Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 24th 2011
Kaname throws a soiree to introduce Yuki, newest of the purebloods, to vampire society. Hunters, hungry vampires, scheming purebloods, and Zero, who hates Kaname and Yuki with the fury of a thousand Antarctic blizzards, will all be in attendance. What could possibly go wrong? How about Yuki's tender human friend Yori crashing the party unattended? Or both a Hunter and a pureblood disappearing in the middle of the festivities?
After bursting out of the confines of Cross Academy last volume, dragging the characters into their future and radically rewriting their relationships and relative positions, it's a bit of surprise to discover that this volume is as timid as it is. It's fraught with possibility but uncommitted to any one of them; loaded with the weight of shared experience but uncertain what exactly to do with it. Post-Academy Vampire Knight is still new and interesting, but it's biding its time perhaps a little too well.
Plenty happens while the series is biding its time, much of it quite intriguing. Vampire society in particular comes out well this volume, its complexities emerging as Yuki learns to cope with her new place in its hierarchy. The tension between purebloods and their lowborn peers is explored, as is the declining pureblood population and a good many other odds and ends. The ennui of the purebloods, vampires who, because they are virtually indestructible, have lived long enough for all desire to burn out of them, shows that Matsuri Hino has been thinking about the nature and consequences of immorality far more than your average vampire author. New pureblood Sara is also given some real face time, easily serving up the required allotment of scheming and insane ambition. Later chapters see Yuki finally stepping outside of her current role as the princess in the tower and making some unexpected, and extreme, moves of her own.
The problem here is that, despite all of this volume's moving parts, none of the important ones is moving, or at least not with the boldness that we've grown accustomed to over the past two volumes. Kaname and Yuki's relationship is pretty much unchanging, indestructible even. Kaname's plans, whatever they are, are working so far out of sight that they might as well not exist. And then there's Zero. As the deeply damaged, coldly restrained new head of the Hunter Society he came into his own last volume, shamelessly stealing every scene he was in and emerging as something very much like a villain. A great, complicated villain. This volume he's given basically nothing to do. He gets one good scene when his intervention on Yori's behalf brings him into close proximity to Yuki, but otherwise he just broods a bit, has a few loaded exchanges with Kaito, his highly suspect second-in-command, and then exits, leaving the rest of the volume to Yuki. As enjoyable as it is to see Yuki becoming a sort of scythe-wielding vampire Dr. Kevorkian, that hurts the volume.
Without any big, dramatic developments to illustrate, Hino isn't able to show off her art to its best advantage. It looks great, make no mistake. Flowing hair, intense eyes, delicate lines and loads of smartly deployed screen tones—few artists do mainstream shojo art as well as Matsuri Hino. Her characters never look less than ravishing, and she has an unmistakable eye for striking poses and melodramatic body language. Yuki, with her long black tresses and showy princess dresses, is particularly fetching these days. But even so, nothing here grabs you the way that the beautifully orchestrated reunion scenes last volume did, and there is certainly no opportunity for Hino to flaunt her newfound aptitude for action. The lack does allow one to appreciate some of the less showy aspects of her art, though. Yuki and Aido's silly rapport proves that Hino can do cute with the best of them, Yori's reunion with Yuki is a study in sweetness, and there's a single moment of aching pain as Yuki reflects on Zero that leaves no doubt as to Hino's emotional credentials.
Having followed the series to this point, Viz's treatment of it will be familiar: English-replaced sound effects, explanations of Hino's character names at volume's end, flowery translation that is very likely Hino's fault, and so on. The cover is nicer than they sometimes are, and Hino's sidebar commentaries are maybe a bit more informative—apparently she borrowed Kaito from Ayano Fujisaki's Vampire Knight novel—but aside from a welcome extra chapter explaining some of Kaien Cross's peculiarities, this book is perfectly standard for the series.
To be completely honest, any disappointment felt here isn't really this volume's fault. Every story needs time to build to the good stuff, and in all likelihood that's exactly what this volume is doing. Sure it has its problems—party murders were old when Agatha Christie was still young—but when hasn't it? The true culprit here is pure impatience—ours. So powerful is the urge to see how Yuki, Kaname and Zero's deadly new dynamic plays out that every page that doesn't advance it feels like a wasted one. Still, last volume proved that that isn't an entirely unreasonable thing to feel. If volume eleven could leap forward with that kind of confidence, so could its successors. And if the last couple of pages of this volume are any indicator, they may still yet.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Provides a greater understanding of vampire society; at least one emotional zinger; much cuteness and even some humor; Yuki gets her spunk back.
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