Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 25th 2006
Outwardly Karin Maaka seems every bit the normal (if cute) little high school girl, but in reality she's the middle child in a family of vampires which settled in Japan in decades past. Even amongst her kindred Karin is an oddity, however; she lacks many normal vampire traits but is able to function during the day. Most importantly, she has an abundance of blood rather than a shortage of it, so instead of draining blood from people she bites, she gives blood to them, an experience which can potentially have beneficial side effects for the “victim.” And if she doesn't do it on a monthly basis, she experiences gushing nosebleeds!
Although Karin has been able to hide her secrets so far, trouble is on the horizon when her blood becomes excited by Kenta Usui, a new transfer student who not only arrives at the school but ends up working with her at her part-time job, too. Can her siblings help her sort out the cause of the problem and help their mostly incompetent sister develop her vampire heritage?
Chibi Vampire is a title invented by Tokyopop for their English release of this manga series. It is a decision doubtless driven by marketing potential, for such a name is far more likely to catch attention and pique a potential reader's interest than the bland and non-descriptive original title “Karin,” which it shares with its late 2005 anime adaptation. (The anime has not been licensed for release in the States as of the time of this writing, but one can probably expect a similar renaming in the event that it is picked up.) The accuracy of the name is a matter for some debate, since no chibi artwork is used anywhere in the regular content, but it is at least suggestive of the diminutive stature of the title character.
Although the new title engenders visions of Vampire Princess Miyu or Claudia from Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire, this is a far more light-hearted and playful look on creatures of the night than either of those properties. In fact, it is closer in spirit to a manga version of The Addams Family which focuses on the daughter. This allows creator Yuna Kagesaki to put Karin through some very typical high school and family situations with very atypical complications. And while this volume's content isn't completely comedic, it's nothing if not cutesy and fun.
The freshness of the concept is the manga's strongest selling point, as it offers a particularly odd twist on the normal conception of vampires. In this world vampire status is genetic, a package of traits which are passed down within families rather than through “turning” people and which seem to fully kick in around puberty. All vampires have an affinity for a particular type of blood (the blood of liars, for instance), which not only tastes best to them but which they can also learn to sense; this is, of course, Karin's problem with being around Kenta, although pinning down exactly what that affinity is becomes a major plot point in this volume. Even more interesting, being bitten by a vampire is not necessarily a negative experience; if done right, some victims actually benefit from the encounter. This is particularly true with Karin, although the novel twist of making her a reverse-vampire not only sets her apart from her fellow vampires in the story but also makes her distinctive amongst all vampire characters out there. The whole gushing nosebleed thing is way over-the-top, but it, too, is a novel twist.
The same cannot be said for the non-vampiric elements, however. Set the supernatural aspects aside and the series is shaping up to be a fairly typical high school romantic comedy. It's already obvious that Karin and Kenta are destined for coupledom, especially given how problematic their relationship initially is and how badly he misinterprets Karin's actions when he accidentally catches her donating blood early on, and given a somewhat hare-brained decision Karin makes about Kenta late in the volume, one can expect ample relationship complications in the future. A central character who's basically incompetent is also hardly anything new, nor is a young character who talks primarily or exclusively through puppets. Kenta does show signs of being a little more than just a stereotypical love interest, though, and Karin's playboy brother is remarkably grounded for his type; there's actually a method to his behavior. Still, it will be hard for a veteran anime/manga fan to read this volume without getting the feeling of a new gimmick up to the standard tricks.
Kagesaki's artistry emphasizes the cutesiness of the title character and generally favors more simplistic character designs but is otherwise not especially distinctive, nor are his character designs much different than those seen in many other manga titles out there. In fact, the style is so representative of common manga stylistic elements that this volume could be pointed to as a good example of “typical” manga artistry. Fan service is minimal, but enough blood is involved to merit the Older Teens rating. Kagesaki also liberally sprinkles the panels with side comments and explanatory notes, although in this case they are not done to excess.
Tokyopop's production of the first volume puts the cover art the way it would be for a normal American graphic novel release but still has the interior of the manga laid out in the traditional Japanese format. Chapters are amusingly called “Embarrassments” and brief profiles on all the members of the Maaka family are included at the beginning. Tacked on to the end are several pages of four-panel extras, most of them involving the creator in some way. Tokyopop's translation is handled respectably well, although the original Japanese sound effects are left intact and untranslated.
Despite some hints of formulaic elements, Tokyopop seems to have a winner on its hands with Chibi Vampire – at least so far. If comedy/horror content and a story which puts a radical new twist on traditional vampire lore appeals to you then this is a title worth checking out.
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Novel twist on a genre in bad need of one.
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