Vampire Knight: Gotta Have 'Em All

>> Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino is the last of my Christmas manga experiments to become a "gotta have 'em all" manga, though it's straddling the line between "gotta have 'em all" and "Compelling but not a favorite." To date, though, I tend to own them all whether they fit in either category. If I have the urge to read a series more than once, I buy them all and that applies to Vampire Knight, though it is far different in tone, style and story than the majority I own.

Despite how "in" vampires are (and my fondness for the Twilight series), I am not a vampire type person. I've never understood the fascination with vampires in general and don't go out of my way to read vampiric stories. What I like are good characters and any scenario (fantasy/science fiction) that builds a world that makes sense within its own framework. If characters appeal to me, I'm pretty lax on that second part, too. If a vampire story happens to do this, create appealing character(s) or a world that intrigues, I'll read it. For those bothered by Twilight, at least these vampires don't sparkle.

When I read the first one, I was on the fence on whether I wanted to pursue it. Then my daughter had me watch the first few episodes of anime and, rereading it, I became more and more intrigued by Kaname's character and the world-building regarding vampires/vampire hunters (genetic, by the way), and humans.

Anime? Yes Volumes of manga: 14 (12 Eng) + fanbook + art book Status: Ongoing

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range: It's listed for older teen and should be (16+), primarily (I think) for some pretty grisly violence and no shortage of blood and death. Although there is no nudity or direct allusions to sex, much of the bloodletting is distinctly sensual.

Taboos and "warnings": Lots of bloody and graphic violence and horrific deaths. A great deal of veiled and unveiled sensuality. The vampires have their own rules, which also encompass incest and enslavement. Some hints at homosexuality and masochism, but nothing too overt.

Premise: Cross Academy has a day class (human) and a night class (vampires, actively working on measures to reduce friction between humans and vampires). The vampires are led by one of the last remaining pureblood vampires, Kaname, who saved the heroine, Yuki, from a vampire when she was five years old and who maintains a sincere and protective attachment to her. Yuki and Zero are both adoptees of the Academy headmaster, are the only ones who know the true nature of the night class, and are tasked with keeping the day and night classes separate. This is further complicated with Zero's antipathy toward vampires (as his family of vampire hunters were killed by one) while he slowly turns into a vampire thanks to a pureblood's bite.

What works: First, at center stage, is the artwork. Very gothic, with gorgeous "uniforms" and very evocative imagery. I'd be lying if I told you that the artwork wasn't a big part of the appeal. Kaname is particularly beautiful, while Zero is drawn for beauty that seems somehow more down-to-earth, edgy. I found the artwork for the various girls and female characters far less compelling, but I tended to find their personalities the same way, so that might be related.
Secondly, I did appreciate the depth and complexity of this secondary world, with its long and bloody history, of vampires, vampire hunters and humans. It's not without flaw or contradiction and, in many ways, it seems amoral, but it has its poignancy and true emotion as well. A great many ins and outs and subtleties play through it and it's rather fascinating to follow them around to find out yet another secret. Actually, as more is revealed, more becomes tidy and holds together with the big linchpin to the whole thing being Kaname, not the youthful Kaname Kuran everyone thinks he is but the endlessly old Kaname who was as much a factor in the decline of vampires' ascendency as he was the creation of the vampire hunters.

I like how blood is a metaphor for so many things. It is used not only to transfer thoughts and emotions, and memories, but also love (a vampire's thirst can only be quenched by the blood of the one they love), longevity, medicine, nutrition, mutagent, control, power (including specific vampire powers) and even directly as a weapon, as used by Kaname, his "father," his "uncle" and also Senri Shiki. Blood is also used to seal spells, particularly the one that makes a vampire "human" and erases the memory of their former lives. I like that vampires frequently drink each other's blood as opposed to just preying on humans. There is also a modicum of humor, though it's more a sidelight rather than pervasive.

Kaname is another big draw. Beautifully and poignantly drawn, he is a man of mysteries, with his overt protective adoration of Yuki contrasting with some pretty dark doings involving considerable violence. Coupled with an otherworldly control (all but unheard of among vampires) is a rather amoral willingness to use people to serve his purposes. To all outward appearances, he is far more humane and well-intentioned than most of his ilk, and yet . . . Those loyal to him are fiercely so, including both Yuki and the Cross Academy headmaster. I find the characters of a number of the night class students appealing, even though we only get tantalizing glimpses.

Zero also is fascinating, the ultimate conflicted individual, hating vampires passionately, yet unable to preclude his own vampire nature from manifesting. Yuki's devotion keeps him from being torn apart by these conflicting drives (at the cost of her own blood), while both the vampires and the vampires hunters use him mercilessly to suit themselves. Yet, being used, he has considerable will and ends up using those that use him to serve his own purposes. His love for Yuki is touching and tragic. I suspect one reason why this manga continued past the "end" was a sizeable faction of fans who want to see Zero get the girl (as my daughter does).

Favorite character: Duh. Kaname. I like Zero, but Kaname's absolute devotion to Yuki, not just her person but her happiness, won me over and his complex history and ever-sad eyes are fascinating in the extreme.


Zero: Drinking blood on campus is strictly forbidden. Did you lose your mind, drunk on the scent of blood, vampire?

Zero: I couldn't stop myself from devouring you. I may kill the next human I target as my prey. Shoot me. You're afraid of me, aren't you? Hold the gun with both hands and aim straight. Aim for the center. It's not a crime to kill a vampire.
Yuki: I didn't understand anything but I've lived with you for four years. I'm not afraid. I can stop you. If that time comes. If you want me to stop you, I will stop you.

Yagari: The pureblood vampire holds her so gently in his arms... I don't give a damn why you treat that little girl so differently but of course you realize what she's done. You must be seething with rage, right? Yet you won't do anything, just like a proper honor student. Why is that? Why won't you tear Zero to shreds?
Yuki: It's so that I won't lose my girl.

Kaname: By the way, I've never told you why I'm pretending not to notice what has happened to you. I know how precarious the peace is here at Cross Academy so I thought about who could act as Yuki's shield in this place. You will not double-cross her because you owe her that much. That is why I'm allowing you to live.

Kaname: I cannot have you die now. I've allowed you to live so you could serve Yuki. I know you won't betray her--
Zero: You're assuming things as usual...
Kaname: Oh, but I know because our feelings for Yuki are probably the same.
Zero: I...I only want Yuki to smile from the bottom of her heart.
Kaname: Me too.
Zero: I don't want her to sacrifice herself!
Kaname: Exactly. (He offers his own blood to Zero) Don't ever forget for whom this blood was offered, Zero. No one hates vampires more than you yet you need blood more than any vampire. I think you're the most vampirelike of us all.

Kaname: Yuki, get out of the way. I cannot forgive the man who aimed that gun at you, a weapon that could destroy you, even if it was for a mere moment. I will not forgive him even if you hate me for five hundred or a thousand years.
Yuki: Please, I don't want to make you say something so sad.
Kaname: All right take some time to say goodbye to him. [Sucker]
What I didn't like: Yuki. She's not the worst romantic lead out there for me, but I couldn't get behind her thinking for most of the series. I respect her fierce loyalty, her absolute lack of fear when it comes to death, and even some decisions she made, but she's largely clueless on what's going on around her. She jumps into the fray even when its abysmally stupid to do so and seems to have no consideration for the many people consumed with keeping her safe. I can respect that the "men" who love her do so unstintingly and without reservation (as, admittedly, she does them), but I still do a lot of eye-rolling. I'd be happier if she were just a bit less clueless or inept.

Also, I'm disturbed by the pacing. The story went along quite bracingly for the first ten volumes and had what seemed like a nice tidy ending at the end of volume 10 (48 chapters), what's frequently referred to as the first arc. At the end of that story, the world order as it was is no more, with the Academy's night class a thing of the past, and most of the vampire world turned upside down. The distinction between arcs is so significant and the ending for the first arc so pat that I actually think she'd intended to end it there and was pushed into carrying it forward by rabid fans or publishing dictates.

I'll admit I don't entirely get what's going on in the second arc, but the pacing is considerably slower, with nothing coming to resolution (so far, with 30 more chapters) and some things I can't fathom, like the current relationship with Kaname and Yuki, which should look like estranged marriage but is apparently something else? The style of drawing has changed as well, with it now dominated by a sort of wispy pencil type minimalist drawing and every vampire having the same somewhat empty eyes. Still pretty artwork, but nowhere near as powerful and with minimal contrast between the extensive details and the minimalist.

Updated: I've now seen them all and rather than finding the end making the whole series make sense, it was a bit of a letdown. I STILL don't understand what Kanime's motivation was. Oh well. I might ONLY want to have the first arc. 

Vampire Knights has twelve books out in English and chapters available out to at least Chapter 78 as volunteer scans on-line. The anime is dubbed in English, at least for the first arc and the second season is coming out as well. Zero's voice in that is the melodious Vic Mignogna (same as OHSHC's Tamaki). As always, if you love it, buy the books. And, yes, I did. I have to admit I also sprang for the artbook given that the visual elements of the manga are so compelling to me. Since I first wrote this review (nearly a year ago) I've read some of her earlier, lighter work. I do like it, even if some of it is very silly and some of it is very confusing.

I mean, is this not one of the sexiest pictures you've ever seen? Never mind the individuals involved hate each other...

I said I never understood what was so sexy about vampires...well, with this manga, I'm starting to get it. However, with the artwork in this one, I'm starting to get it.

[Artwork removed at request]


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