Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
As she remembers how Kaname drew her out of her traumatized shell, how he held her dear and she in her young way reciprocated, Yuki knows she loves the vampire prince. But as she witnesses Zero's burgeoning vampire hunger and the devastating effect it has on him, as she realizes the suicidal depth of his despair and self loathing, she also knows that her adopted brother needs her. So she makes her decision, the only one a girl of her soft-hearted disposition can—even if it means she must inflict a subtler and perhaps crueler torture on Zero...and Kaname.
The variety of subplots this volume seems to indicate that Vampire Knight is expanding beyond the perverse love triangle at its heart. All of those story threads that the first volume neglected come in for renewed scrutiny as the series enters its second volume. Flashbacks readdress Yuki's amnesia, if briefly, while touching on the foundation of Cross Academy and Zero's place in the Hunter Association. The latter crops up when Zero's mentor Yagari makes his appearance, forcing him to come to grips with his new identity and eventually to prove himself to the Association by way of killing his own kind. A visit from a vampire high muckety-muck—specifically Night Class vice-president Ichijo's grandfather—does a similar service for Kaname; in his case locating him in the hierarchy of vampire politicos. Though less a presence in flashbacks than Yuki or Zero is, some hints about Kaname's personal and political woes are dropped there as well.
A survey of subplots is rather misleading, however. The main thrust of the plot is still the battle between Yuki's feelings for Kaname and perceived duty to Zero, and the series' dark gothic heart is still the tortured inner lives of its protagonists. That the flashbacks deal with Yuki's missing memories, Kaien Cross's ambitions, Zero's history as a hunter of the undead, and Kaname's home life is incidental really. Yuki's flashbacks, to the cute yet fraught dynamic of her childhood attachment to Kaname, serve to demonstrate the weight of her sacrifice in choosing to be Zero's "ally." And Zero's, by tracing his self-destructive impulses back to childhood, serve to demonstrate just what is at stake if she doesn't. As for Yuki's decision, in the Vampire Knight tradition it resolves nothing, only opening the door to fresh poison and pain. Yuki crucifies herself on a cross fashioned of guilt and fraternal protectiveness, unaware that forcing Zero to live for her sake—how could he perish, when she has sacrificed so much so that he might live?—is as quietly cruel as any of the more spectacular torments Zero has inflicted on himself. Kaname's side of the triangle, in the meantime, is sinking into a mire of half-obscured manipulations and schemes—underwritten by a fury of simmering hatred. Deelicious.
Naturally, Yuki and company's wicked tangle of affections is quite frequently and quite frightfully overblown. "A false heart," intones Yuki with papal gravity as her happy post-amnesia childhood plays out. "Kindness filled to the brim. And sin atop...sin." Hilarious, right? Here's another: "The bloodstained trigger slowly, slowly...starts pulling." This via a series of intertitles dropped like tombstones between cuts of child-Zero clawing at his vampire-punctured neck. But, hey, that's what puts the guilt in guilty pleasure.
What puts the pleasure in is the poignancy of those melodramatic excesses, and the paradoxical reserve of Kiyoko Sayama's direction. Sayama presents Matsuri Hino's increasingly twisted skein of unhealthy attachments and repressed feelings with sensitivity and keen insight, teasing nuances out of Zero and Yuki's relationship in particular that even the original couldn't. She also has an instinct for understatement and circumspection that, by forcing you to dig for meaning, can make even the most obvious facts seem revelatory and the most overwrought emotions seem subtle. It's fair to say that no other director could have so handily wrestled what by rights should have been an embarrassment into such an unwholesomely involving gothic serial.
As more action creeps into the plot it becomes clearer that either a) Sayama doesn't care about it, or b) she's no good at it. Brief and unmemorable, the action scenes are the closest the series gets to being perfunctory. So little attention is paid to them that they become essentially interchangeable. (That they're repetitive doesn't help—Yuki must smell really tasty to get attacked every time she goes into town.) Sayama's heart is obviously in the less flashy aspects of her art: the use of shadow and wandering lens to evoke past masters of gothic film, the exquisite way Yuki trembles when Zero tests her resolve, the aching loneliness of Zero's posture, the subtle interplay of gorgeous score and decaying architecture, the flare of suppressed emotion in Kaname's eyes, even the cannily deployed sight gags. As well it should be. From such things is Vampire Knight's appeal built.
With four more episodes under its belt and no improvement in sight, Viz's dub officially ranks among the year's more terrible adaptations. With graceless script and atonal delivery the dub lays bare the series' ridiculousness while providing none of its compensatory joys. It's nearly impossible to care for the dub's flat renditions of Yuki and Zero, and even harder to appreciate Kaname's incremental humanization. Travis Willingham's sepulchral Yagari would be a treat if only he weren't hobbled by too-faithful rewrites, and the comic interjections sometimes show signs of life, but there's little else to be glad for. To be fair, there weren't too many ways to handle Vampire Knight's ripe dialogue without the mad skills of a top-notch Japanese cast, and the two most obvious—substantially rewrite it or treat it as pure camp—would have betrayed the credo of fidelity that dubs live by; but even so Viz could have done better than this.
Even as it broadens its horizons (a bit) and prepares for its final arc (viva la cliffhanger hint!), Vampire Knight's essence remains unchanged. It's a melodrama fashioned to squeeze fangirls until they squeal, told with a tragedian's eye for emotional development and an entertainer's instinct for the narrative hook. It'll never appeal to the sparkly-vampires-make-my-cerebral-arteries-explode crowd, but for the susceptible this is a decadent treat that only gets more decadent and delicious with each passing episode. Go on, take a taste.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ A twisted bonanza of warped emotional developments; Kaname improves; persistently beautiful.
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