Reviewby Theron Martin,
Chibi Vampire: Airmail
Manga-ka Yuna Kagesaki presents four short stories, some of which are directly related to his Chibi Vampire universe. In “Reverse Babysitting,” a 10-year-old girl finds herself looking after a 19-year-old neighbor who has temporarily regressed to babylike behavior, much to her consternation. In “Searching for My Beloved,” a fortuneteller's efforts to locate a young man's missing beloved leads her down an unexpectedly dark and dangerous path full of nasty surprises. “The Vampire of the West Woods” features Friedrich, a second cousin of the titular character who belongs to a branch of the Marker family which still lives in Europe, who strikes up a friendly relationship with a nun at an isolated church, much to the displeasure of his aunt. In “Maki-chan, The Helping Angel of Love,” Karin's friend Maki gets her own chance at love with a childhood friend, a move only made more urgent by Karin and Kenta revealing their engagement.
The manga series known in the U.S. as Chibi Vampire ended rather definitively with volume 14 (release in the States about this time last year), but both its unique take on vampire lore and its characters were quirky and entertaining enough that fans are sure to bite on a set of short stories which further expand on the setting and characters. Tokyopop clearly knew that, hence the advertising blurb on the back cover which paints this volume as exactly that, but anyone who actually gets beyond the cover will soon realize that Tokyopop is engaged in some deceptive advertising – and that's putting the nicest possible spin on it. What readers are outwardly told that they will get is not what they actually get.
The nature of this discrepancy becomes apparent on the fourth interior page, which clarifies that this is a “Yuna Kagesaki Short Story Collection” rather than a Chibi Vampire-focused short story collection. Of the four primary short stories (which compose most of the page count), only two are specifically set in the Chibi Vampire universe, and only one of those two involves characters who ever appeared – or were even mentioned – during the manga's regular run; the other involves heretofore-unseen relatives of the Markers/Maakas. Tokyopop further compounds the offense by padding the volume out to a typical manga volume length with a higher-than-normal count of advertisement pages and a chapter-length preview of a totally unrelated upcoming manga title, which are not normally egregious offenses but in this case further reinforce that only 40% of the page count actually has anything to do with Chibi Vampire.
The stories themselves are not part of the problem, however. “Reverse Babysitting” is a silly but decent role-reversal story with a clever way of handling an otherwise-trite central gimmick and Kagesaki's own brand of amusingly off-kilter misunderstandings. “Searching for My Beloved,” by contrast, turns in some severely dark and twisted directions for a “missing person” tale, with a resolution also very typical of Kagesaki's quirky style. “The Vampire of the West Woods,” which adds Europeans Friedrich and Elga Marker to the Marker family tree, also has its own quirks, including a nun who is a fan of shojo manga. It also pitches a stronger and more direct message of interracial tolerance than the base manga does and ends with the volume's most valuable feature: a pictorial representation of the known Marker family tree. The final tale, “Maki, The Helping Angel of Love,” has appearances by Karin, Kenta, and Fumiko (including the volume's one true fan service shot) but primarily focus on Maki's friendship and love life beyond Karin, especially involving a male friend who never appeared in the regular series. While it does, indeed, feature the scene of Kenta and Karin revealing their engagement to the public, it is such a small part of the story that its presence is overhyped. It does, however, end with a flash-forward about Maki as an adult and a brief, melancholy reference to the original series' climactic plot twist.
Kagesaki always closed out volumes with four-panel strips that were a mix of reflections on events in his life and side-points to his main storytelling, and that is no different here. His last strip draws parallels between his new and established Chibi Vampire universe material, though the preceding four pages involve Kagesaki's excursion to Seattle's Sakura-con as a guest of honor. The humor style in this batch is similar to ANN's own Anime News Nina strips. This volume includes no set-up blurbs, so familiarity with the material is expected.
Through both the Chibi Vampire and original stories, Kagesaki's artistry remains consistent. Character designs do not vary much, great detail in backgrounds is limited to only a handful of panels scattered throughout the four short stories, and his style gives an overall cartoony impression. Kagesaki does not here change his reputation for being far less than a master at depicting easy-to-follow action scenes, but does make good and extensive use of shading. As always, the front and back cover art feature his best artistic efforts, suggesting that, moreso than with most manga art, Kagesaki's efforts benefit greatly from being colored.
Kagesaki does tell some respectable stories here, so as long as readers know exactly what they are getting then they are unlikely to be too disappointed with the result. There is not enough Chibi Vampire-related substance here for this volume to be worthwhile to fans only looking for such fare, however. This is really only a must-buy for completists.
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Cover art, Kagesaki's quirky humor, four-panel strips.
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