by Carl Kimlinger,

Vampire Knight

GN 11

Vampire Knight GN 11
Yuki leaves Zero and Cross Academy behind and joins Kaname at their ancestral home. A year passes. The chaos left by the destruction of the Vampire Senate has given rise to a subculture of vicious vampire criminals who prey on the weak and young. Thanks in part to the new criminal class, Zero has grown with a vengeance into his role as a hunter. Indeed he's only truly at ease when drowning his appetites and internal agonies in death. His hatred has not abated with time, but when Kaname rises as the ruler of a new vampire order, he must swallow it. Order means an end to the criminal element, a benefit that Zero knows outweighs his own vendetta. Content that Zero is maturing, Cross taps his adoptive son as the next head of the Hunter Association. At the Kuran residence Yuki's love for Kaname fights against her lingering feelings for those left behind, and wins. But her resolve is soon tested: the leaders of the vampires and the Hunters must meet to finalize a truce, which means she must once more face the man that she swore never again to meet.

A real sense of renewal accompanies Vampire Knight's leap forward in time. The events at Cross Academy have played themselves out, the setting has changed, and everyone has evolved, seriously rearranging the relationship map. The Rido arc marked the end of the old Vampire Knight, and the new Vampire Knight stands on the cusp of a sophistication of its emotional and narrative topography that could, if played right, be downright stunning.

On one side is Zero, the rising star of the Hunter Association; on the other is Kaname, the new ruler of the vampires; and somewhere in between is Yuki, the recently minted vampire princess. The symmetry of Knight's new set-up lends it a clean, classical feel; something that the sometimes muddled Cross Academy material lacked. Tensions emerge effortlessly from the antagonistic relations of its leads, and just as effortlessly suggest a range of tragic potentialities. It has direction, purpose, and no shortage of darkness to sculpt gothic angst from. In short, it's a good one. And Matsuri Hino uses it well. There's an inevitability to the progression of events, a faintly mythic quality to the lived-in plotting and rigorously-structured chains of affection and hatred. At its best this volume feels like genuine Romantic fiction, like something Alexandre Dumas might have written had he had a thing for pretty boys and diseased love. Of course, at its worst, when Hino's overwrought language and romantic hyperbole get the better of it, it feels like something a high-school girl might scribble on the inner cover of a notebook. But that's just Vampire Knight for you.

It isn't just Knight's structuring that has matured; neither the characters nor their bonds are the same as those that began the series, or even that finished out the last volume. Yuki, older and wiser, embraces her decision and its consequences, surrendering herself to her feelings for Kaname even as she acknowledges those she has for Zero. Kaname devotes himself to acclimating Yuki to her eternal life and shaping the world, by any means, to accommodate her. They are, in a angst-warped kind of way, a perfect couple. Which would make them boring—that is, if it weren't for the specter cast over them by the radically altered third leg of their love triangle. Zero was by far the most cruelly victimized and deeply twisted by Kaname's scheme to destroy Rido, and not coincidentally, he emerged from the fray the most interesting character. Consumed by hatred and driven by a need, born of past failures, to protect the weak, he comes to completely embody the hard-line anti-vampire stance that Cross Academy once stood against. He slips into the role of ice-cold enforcer with disturbing ease, and makes no bones about his homicidal intentions towards Yuki and Kaname. Which makes him, for now at least, both Vampire Knight's hero and its villain. How's that for renewal?

Hino has long since mastered such essential skills as how to draw intense, emotive eyes, luscious bishonen, sensuous lips, and gorgeous, flowing hair. She's also a past master of the use of shadow and screen tone and panel arrangement in summoning palls of wrenching angst and chilly gusts of gothic atmosphere. Her costumes are impeccably cool (Zero favors John Woo overcoats) and her characters distinct yet uniformly beautiful. Her ability to weave intricate webs of elegant melodrama with mere paper and pen is duly impressive, and has been for ages now. But she has struggled all along with the more cinematic aspects of her art. Spatial relations were often muddied by a dearth of backgrounds and ill-arranged paneling, and complex actions and simulated cinematic trickery were beyond the scope of her skills. The Rido arc's bravura action climax changed that some, and she's brought its lessons with her into this volume. Zero's reintroduction is a bit of slo-mo showboating worthy of, well, John Woo, and the volume's two fated reunions are orchestrated with such operatic clarity that they leave no doubt about Hino's expanded stylistic repertoire.

By now Viz's Vampire Knight books should be thoroughly familiar: English-replaced sound effects, solid construction, and a little stiffness in the dialogue that may or may not be due to difficulties in translating Hino's flowery language. Extras after the book proper include a page of Vampire Knight gag-manga and a bonus drawing along with the usual translations of Hino's character names.

Vampire Knight's new chapter encounters its share of problems. Kaname and Yuki's love scenes, each a typically extreme exercise in poetic excess and lachrymose abandon, feel weak and a little forced nestled next to Zero's tightly controlled fury and increasingly ambiguous behavior; a good number of previously major supporting players get short shrift; and the new additions to the cast have little do but lurk menacingly as Yuki, Kaname and Zero's relationships restructure themselves. But in the balance Knight's newest turn is nothing but good. This is no rote continuation; it's the beginning of something new, something grand, something—in patented Vampire Knight style—seriously screwed-up.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+

+ New chapter in the Vampire Knight saga marks a significant improvement in plotting, characterization, and execution; neo-Zero.
Yuki and Kaname's sections are relatively weak; still capable of pushing melodrama to unhealthy extremes.

Story & Art: Matsuri Hino

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