Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 17th 2012
Rosario + Vampire Season II
Tsukune Aono is the lone human attending a school for monsters, but somehow, he's made a few good friends (most of whom are female). Among them, none is more powerful than the vampire Moka, who keeps her powers sealed with a rosario around her neck. However, an organization named Fairy Tale has captured Moka, as they plan to use her to awaken the monster Alucard and wreak havoc on the human world. In order to get Moka back, Tsukune and his friends have been training with master wizard Tohofuhai. Now they're ready to infiltrate Fairy Tale headquarters—but the group's executive officers are incredibly strong. A lightning-powered wizard is Fairy Tale's first line of defense, and pain-loving witch Ruby will need every page in her spellbook to beat him! The further Tsukune and his friends venture, the more dangerous it gets—and with Moka so close by, Alucard could be awakening any moment now...
The transformation is complete. No, not the one where Tsukune gains supernatural powers and becomes strong enough to save Moka, but the transformation of Rosario + Vampire Season II from episodic school comedy to all-out action saga. After the chaos of the last several chapters—family rivalries, epic flashbacks, evil intruders—Volume 10 gives the series a brand new sense of purpose: save the girl and save the world. It seems like a promising direction at first, with deadly new enemies and a doomsday countdown aboard a flying fortress ... but eventually it turns into a grind of one magical battle after another. Worst of all, it looks like the grind is going to stretch well past this volume.
The new story arc doesn't even jump into the action all that quickly. Before Tsukune and company can wage war against Fairy Tale, they spend time hashing out their strategy and discussing his training—not to mention goofing off with the girls for a bit. There's also a brief sidestep into what Moka has been doing during her imprisonment. A little back-story about the villains' plans always helps, but the presentation here is weak: it comes with a lot of fantasy-babble about how Alucard will be awakened by Moka's magic, along with some typical sneering and scheming from the head honcho.
The battle doesn't start in earnest until almost halfway through, when Tsukune's forces infiltrate Fairy Tale headquarters and immediately have to start dodging the enemy. Early on, there seems to be an element of strategy: How can they avoid being detected? How can they reach Moka while running into a minimum number of guards? However, once Raika the lightning wizard shows up, the predictable story formula is revealed. Each of Fairy Tale's top fighters will show up one by one, and Tsukune's allies must battle them in drawn-out duels, just like every other fighting series. Ruby and Raika's fight is exciting enough, with its elaborate spells, counterattacks, and one dramatic turnabout after another—but we all know who's going to win, and the only question is how. At least the next fight tries something different by making it kind of a two-on-two battle, and introducing an unexpected rival—but the resolution won't come until the next book.
In the meantime, the story tries to remind us of the driving force behind all this: the rescue mission for Moka (which mostly involves running down nondescript hallways), as well as the impending revival of Alucard. But with these plot points only being addressed by brief, two-page interludes every chapter or so, it looks like big, blockbuster battles have all but taken over.
If it's any consolation, the action-packed storyline does allow plenty of room for showy, detailed artwork. This volume has its share of eye-candy moments in each chapter, from the flying fortress that houses Fairy Tale, to Ruby's imaginative spellcasting, to the villains' own destructive displays of power. Even the occasional glimpses of Alucard are awe-inspiring, with its dragon-like form always lurking in the shadows. However, the visual style is only impressive when looking at static poses, landscapes or character designs; putting them into motion is a challenge that Rosario + Vampire has never been particularly good at. Just look at scenes where the characters are supposed to be running, or physically attacking each other—there's always some stiffness to the pose, as if the characters were afraid to really stretch out their limbs. Speedlines, explosions and lightning effects help to add energy, but when the underlying structure is flawed, there's only so much these surface embellishments can do. At least the panel layouts are varied enough to make the scenes flow naturally across the page—even if it does look like the characters are just pasted on top of the backgrounds a lot of the time.
With magical battles telling much of the story (and a world-domination scheme telling the other side), most of the dialogue in this volume is just an afterthought. The greatest effort probably goes into coming up with attack names, and no matter how they're translated, these lines are always going to be hilariously campy—there's not much you can do with a finishing move called "Extreme Thunder Lightning." Aside from that, the script boils down to Tsukune and friends telling each other how important it is to fight hard, the bad guys laughing about how strong they are, and everyone explaining specifically how their attacks work. In other words, just another action manga with the same writing style everyone else uses. If anything, the sound effects are trickier to translate: this is a particularly "noisy" series, and with all the effects being edited into English, the changes look pretty conspicuous—especially when the lettering stretches across an entire panel.
As the series shifts into all-out action mode, Rosario + Vampire Season II creates plenty of excitement with fancy magical battles, near-unbeatable opponents, and the threat of an impending apocalypse. But there are just as many other series that can do the same, and this one fails to differentiate itself from the crowd. It may hold an advantage with detailed, special-effects-laden artwork and striking monster designs—but what else is special about it? Battling the chief villain's lieutenants one by one? Coming back from near-death to achieve a turnabout victory? Everyone else does that already. This manga started out as mediocre romantic comedy, and now it's gone to mediocre fantasy action. So much for that transformation—let's just get these battles over with so Tsukune can rescue the girl of his dreams and go home.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Creates plenty of excitement with grand displays of sorcery, fearsome monsters, and dramatic back-and-forth battles.
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