by Rebecca Silverman,

Black Rose Alice

GN 1

Black Rose Alice GN 1
Vienna, 1908. Dimitri is a popular young singer on the rise, living with his benefactor's family and almost treated like one of them. He is secretly in love with his friend Theo's fiancee Agnieszka, and an argument about her with Theo sends him rushing out of the his death. Revived by a mysterious butterfly, Dimitri learns that his body has been colonized by the seeds of a dying vampire, allowing him a vampiric rebirth. Eventually he comes to accept this under tragic circumstances..Flash forward to Tokyo in 2008, where a young couple is involved in a tragic accident. Dimitri appears to the woman in the hospital with an offer – he will save her boyfriend, but at a cost. Will she be willing to pay the price?

Let us begin this review with a warning that is not mentioned on the back copy: if you are afraid of or made uncomfortable by spiders, you probably don't want to read this book. Setona Mizushiro, award-winning mangaka behind After School Nightmare and X-Day, has a very unique take on the vampire mythos. In her world, vampires are still long-lived, but not fully immortal, and rather than biting someone's neck to feed, they captivate their prey into killing themselves before barfing up big hairy spiders that do the feeding for them. Once the spiders have finished, they crawl back into the vampires' mouths. Even as someone who doesn't mind spiders in general, this was disturbingly gross, and it may be a deal-breaker for some readers. If you can get past this (and other insects flying in and out of mouths), Black Rose Alice's first volume introduces us to a fascinating and heartbreaking world, setting the stage for what should be a very interesting story.

The tale begins in Vienna in 1908. Dimitri Lewandowski is a successful opera singer living with the family of his patron. He is good friends with the son of the family, Theodor, and secretly yearns for Theo's lovely sixteen-year-old fiancee Agnieszka. (That's “Ann-nee-esh-ka,” more or less; the Polish form of “Agnes.”) He sees her as the epitome of purity, the one unsullied thing in his world. When he learns that this may not be the case anymore, he stalks out of the house in a rage and is promptly killed in the street in an accident, a single butterfly alighting on his neck. As it turns out, that butterfly was the seed of a recently deceased vampire, and it chose Dimitri to be its new host. Being a well-read young man, Dimitri doesn't believe that he's been transformed, leading to what may be the most interesting part of the story thus far. Mizushiro's vampires are intriguingly different, which at this point is very important in a literary marketplace chock full of bloodsuckers. They live in a all-male groups, competing for the few worthy females that they find. They use insects to control or feed from people, and they die after having sex with their one true love. In other words, these are far less human vampires than we usually see, although they of course look very much so. It certainly adds interest to the story and makes it more palatable for those who have written off the vampire genre as overdone.

Three of the four chapters of the book take place in 1908 as Dimitri comes to understand what has happened to him. The final chapter takes us one hundred years in the future to Tokyo of 2008, where a young woman in her twenties is having serious second thoughts about her relationship with her sixteen-year-old student. Her name is Azusa, and she is essentially ripe for what Dimitri needs when she and boyfriend Koya are involved in a traffic accident. Essentially this volume feels like a prologue to what the story is really about, but that in no way detracts from the compulsive readability of the book. Rather it whets our palates for what is to come, particularly in light of events with Agnieszka and Dimitri. There's an element of the hopeless love story to the book, the kind that makes you really yearn for everything to work out, even when you recognize the obstacles in the way and a small piece of you kind of thinks that maybe there's no chance. In the case of Dimitri, this is tempered with his exceedingly poor behavior at the end of the 1908 chapters; that Mizushiro still manages to entice us to feel that way is fairly impressive.

As might be expected from the title, there is a rose and thorn motif to much of the artwork, as well as a definite Art Nouveau sense to the characters, particularly Agnieszka and Dimitri. It is not difficult to draw “Sleeping Beauty” parallels from the imagery, and it will be worth watching to see how Mizushiro uses the theme in the story itself. She tells us that she has done research into Art Nouveau, Vienna, and spiders, and it really shows in her more technical aspects. While all of her people look good and move well, they also all share a sort of glassy-eyed sameness to them, a collection of coldly elegant characters moving against perfect backgrounds.

Despite not having a single character named “Alice” yet, Black Rose Alice is off to a promising start. With an interesting vampire mythos, an undercurrent of tragic love, and a small, strange smidgen of hope, this is a new series worth checking out.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ New take on the idea of vampires, clearly well-researched and thought out. Story is strangely captivating.
Characters all look pretty similar, insects (especially spiders) could make this a difficult book for some readers.

Story & Art: Setona Mizushiro

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