Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 8th 2010
Kaname has resurrected his master and longtime nemesis Rido, though his reasons are far from benign. Long has he plotted Rido's demise and now that Yuki has awakened as a pureblood vampire, and Rido is hot on the scent of her blood, the plan can wait no longer. But players in his scheme aren't behaving exactly as planned. Yuki insists on battling Rido herself, and his trump card Zero is languishing in a physical and emotional prison of his own making. Until an uninvited visitor rends the bars of his cage, and frees him to become the monster that Kaname wants him to be. A monster that Kaname, and even Yuki, may not be able to control.
With Kaname's political games reaching their end-game it's no surprise that Matsuri Hino's humor has long since fled for more hospitable climes, nor that life-changing developments wrack her cast. But for her to branch out from gothic melodrama and flowery vampire romance into...action? The horror!
For all the emotional content of her manga, Hino hasn't displayed any particular aptitude for the cinematic. Her artistic approach has been largely static: cute, expressive, and forever relegating movement to a few blurry and entirely inadequate transitional panels. Her ability to communicate the geography of actions has never been good, and her focus has always been on mental states to the detriment of physical motion. In short, Vampire Knight isn't a series that you'd expect to push itself to cinematic heights or to deliver violent, thrilling climaxes.
But that's exactly what it does. Zero's arrival on the battlefield in particular is action-film showboating of the sort that wouldn't be out of place in a (good) Shonen Jump manga, and the displays of power are plentiful, spectacular, and occasionally rather disturbing. Even more surprising is Yuki, who dons the mantle of action lead with eye-opening aplomb. The switch isn't perfect of course—Hino fails to properly establish space in several scenes, leading to some murky choreography, and her fragmentary panel structure doesn't adapt particularly well to pure action—but the nearly eighty-page fight that concludes this volume is positively brimming with little jolts of satisfying violence and nuggets of neat vampire action. Who'd have thought it?
That said, aside from providing a fig leaf for the series' male fans (it has violence!) and supplying some excitement to complement its brooding romance, the manga's turn to action doesn't really change it much. Even in the midst of pitched battle, Vampire Knight is very much driven by its dramatic content. As pleasant as the extension of Hino's stylistic palette is, the impact of Zero, Yuki and Rido's three-way battle comes less from its execution than from the emotions that play out over its course: the despair that fuels Zero's rage, Yuki's shock at discovering the source of Zero's new powers, the twisted affection that informs Rido's actions. More attention to the physical—including, naturally, oodles of teen vampire fan-service—doesn't detract from Hino's skill with the emotional. The cast remains as painfully expressive as ever and her ability to ambush with unexpected emotions is undiminished. And neither does vampire fightin' elbow out the political dramas that have driven the last handful of volumes. The vampire Senate and Ichijo's devious father get their due here, as does the Hunter Society in one brief but telling scene with Yuki's father.
But for immutable proof of the endurance of Vampire Knight's classic strengths in the face of their newfangled action competition, nothing can beat the volume's last pages, which tie up the physical conflict even as they leave the series on the cusp of a personal one that promises emotional pain on a magnificent scale.
Viz reproduces Hino's sharp lines and seas of screen tones as well as one could expect in a conventionally-sized book, and while the book itself isn't as well-constructed as the best are it's well worth the asking price. Viz's habit of completely replacing its Japanese sound effects is irksome but hardly a reason to balk at a purchase.
It's no Hellsing (what is?), but the ninth installment of Vampire Knight is certainly easier to admit to a fondness for than the non-action oriented installments of the series. Yeah, it's still the ripest kind of gothic melodrama, and yeah it's still knee-deep in half-naked vampire flesh, but it is also viscerally satisfying and pretty darned exciting. Not bad as far as fig leaves go.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Adds an element of vampire action to its usual stew of vampire politics and embarrassingly affecting teen angst.
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