Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 3rd 2011
Rosario + Vampire Season II
Tsukune Aono's high school life is anything but ordinary: he's the sole human enrolled at Yokai Academy, a school for monsters, and he's surrounded by a harem of girls who all have supernatural abilities. Among them, none is more feared than the vampire Moka, who lets out her true powers when the rosario charm around her neck is taken off. As it turns out, that extra protection might be needed when Tsukune meets Fangfang Huang, a member of the Chinese mafia who wants to recruit him. Complicating things further is the arrival of Fangfang's sister Lingling, a zombie who sabotages the school sports festival in an attempt to take Tsukune away to China. Meanwhile, Tsukune's friends get into some chaos of their own when pint-sized witch Yukari accidentally swaps bodies with Fangfang, and Moka lets out her bloodthirsty inner self for a little longer than recommended.
Volume 5 of Rosario + Vampire Season II was supposed to have been the turning point. After countless chapters of clowning around, the storyline suddenly got caught up in an ambitious multi-chapter arc, with Tsukune and friends trying to save a troubled mother-daughter duo, battling a devious magical organization, and testing their own bonds of friendship in the process. Could it be that the series, as well as its airheaded cast of characters, was finally growing up?
Volume 6 answers that simply: No. Sorry, we were just kidding about all the drama. Everyone's back to being stupid and frivolous again.
Granted, Tsukune stops briefly in the first chapter to reflect on his future after those life-changing events—and that's about it as far as deep thoughts go. With the a school term beginning at Yokai Academy, everything reverts to predictable, lowbrow humor, told through shallowest plotlines possible. Sports days and body swaps? Come on, those scenarios were old ten years ago, and Akihisa Ikeda doesn't introduce any new gags that might freshen up those concepts. (Of course any teenage guy is going to check himself out when he realizes he's turned into a girl.) Even more unfunny, and bordering on offensive, are the new characters introduced in this volume: embarrassing Chinese stereotypes equipped with traditional costumes and goofy names. If Fangfang and Lingling make any contribution at all to the series, it's that they introduce readers to the grimoire of Chinese monsters. Aside from that, however, they serve only as nuisances to the main cast, and not very entertaining ones at that.
With the humor so poorly handled, the only other hope is for the series' soft, emotional side to turn out something inspiring—but it looks like Ikeda already used up his heartstring-tugging quota last volume. The book's first half is so busy making a big deal out of the newcomers that Tsukune never gets any special alone-time with his girls, while the remaining chapters are clumsy in their sentimentality. The body-swap chapter ends with an affirmation of friendship between Tsukune and Yukari, but the lead-up to that moment is too contrived to feel genuine. Then comes a chapter where Tsukune spends an entire school day with "inner Moka," and while it does reveal some insights into her character (like Moka's eyebrow-raising culinary skills), the entire chapter lacks dramatic weight until the surprising cliffhanger at the end. This finale sets up what will hopefully be a more promising Volume 7—but why did we have to wade through 160 pointless pages to get to it?
The artwork also remains firmly mired in a pit of mediocrity, and this time even the "Ikeda draws really awesome monsters" excuse doesn't absolve it. None of the chapters in this volume features any particularly impressive beasts, aside from a phoenix summoned by Fangfang when he first shows up. Sure, there are some other eye-catching moments like the over-the-top action in the sports festival, and some slapstick pratfalls as Yukari tries to get her body back and Moka tears up the Home Ec classroom, but these don't showcase the best of Ikeda's artistic ability. The visuals are further hampered by a style-over-substance approach: the characters are drawn with clean, sharp lines and plenty of detail, but their faces and poses always look stiff—even in a high-speed action scene, they look like mannequins standing in place. The backgrounds, too, are so precisely rendered that they look like they were traced in. Despite all the clean, carefully laid out panels, these images lack an essential spark of life.
As expected, even the dialogue and resulting translation have been infected by the series' low standards: readers will find maybe one clever line in the entire book as Tsukune and friends desperately try (and fail) to shoot off funny comebacks at each other. Either they try too hard (a haiku is a bit much for a punchline), or the gags are chauvinistic and crude, or they just keep screaming about how everything weird is in the vain hope that it will sound humorous. The serious side of the story doesn't fare much better, with the characters spilling out simple, predictable lines about their adolescent feelings. Even the editing of the sound effects shows a lack of sophistication, with English translations placed quite conspicuously on the page where the Japanese text would have been. Then again, with the artwork as stiff and dry as it is, anything's going to look conspicuous and awkward.
If there was any hope that Rosario + Vampire Season II was going to develop into something more serious, those hopes are pretty much dashed by the brainless antics in this volume. Character growth? Multi-layered storylines? Ha ha, nice try! Here's some prefabricated sitcom scenarios and shallow adolescent humor instead. All right, so the very last page brings about a dramatic turn of events, and the characters' brief moments of personal reflection show that they're at least trying. But between the half-hearted storytelling and half-hearted artwork, this volume adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts. Here's one suggestion, though: if they can't get the comedy or the romance right, could we at least get the awesome monsters and magical pyrotechnics back?
Overall : D
Story : D
Art : C-
+ A sudden turn of events right at the end suggests better things to come.
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