Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 7th 2009
Rosario + Vampire
Tsukune Aono is an ordinary boy with the misfortune of attending a high school for monsters. However, ever since he befriended several cute girls with monstrous abilities—including the beautiful but deadly vampire Moka—Tsukune's become kind of attached to the place. However, a monster academy is still no place for an ordinary human being, and Tsukune's latest predicament has him helping out for the school festival with a decidedly sinister student council committee. Among the committee members are several "monstrels" who are secretly planning to bring down the school, and ever since they found out that Tsukune and Moka are linked by the power of the rosary around Moka's neck, those two have become the monstrels' number one target. Tsukune's involvement in the school festival may very well cost him his life...
It's a trap that many storytellers fall into: after sending the hero out on a grand adventure, he's got to go on another one, and then another one, each one grander than the last, until finally the series is straining under the weight of a story arc so huge that everyone just wants it to end already.
Rosario+Vampire hasn't gotten that bad yet, but if this volume is any indication, it's heading there fast.
It starts out with an all-too-familiar but mostly innocuous school-comedy cliché: Tsukune has to help out with planning the school festival. It could have stopped right there, rolled out a few slapstick moments, and moved on. But no, the preparations for the festival quickly snowball into the groundwork for the next Big Fat Adventure: there are students on the committee who Tsukune killed, and the monstrel organization wants to take over the entire school, and the main villain of the arc is a dead ringer for Light Yagami of Death Note. Which should give a pretty good indication of how bloated and convoluted this is going get. Deceit, double-crosses, and dramatic revelations are all part of the storyline—which normally would be a good thing, except that every single twist can be seen coming from several pages away.
And that's the essential problem with this arc: it's a suspense thriller where all the thrills and suspense are the result of predictable, textbook examples. Witness the scene where Tsukune has a "Hey, how did you know something about me when I never told you?" moment with a student spy, or when the Death Note guy cackles about his elaborate set-up going exactly according to plan. Even worse is when obvious plot devices are used to force the story in a certain direction: yes, it sure is convenient to weaken Tsukune by having MOKA* get kidnapped and be rendered useless for a few chapters.
In the final third of the book, all pretenses of suspense and mystery are dropped, giving way to an all-out fight—which is probably what most fans were waiting for in the first place. (Funnily enough, Akihisa Ikeda still tries to fit everything into the "battle at the end of each chapter" formula, making the plotline even more awkward.) And then the all-out fight ends up dragging on ... and on ... because the pivotal character who could turn things around is wasting time, sitting on her butt. It takes a certain talent to achieve mediocrity in the genres of school comedy, suspense, and action all in the space of one manga volume.
Even Ikeda's art has a contrived quality to it, where cold exactitude takes precedence over natural self-expression. The fine lines and level of detail may seem impressive at first glance, but after a while, one starts to notice the stiff poses and gestures, the lifeless facial features, the loud but unexciting fight scenes, and backgrounds that could have been traced right out of a book. It's the work of an artist who has mastered a "How to Draw" manual at the highest level, but is unable to push to the next level that would be actual art. Even the one thing that is normally this series' saving grace—outlandish mythical creatures—are nowhere to be found, mostly because the deadly beast of this story arc is a mere human. A human who wields ridiculously powerful magic, but still, a human, which just isn't as visually interesting. On the plus side, at least the page layouts are clear and easy to follow, making the story flow smoothly even through all the lousy parts.
With the story and characters built on formula and stereotype, it's reasonable to assume that the dialogue follows suit, with predictable lines flying left and right. There is at least one case, however, where this is a good thing: main villain Hokuto, whose smarmy eloquence is a refreshing change from all the screaming, raging beasts that Tsukune usually fights against. There's just a certain appeal to hyper-intelligent bad guys and the way they talk, even if it is overdone. Aside from that, though, most of dialogue falls into the usual boilerplate ("This was all a setup?!" "I must protect my friends!") that comes with the genre. Sound effects, meanwhile, are a major component of the fight scenes, and the obvious substitution of Japanese characters with English text can sometimes distract from the action.
With this volume ending on a major mid-story cliffhanger, it's clear that Rosario+Vampire will be extending its latest Big Fat Adventure quite a few chapters longer. Whether anyone will actually want to continue with it, though, is a doubtful proposition: isn't 8 volumes of mediocrity and suffering enough? This installment alone is a showcase of how to deliver a suspense story without the suspense (just use familiar clichés to give away each plot twist in advance), along with how to draw out needlessly long fight scenes (lock up the one person who could actually make a difference in battle). After this deluge of overblown hocus-pocus, a customary one-shot school festival chapter might not have been such a bad idea after all. Heck, whatever happened to random hot girls hitting on Tsukune? The search for deeper, longer storylines has left Rosario+Vampire in danger of losing its soul.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C
+ A smarmy intellectual villain and multiple double-crosses add an element of suspense to this story arc.
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