by Theron Martin,

Vampire Doll: Guilt-na-Zan

Vampire Doll manga 1
Guilt-Na-Zan was once a dashing vampire aristocrat, but that was before he was sealed in a cross by a powerful exorcist. 100 years later in modern times, Kyoji, a descendant of the original exorcist, unseals Guilt-Na-Zan, who awakens to find himself trapped in the wax body of a doll shaped like a pretty girl. Even his magical abilities have been mutated into a form more suitable for bishojo than a vampire. Subject to Kyoji's odd whims, Guilt-Na-Zan ignominiously finds himself reduced to serving as a maid and cook for Kyoji, as the only times he can transform into his true form are when he drinks the blood of Kyoji's darling, innocent little sister Tonae – and that transformation doesn't last long. While adjusting to life as a girl and during the day he must also deal with Kyoji's idiot twin brother Kyoichi, who seeks to control Guilt-Na-Zan for his own reasons.
Vampire Doll: Guilt-na-Zan (the tag name is necessary to distinguish it from a 1970 Japanese horror movie of the same name) is the first work of manga-ka Erika Kari to make it to the States, and if this is a true sign of what she can do then hopefully it won't be the last. She shows great skill and sly wit in deliciously poking fun at bishonen supernatural stories, a horror subgenre desperately in need of being savagely parodied. And what better way to do it, Ms. Kari has apparently decided, than to turn a bishonen story partway into a bishojo story and make fun of the stylistic differences between the two? Fortunately for the reader, this approach works beautifully.

The first sign that the reader isn't dealing with a typical series is the Main Characters breakdown on the first page, where a picture of each and a couple of brief descriptive comments are provided. It's hardly an unusual-seeming feature for a manga, until some of the blurbs are actually read. An example: “Kyoichi. He is the biggest idiot in the entire world. Please read the book to find out just how stupid he really is.”

Now how can you pass up on reading further after a comment like that?

What follows are 180-odd pages of pure fun. Although classified as a “horror/comedy,” it's really much more the latter than the former. Everything about what's going on is so inventively ridiculous that it's hard not to at least chuckle at many points. Guilt-Na-Zan is this supposedly very powerful vampire, but what happens to his magic after he's trapped in the girl doll's body? His efforts to toss offensive spells conjure flowers and sweets instead, and his attempt to summon beasts of the night instead summons stuffed animals – because, of course, that's only appropriate for a “pretty girl.” Kyoji's twisted otakuish notions about what's proper clothing and uniforms for his “Guilt-Na doll” in various situations are also a riot, as is the behavior of his jealous but dimwitted twin brother.

The entertainment only gets better as additional characters are added to the mix. Kyoji's sister Tonae, who is the physical model for the Guilt-Na doll, is the ultimate in pure and guileless girls, while the cool-looking but overly-grateful Vincent, who was a one-time servant of Guilt-Na-Zan, hams it up without going completely overboard. And then there's the demon whose name no one can ever get straight, whose sucking of negative emotions from high school boys threatens to turn Tonae's school into a dedicated shonen ai zone.

The greatest highlights, though, are usually Kyoji's depravity, the whole cross-dressing deal, and Guilt-Na-Zan's frustration over, and gradual adaptation to, his situation. When a full-fledged vampire he always prided himself on developing his abilities to the fullest, so why should that be any different now that he's a girl?

Ms. Kari's artistry also show great promise, as her lines are distinct and well-drawn and her designs provide an interesting mix of bishonen and bishoujo styles. The Guilt-Na doll's hairdo is, of course, silly, but you'd expect nothing else given the way the story is set up. Silliest of all is the so-called “bat ax,” which has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Backgrounds are rarely given much detail, but enough is going on in the foreground that readers may not notice or care. Sound effects remain untranslated in cases where their meaning should be clear, while small translations are provided in other places.

At the end of each chapter is a bonus four-panel strip called “Vampire Doll Reflections,” while at the end of chapter 3 a full page of author notes on concept drawings can also be found. At the end of the volume are eight additional pages of four-panel strips (complete with author's notes) and three additional pages of visual Postscripts. Tokyopop's cover provides some nice colored cover art, while the first page of the interior is also in color.

Bishonen meets bishojo in an entertaining mix of classical and artistic elements of both which also thoroughly skewers both. It is one of the funniest new manga series in recent memory and is well worth a read even if you don't normally care for either style.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+

+ Funny genre parodies, plentiful bonus strips.
Background detail in artistry.

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Story & Art: Erika Kari

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