While the first volume of the Tsukihime manga wasted too much time with exposition and got to the vampire-fighting action too late, the next volume in the series makes no such mistake. Shiki and Arcueid's battle against Nero is a grand, exhilarating experience, taking up half the book and revealing quite a few secrets about Shiki's strange ability. The fight is so consistently uptempo, finding the ideal balance between tension and action, that it's easy to miss the fatal flaw in all this: the plot is still moving incredibly slowly. When will they finally show us the big picture?
Take a look at the cover of this volume—see the girl with the daggers? You might remember her from the first volume, standing on a rooftop, watching the carnage below. One would imagine, then, that she plays a bigger role this time. So what does she do here? She stands on a rooftop, and ... watches the carnage below. Again. This is just one example of where Tsukihime falls short; it hints at certain plot threads and fails to follow through.
Major players like Shiki get plenty of attention, but at the expense of the supporting cast. By the end of the book, Shiki and Arcueid's situations have been fleshed out, and Shiki clearly "levels up" in the big fight, but the story as a whole has barely advanced at all.
On a smaller scale, though, it's still plenty entertaining, especially for those who just want to see Shiki going at it with his knife. The prelude to the battle with Nero subtly builds up tension, revealing Shiki's past and explaining Arcueid's vampire world. And once they jump into action, the battle never drags—even though it extends through several chapters, it just grows more intense with each turn of the tide. With so much action packed into the middle, it's easy to forgive the languid pacing in the closing pages as the story arc winds down. For a plot that doesn't advance much, it sure has an exciting way of getting there.
The simple but sharply drawn art is an ideal fit for the action scenes; the movement and space between Shiki, Arcueid and Nero is always easy to read. While other fights get hopelessly lost in abstract shapes and speedlines, this one makes good use of black-and-white contrast to make the action clear. However, the dialogue scenes are less effective—that's where a simplified style just comes out boring, especially with standard rectangular panels. The character designs, which of course are based on the original game and anime, look a little rough around the edges compared to their on-screen counterparts; it's easy to tell who they are, but the look isn't always consistent. The drawn backgrounds are nicely detailed when they show up, but more often it's a layer of gray tone that provides a cheap excuse for no backgrounds at all.
The translated dialogue in this edition is simple and reads quickly, although it does veer into campy territory. Nero spends too much time explaining himself during the fight, resulting in one of those bombastic villain speeches, and it's hard to take him seriously once he says "My name is NERO! I am chaos! Almighty even among the strongest vampires!" Sound effects are left untouched, with a small translation placed next to each one, although a bigger font would help with the readability. Better print quality would also improve the readability in general, as the paper and ink used for this volume are pretty embarrassing—even paperback novels are printed on brighter paper than this, and some of the solid grays in the artwork come out blotchy.
Overall, this volume of Tsukihime compensates for the previous one with a big, heaping dose of action. It still has faults of its own, though; the drawback of a multi-chapter fight is that it eats up pages like no tomorrow, pushing story development and the supporting cast aside. With all the action involving Arcueid, it's easy to forget that Shiki still has to deal with school and home. Hopefully Volume 3 will finally bring those side characters into play and give the story a kick-start. As for this one, it's an impressive piece of vampire-battling eye candy, but don't expect much more.