Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 13th 2009
Rosario + Vampire
Tsukune Aono is a normal student at a very abnormal school: an academy for monsters. Not only is the girl of his dreams a vampire, but he's also captured the attention of a succubus, a witch, and other attractive female creatures. However, girls are the last thing on Tsukune's mind as he and his friends try to stop a vengeful sorceress from destroying an entire city. Should he survive that ordeal, a whole new set of problems awaits Tsukune at the start of the new school term: he's been selected to take charge of the class for the school festival, a literal "ice queen" is stalking him, and some half-breed monsters are planning to take him down. Meanwhile, the vampire powers that Tsukune "borrowed" from his gal pal Moka are starting to take over him. Will he be able to cling to his humanity?
Maybe the shift from episodic school comedy to epic action fantasy was a bit too much for Rosario+Vampire. After the soaring Witch of the Knoll arc, where powerful characters and powerful emotions swirled into a perfect storm of sorcery, Volume 5 quickly reverts to the boy-meets-girl formula of earlier chapters. Of course, this is all fine and good for readers who were pulled in by the series' comfortable romantic-comedy antics, but after getting a taste of something grander, how could anyone not want more? Fortunately, the final chapter starts to hint at the danger that lurks within Tsukune's veins, but in between all this lies a hundred-odd pages of generic high school tomfoolery. The eye-candy factor makes it tolerable, but knowing that the series has the capacity for greatness makes it that much harder to settle for mediocre.
At the very least, this volume starts off with a bang—a bang that concludes the battle against the Witch of the Knoll. With magical powers and noble sacrifices and changes of heart, it's everything that one could expect from the finale of an extended fight sequence—which is also what makes it so despairingly predictable. There's even the obligatory sentimental wrapup scene, because it wouldn't be an epic fight without a Valuable Moral Lesson. Story mechanics aside, the other problem with this chapter is simply that it's divorced from the rest of the story arc. While it must have been a lot of fun during the monthly serialization, dramatic endings just don't make good beginnings in a compilation.
If poorly split story arcs seem like such a crime, though, just remember that there are far worse things ... like generic episodic content. Yes, the middle chapters feature yet another hot girl who's interested in Tsukune, and she's not even particularly appealing: this one's just a play on the "socially awkward stalker who does really creepy things for romantic attention" stereotype. Sure, there's a bit of a twist to the end of this story, but even that is based on a prefabricated plot element, and in the end, Tsukune walks out of the whole mess with another overeager female friend. Wow, didn't see that one coming.
The final chapter also revives the other half of the tired old boy-meets-girl formula: jealous guys who want to beat up Tsukune. For most of the chapter, it looks like the usual deus ex machina where Moka or Tsukune activate their vampire powers and fend off the menace, but at the last moment it shows some promise by revealing the shades of darkness that lurk in Tsukune's body. If this marks the start of another dramatic story arc, that would be a very welcome plot development after the dullness of the past few chapters.
Despite this volume's dip in quality, the artwork does remain consistent, although unspectacular. The character design for Tsukune is about as lazy as they come—shove in any other male protagonist from a harem series and nobody would notice too much—but things get more interesting as one works outward to the other characters. Tsukune's circle of girlfriends is distinctive, if predictable (the beauty, the boobs, the jailbait), and beyond that, the monsters he fights against are probably the most interesting aspect of Akihisa Ikeda's artistic repertoire. Combine those creature designs with intense, sharply angled battle scenes and we quickly see where Ikeda truly excels. Too bad he has to waste his talents on all that high school comedy stuff, because a pure action-fantasy (as proven by the Witch of the Knoll fight) would obviously suit the style better. The precise linework and attention to detail also show clear evidence of artistic skill, and maybe one day there'll also be the creativity to go with it.
The dialogue is pretty much the opposite of the artwork, relying on plainspoken simplicity rather than detail. The kind of backfires during the Witch of the Knoll finale, however, as the characters end up spouting cheesy epic-fantasy lines at each other. At least when Tsukune gets back to school, the straightforward language is a more natural fit; even long sentences are easy to follow. (The choice of bold font helps too.) The lettering on the sound effects doesn't integrate quite as smoothly, however—all the Japanese characters have been replaced with English equivalents, which clash rather noticeably with Ikeda's art style.
After all that buildup and the climactic battle against the Witch of the Knoll, maybe it was time to dial down and return to more familiar material. That's probably the best explanation for why this volume of Rosario+Vampire regresses to old, formulaic material instead of charging forward in a bold new story direction. Unfortunately, that's a disappointment for those who didn't like the old, formulaic stuff in the first place. Who cares about awkward stalker girls with ice powers when there's all sorts of intrigue to be had with the vampirism hidden within Tsukune? This volume is, at best, a transition between one major story arc and the next, filling in the spaces with lightweight romantic entanglements. Worse yet, it doesn't even squeeze in enough fanservice. Although billed as a horror-tinged romantic comedy, it's pretty clear what genre Rosario+Vampire really wants to go into. So it should hurry up and start heading there.
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Detailed draftsmanship and intense action scenes make for fun reading.
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