Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jan 26th 2009
Cross Academy is an elite boarding school where humans and vampires (without the knowledge of the humans) coexist in uneasy harmony, and Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the student Guardians who protect the peace. In this volume, Kaname has taken the life of Shizuka Hio…but the Senate assumes that it was Zero who was responsible for her murder! Now they demand retribution—the death of Zero, but of course—unless Kaname himself steps in to stop their thirst for vengeance. But why is Kaname keeping his involvement a secret? It's driving a wedge of mistrust through the Night Class, and Aido stages a disappearance that coincides with a vampire attack on one of the human students. Meanwhile, Yuki continues to fear for Zero's health and his inevitable fall to E Level. How much longer will Zero be able to protect her?
Matsuri Hino's English-language debut was MeruPuri, a ridiculous romantic comedy that used boatloads of bishounen as the butt ends of bad jokes. It was, to put it mildly, not one of shoujo manga's finest hours. Given her track record, it was awfully hard to have high hopes for Hino. However, Vampire Knight quickly proved to be a pleasant surprise. Her decadent style, so incongruous previously, works perfectly when applied here to vampires of the oversexed, androgynous, Anne Rice tradition. Volume five dials down what little humor Hino had left in her nearly to zero…while dialing up the aesthetic distress of the series' signature love triangle.
In case you hadn't already noticed, it is worth pointing out that chicks really dig vampires. Both as reading material—Vampire Knight is currently one of the bestselling shoujo series in the United States—and in the context of the manga's storyline itself. In this volume, Yuki remains irrationally confident of Kaname's good intentions while tempting Zero nearly to madness with her willingness to give her blood to him. Oh, and being as ineffectual as a Guardian as ever, but does that really need saying? (Shoujo heroines hailing from these sorts of bishounen vehicles tend to be irritating and impotent.)
Meanwhile, vampires are starting to seriously dig chicks as well. One of the human girls gets attacked by an unknown vampiric assailant, threatening Cross Academy's uneasy détente, and Kaname is more desperate for Yuki than ever…and closer, it seems, to taking out his jealousy on Zero than ever. Needless to say, none of it is a barrel of laughs. The only high point in lowbrow humor to be found comes at the very end—a single panel pun showing Aido, who is suspected of having been the one to attack the Day Class student, sitting “idle.”
The unquestionable, and perhaps inevitable, star of the show this time around, though, is Kaname, and it's clear that he is finally beginning to become more than the series' piece of sloe-eyed eye-candy. He kills Shizuka Hio…and then proceeds to keep it a secret for, well, secretive reasons. You do get the impression, however, that he is not happy about his place in vampire society and that he may be poised to stage a student uprising. Of course, the rationale behind his unnaturally keen interest in Yuki continues to remains a question mark…but hey, anyone else happen to notice that they have exactly the same color hair (and near-identical hairstyles)?
Hino's artwork could not have been more perfectly matched to her subject matter. Her layouts are skilled and dynamic, and liberal use of screen tone gives panels a brooding, gothic atmosphere. Character designs, both male and female, are beautiful. Shizuka Hio, with her long, unbound locks and modestly draped kimono, is an especial highlight of this volume. Also, Hino uses her apparent inability to draw any expression except “inscrutable” to her advantage—most of the character are, to varying extents, ciphers whose proverbial depths have not yet been plumbed.
Although both story and art are inevitably flawed to some extent, the pacing is so rapid that if you read quickly you will probably not notice. The manga only averages about three to four panels per page, and text density is unusually low. This allows Vampire Knight to be read incredibly quickly; volume five will probably take most readers less than half an hour. Your eyes will slide sweetly from page to page as if greased with melted butter. This visual and narrative pacing also prevents one from mentally lingering overlong upon the various mysteries presented by the series, which will be, perhaps inevitably, less profound than they seem. The less time you take to stop and think about them, the better off you will be.
All in all, this a very good volume of a halfway decent continuing shoujo series. As a bestseller, it could have easily been far more embarrassing a production. Those waiting impatiently for Vampire Knight to take a progressively darker turn will find plenty of satisfaction here...and at this rate, they are sure to find even more blood-soaked bishounen satisfaction in the future.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ A series with wide appeal that makes a perfect match of subject matter with mangaka style.
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