Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 26th 2009
GN 12 and 13
Though they have professed their love and commitment, Karin still has doubts about her relationship with Usui because of various realities about human/vampire pairings. As she and Usui overcome their final hurdles and achieve their first kiss, though, things are happening around them. Fumio gets called away over health concerns about Usui's grandmother, Yuriya's uncle comes to town with a scheme in mind that involves Karin, and most importantly, Calera returns home with the truth about what Karin's highly unusual (by vampire standards) traits actually signify. Being a vampire who can walk during the day, lacks most vampire powers, and produces blood rather than feeding on it marks Karin as a legendary Fountain of Psyche, a tragic figure destined to play a key role in the survival of vampires as a species, though at the cost of her own life. It also makes her highly valuable to certain vampire parties, hence the effort by Glark (Yuriya's uncle) to kidnap Karin from the Marker family's protection. As the Markers and Usui desperately try to rescue Karin, Usui finds that he has help from an unexpected and yet quite familiar source.
As the manga known in Japan as Karin approaches its conclusion (volume 14 will be the last), story elements that have long been percolating beneath the surface have increased to a boil and converged to create the most dramatic turn of events yet in the series. The story has generally just matter-of-factly accepted that Karin was an oddball amongst vampires as a basic premise point, but now manga-ka Yuna Kagesaki has revealed that there is, in fact, an actual reason why Karin is so different from the norm for her species. And it's quite a doozy, too.
While it may be tempting to suspect that Kagesaki did not have this worked out when she started the series, in retrospect signposts pointing at least vaguely in this direction existed at least as far back as volume 5, when the problem with low vampire fertility rates was first mentioned and other vampires first speculated about why James Marker (Elda's husband and Karin's grandfather) brought Calera into the family. Side stories since then have dropped hints that James had specific ulterior motives for bringing Calera, and her family's distinctive heritage, into his family, and the revelations of these two volumes certainly suggest that something like Karin's existence coming about may have been part of his intent all along. Karin's nature – in particular the way her blood invigorates those whom she bites – also falls a little too neatly into the overall scheme for this destination to have been retrofitted. If something this intricate really has been lurking under the surface since Page One, though, then it gives further reason to respect Kagesaki's writing. Romantic comedies often work better when framed by a Big Picture, and this one has now proven that it has one, too. Conspicuously unaddressed, though, is one question that has doubtless occurred to many fans: if Karin really is what she's believed to be, wouldn't her blood also be the solution to Yuriya's little “problem?”
The plot point about Karin being the Psyche is not the only interesting little secret to pop up in this span of chapters, however. Back in volumes 7 and 8 an alternate version of Karin popped up in Kenta's dreams after Karin bit him for the first time, occurrences which, at the time, seemed like an innocuous consequence of Karin's unique nature. Developments in volume 13 strongly suggest that a lot more is involved with this “dream Karin,” however. One more secret remains, it seems, and resolving that may, perhaps, be the “final twist” referenced in the Next Volume preview.
During these two volumes several vampires pop up who may seem new, but astute reviewers will recall that Glark, Bridget Brownlick, and Elsman (as well as the other unnamed vampires at the end of volume 13) all appeared at least briefly during the annual meeting scene in volume 5 and Calera's parents appeared in one of the Bonus Stories in volume 10, so these characters are not just being dropped in at the end for convenience's sake. Normally the former group would purely be the villains for their desire to use up what Karin has to offer at her expense, but given what is at stake for vampirekind it is hard to see them as actually evil. That also brings some interesting moral questions into play, but the series has never been entirely as shallow as it has appeared at times.
Not lost in all of this drama (and the occasional action scene that comes with it) are the romance and comedy elements which have always lain at the series' core. The central Karin/Usui romance sometimes becomes a little overwrought but still has its charm; the scene where Karin and Usui kiss for the first time, and both forget to breathe while doing so, is a classic. Likewise, the comedy elements still have their place, such as an aside in volume 13 about how Elda supposedly terrorized an entire generation of vampires or Fumio's comments about Usui's behavior towards Karin in volume 12. They are increasingly taking a back seat to the drama elements, however.
Kagesaki's artistry is not quite up to the same standard as her writing. Her distinctive style, especially in the character designs, remains, although in some places the body proportioning seems off. Her skill with action scenes is also erratic, with some such scenes being acceptably easy to follow while others are not. The color cover art continues to look sharp and eye-catching, however, and Kagesaki still has a good eye for paneling.
As with other releases in this series, Tokyopop leaves all of the sound effects untranslated and opens each volume with a brief character and plot recap. Each volume ends with several pages of behind-the-scenes four-panel strips and a Next Volume preview, while volume 13 also includes a 24-page preview of the upcoming manga Future Diary. Oddly, some copies of volume 12 lacked a good chunk of its first chapter due to some kind of printing/binding error.
Throughout the series run Chibi Vampire has always flirted with common teen romance conventions while offering enough flavor through its unique vampire lore to mark the series as something at least a bit different. These two volumes are no different, both for better and for worse. The story is not without its flaws, clichés, and eye-rolling moments, but the major plot developments are sure to leave fans too engrossed to care.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Major revelations, more intricate writing than may be initially apparent.
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