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~~~~Another Vampire Book?~~~~~
Yes, but this one is a bit different than you might expect. First of all, you don't have to rely on mere words. Nope, this is manga, or a Japanese graphic novel, so there are lots and lots of absolutely gorgeous pictures to feast the eye upon. Not that you can gaze too long at first, as this book is absolutely full of action, with swift movements and supernatural prowess pulling you from one frame to the next, eager to see what follows. Despite this, the intricate detail in each panel captivates, so much so that again and again one flicks back through the pages of each chapter before proceeding, wanting to admire the fine detail in the art. With each glance, more and more nuances are revealed.
Another difference is that in most novels, you don't get little conversational asides from the author. Mangaka (writer/artist) Matsuri Hino really loves to communicate with her fans, and scattered throughout the chapters are little sidebars. In these sidebars, she tells readers everything from how nervous she was while creating this manga, to little funny incidents that happened while she, her assistants, and editors were storyboarding. There are even replies to common comments or questions fans have sent to her.
~~~~But what about the plot?~~~~
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking it is some sort of clone of the popular vampire/human stories proliferating at the moment. Actually, this has been kicking about a few years, premiering in Japanese manga magazine LaLa back in January 2005. Shojo Beat, an English language manga magazine, acquired the English language rights to it and began distributing it in July 2006, with publisher Viz media distributing it in collected and bound form once a quarter. So, while it is indeed a story with vampires, humans, and romance, it is decidedly not a thing that came jumping onto a band wagon for a quick few quid.
Indeed, despite the initial similarity of subject matter, the plot is actually substantially different than one might expect from the current genre offerings. For one thing, this is a post apocalyptic setting. The settings and props look contemporary, until you take note of the evidence of great devastation, and the frequent mention of the great war that practically destroyed the world at one point, and saw the birth of the first vampire.
With this firmly in mind, one realises that something dark, deep, and twisted lives within these pages. In a world where vampires have arisen from the ashes of a society, so must the reverse be true. For one predator, there is always another. In this case, vampire hunters. Vampire hunters whose ancestors gained their strengths and abilities from consuming the flesh of ancient, powerful vampires, and with whom there is an uneasy, centuries old truce. The culmination of the truce lies at Cross Academy. With the world in general unaware of the true existence of vampires, life goes on. Wealthy people still send their children off to elite schools, and elite this is. Located on extensive grounds, it has two dormitories that share common lecture facilities. One dorm is for the Day Class, made up of high school and university students that are normal in every respect. The other dorm is the Night Class. They use the facilities after dusk, and while the other students believe them to merely educationally elite in some regard, the truth is far different. They are, in fact, vampires. Vampires who have sworn to disavow human blood, and co-exist here with humans, partaking only of specially developed blood tablets and human food.
Between these vampires and the Day Class stands the two proctors, Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu, adopted daughter and foster son of the school's administrator. Zero hates vampires with a passion, as he is born of a hunter line that has been all but extinguished thanks to a deranged pure blood vampire. All but, as she bit him, and his own vampiric nature is slowly awakening. And what about Yuki? Just what is the reason the vampire prince Kaname was on hand to save her from a mad vampire long ago? And why is he so focussed on her?
While the first volume introduced us to the world of Vampire Knight and set up the love and ideological triangle between Kaname, Yuki, and Zero, here it ratchets up a few notches and (pardon the pun) goes straight for the jugular within the first few pages. The conflict of interests between the Vampire Hunter's Association and the desires of the vampire pureblood noble, Kaname Kuran, begin to rear their head here. It starts off innocuously enough. A turned vampire (that is, one created by a noble's bite, rather one born from vampiric families) has degenerated past the point of reason. Vampires of this class who have fallen to the levels of a beast are known as level E's . These poor souls were created in their thousands hundreds of years ago during a war between the vampire hunters and the vampires. When the war ended, they were cast aside, and have gone mad from their vampiric infection. This is the fate Zero fears the most, having been bitten himself and suffering the transformation to a vampire.
Anyhoo, a level E has wandered into the neighbouring town, and the vampire Hunter Association wants it disposed of before it kills any more people. With this in mind, Chairman Cross sends out Yuki and Zero to take of the problem. With their anti vampire weapons to hand, they are confident it is not going to be terribly difficult. Trouble arises however when Yuki manages to fall foul of the vampire thanks to the fact that there is not one, but two of them. One adult and one small child, who at first she mistakes for a human child who has lost his balloon. Also on hand unexpectedly, are two of the Night Class, dispatched by Kaname Kuran. Kuran sees the level E's as a sin created by his ancestors, and therefore the duty of the vampire race to correct. This does not sit well with Zero as you can imagine.
Vampire Hunters are supposed to hunt vampires, not vampires hunt vampires. Zero gets quite distressed by this new vampiric intrusion into his life, as he sees it, and the angst just gets worse as he watches the girl he loves fall further to the charms of Kaname Kuran. Add his own guilt to the mix, for his transformation begins to progress at alarming speed for him, and to his chagrin, the blood tablets are of no use to him. Realising something is amiss, the Hunter Association adds to his troubles by sending an old family friend to see if the hunter needs to be culled himself, and who bears witness to a dangerous fall towards temptation...
~~~Wait...the hunter becomes the hunted?~~~
If you want to know this, read the book. I am so NOT going to tell you! Suffice it to say, Zero is not having a very good time of it, and Kaname is none too happy either. But, as the succeeding volumes and anime adaptation are proof of, readers are pretty happy indeed. Romance, angst, and layer upon layer of dark behind the scenes machinations are unveiled bit by bit, building up a richly imagined world peopled by three dimensional personalities. The realism is enhanced by small touches of humour interspersed at appropriate moments, mainly thanks to personality quirks of the various characters. It saves it from being too dark and heavy a read, and more of the sort that you are happy to pick up at anytime. The characterisations and the theme are such that unusually for a shojo (girl's) manga, it has attracted a wide range of male fans.
~~~So this is good for anybody then?~~~
It does have a lot of violence, gore, and mature themes going on so while it appeals to both genders despite the shojo label, understand that it is firmly for the mature reader. Discussions on fan forums reveal that most under 18's who read it lack the worldly experience and historical knowledge to fully appreciate the context of some of the depicted interpersonal relationships and the political and personal ramifications of the politicking going on. This doesn't stop them from enjoying it, however. It just means that what a younger reader takes from this is quite different than what a more mature reader does. Indeed, as one revisits the volumes as time passes, one discovers new things previously overlooked. This makes this volume (and the rest) one to buy, keep on the shelf, and revisit again after some time has passed.