Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 - 3
Mahiru Shirota is a fifteen-year-old orphan who likes to keep things as simple as possible, but his life gets seriously complicated after he rescues Kuro, a stray kitten. Kuro turns out to be Sleepy Ash, one of eight “servamps,” or servant vampires, and by taking him in, Mahiru becomes embroiled in a human-vampire war. With his friends at stake and a crazy vampire on the loose – which may or may not be due to human “intervention” - Mahiru finds that his choices are no longer as simple as they once were...but also that he may have the chance to heal some of his own emotional wounds.
From the title, it is easy to assume that Strike Tanaka's Servamp is a straight comedy. It's a portmanteau of “servant” and “vampire,” after all, which seems like it could very easily be played for laughs. And Servamp's first three volumes are funny, particularly when it comes to Kuro's lazy good-for-nothing teenager persona, which is a total contrast to Mahiru's almost pathological need to do something about very nearly everything. But underneath that veneer of light humor is a story with a hard, dark center and an edge that's very sharp and cutting.
The basic story of Servamp is pretty simple, which is just as Mahiru likes it. One day on his way home from school, Mahiru sees a stray black kitten, and so makes the decision to take him home. Uncreatively naming him Kuro (“black”), Mahiru is shocked to discover that his new furry friend is actually the vampire of sloth, Sleepy Ash, a lackluster teen with a perpetual slouch and a total lack of motivation. After accidentally renaming the supposed monster and thereby binding them together in a master/servant (or eve/Servamp, in the series' terms) relationship, Mahiru quickly begins to discover that there's more going on in the world than he ever anticipated. Among those things is the existence of seven sibling servamps, all named for the Seven Deadly Sins, along with an eighth, Tsubaki, representing melancholy. Tsubaki, it is slowly revealed over the course of the three books, was once mistreated by humans, and as a result has a vendetta against them, looking to start a vampire-human war. But he's also got a strange sense of honor and kindness, as we find out when we learn that he once saved a human, albeit via turning him, from a wretchedly abusive family life. This indicates that Tsubaki can feel compassion or at least empathy for those in a situation similar to his own, whether they are human or vampire. Hints like these at an underlying humanity (for lack for lack of a better word) help to keep Tanaka's rehash of the vampire horror manga feeling fresher than some of its more well-worn counterparts, and hint at a story that has a lot more to develop.
And there really is a familiar feeling to this series at first, particularly in the first volume. It isn't until the final pages that it begins to truly take off and hold our interest in more than a passing way, and both volumes two and three up the stakes considerably, making this a series that gets better as it goes on. In Tanaka's version of the vampire myth, there are really only the eight sibling vampires to begin with, and they can turn humans to create more vampires. Each Servamp has a human “master” (although “partner” is probably the better term) and can have servamps of his own, with Tsubaki displaying the greatest tendency to do so. Although not explicitly stated, it appears to me that a vampire's servamps are those he turned himself. A third class also exists alongside humans and vampires, the human/vampire relations group known as C3. This is currently the biggest unknown in the story, and while it certainly seems the most suspicious of all the groups, right now that just means that it's painted a darker shade of gray than the other two.
Speaking of gray, there's an increasing amount of it used as the volumes go on, possibly dictating the mangaka's increasing comfort with screentone, which I prefer to the idea that she's using it to symbolize that the story is growing darker. (As a note, this is her first non-yaoi series.) Her art is very nice to look at, with a pleasing variety of character designs, cute animals (a bigger deal than you might at first think for this story), and an easy-to-read flow to the panels. Seven Seas has resisted any urges they may have had to pepper the translation with easily dated slang, making this read well in that department too.
What's most interesting in these three volumes, however, is neither the vampire story nor the art – it's the way Tanaka gives every important character a background that makes sense with who they are today. While all of them have elements of tragedy to them, none of them feel tragic for the sake of making the story dark and edgy, with the result that while it is dark, it's that way on it's own merits and not because the mangaka was trying too hard. Mahiru's life is shaped by what happened to him when he was little, as is Tsubaki's and Sakuya's. There's a clear motivation for everyone's actions that cancels out the more clichéd aspects of the story and a sense that Tanaka really thought about what she's doing before she wrote it down. And while Servamp is good on its other merits, this may be what really sells these books.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Characters have believable motives for their actions and personal conflicts, Tanaka's art is very nice to look at. Easy to read in both art and translation, some good variations on the vampire theme.