doing something nefarious to Yuki; and, most importantly, a rival heir to the Kuran lineage awakens and inhabits the body of his son, currently attending the school. This last personage is shaping up to be the main villain of the piece, and it’s likely that Kaname has taken various steps to both up his own power and increase Yuki’s status amongst his brethren (by acknowledging her as his lover, he essentially guarantees her a vampire guard) all in order to protect her from this creepy foe.

vampireknight7As it has progressed, the story of Vampire Knight has become increasingly engaging, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m addicted by this point. Zero has stabilized somewhat—a drink of Kaname’s blood, offered solely for Yuki’s sake, has stalled the progress of his insanity—while Kaname has grown both darker and more vocal about his feelings for Yuki, declaring his love for her outright at one point. Hino has also stopped writing scenarios in which Yuki blindly rushes into a dangerous situation and then promptly requires rescue. In these three volumes, it only happens once. These factors combine to make Kaname’s feelings for Yuki more believable, thus enabling me to be more invested in their interactions, which are growing progressively more sexay. I wouldn’t say yet that I actually like Yuki, but at least I no longer feel the desire to grab her by the shoulders and shake vigorously.

The art continues to be gorgeous, dark and gloomy and full of beautifully despondent boys. Hino’s also adept at cliffhangers; the one at the end of volume seven is the most suspenseful yet. While it may not be the best shojo series in existence, Vampire Knight offers an appealing blend of angst and gloom that has me hooked.

Vampire Knight 1-4 by Matsuri Hino: B-

vampireknight1The first memory Yuki Cross can remember happened ten years ago when she was five: she’s attacked by one vampire but saved by another, the beautiful and pureblooded Kaname. Kaname brings the human girl to the home of a human he knows and his frequent visits throughout her childhood result in her growing very attached to him. Six years later, the introduction of a boy named Zero, sole survivor of a vampire attack against his vampire-hunting family, diverts Yuki’s attentions from Kaname somewhat, since she’s compelled to try to cure Zero of his misery and hatred. When Yuki’s adopted father decides to open Cross Academy as a way to foster peaceful relations between humans (the day class) and vampires (the night class), the three central characters attend, with Zero and Yuki serving as the disciplinary committee (tasked with keeping the peace as well as the secret about the true nature of the students in the night class) and Kaname as the main draw for the vampire contingent, since it turns out purebloods inspire devotion amongst their brethren.

vampireknight2Yuki still carries a torch for Kaname, even confesses to yearning for him, but she’s also very protective of Zero, especially when she learns his secret: as a result of the pureblood’s bite he suffered as a child, he’s turning into a vampire. What’s more, vampires that used to be humans are fated to go insane, at which time they’re hunted down by the vampire elite. Yuki, in earnest shoujo heroine fashion, declares that she will not let this happen and offers Zero her blood so that he may satisfy his cravings without preying on others. Kaname isn’t keen on this arrangement—uttering the gem of a line, “I can’t keep my composure when my dear girl has been pierced by someone else”—and knows he should rightly be preparing to hunt Zero down, but looks the other way because Zero’s the only one in the day class who could protect Yuki if danger should ensue. Aside from the introduction of the vampire responsible for killing Zero’s family, this is essentially where matters stand at the end of the fourth volume.

vampireknight3Thus far, Vampire Knight is an exceptionally pretty bowl of angsty soup that offers a sprinkling of legitimately good scenes amidst a broth of cheesy and/or eyeroll-inducing ones. Yuki is a big problem, since she is completely and totally ineffectual. She’s one of those types who’ll rush headlong into a dangerous scene, usually intent on helping, and make matters worse by getting attacked or having her anti-vampire gun plucked from her grasp within two seconds of her arrival. She’s got a special weapon—the Artemis Rod—and occasionally demonstrates feats of athletic prowess, but proves incapable of saving herself time and time again. One wonders why on earth this dismally dim girl has two hot vampire boys competing for her affections.

The boys are somewhat more compelling, though not exactly likable. Zero is perpetually unhappy and often sour in disposition, though Yuki’s fretting on his behalf occasionally inspires brief displays of affection. I don’t begrudge him his angst—he is turning into the thing he hates, after all—but his seemingly constant vampireknight4dilemma about whether to give up or try to keep living for Yuki’s sake doesn’t do much for me. Kaname, for his part, is refined yet inscrutable. Even dialogue like, “I can’t bear losing you. Ever.” doesn’t manage to convince me that he’s in any sort of real emotional turmoil. The enjoyable flashbacks in volume three help somewhat to establish his connection with Yuki, though not greatly.

And yet, Vampire Knight possesses attributes that make it not only readable, but also somewhat of a guilty pleasure. For one, the art is very lovely, with bishounen eye candy galore. It’s slathered with screen tone, something I don’t normally like, but that ultimately works well in cultivating a gloomy and oppressive mood. Too, Hino occasionally creates scenes of surprising sexiness and drama, like the first time Zero drinks Yuki’s blood or the shocking final pages in volume four. This series may be blatantly silly at times, but as long as my (awesome) local library continues to carry it, I’m likely to keep reading.

Wanted by Matsuri Hino: C+

In the late seventeenth century, orphaned Armeria sings with a traveling musical troupe. Luce, the nephew of the wealthy governor at whose estate she is performing, is the first aristocrat to treat her kindly, and when he is subsequently captured by pirates, the young girl resolves to find and rescue him. Eight years later, Armeria has finally found the ship of the pirate responsible and, disguising herself as a boy, ventures aboard to find out what has become of her first love.

If you’re reminded of the plot of The Princess Bride, then you should be, because there are some similarities. Wanted is a far less coherent and satisfying story, however. It’s more like a series of vignettes—the one with the navy, the one with the map to a rare musical score—than anything else, and cuts off with disappointing abruptness.

It definitely has some good points: secrets that would normally be used to prolong angst are revealed early on, there are some genuinely fun moments, and the deckhands are pretty entertaining. On the negative side, Skulls is fond of nearly ravishing Armeria and tells her she’s useless far too often for my liking. The fact that she often proves him right by constantly requiring rescue just makes things worse.

As a final note, the bonus story at the end should be avoided at all costs; it manages to be confusing and dull simultaneously, which is not a winning combination.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.