Matsuri Hino’s Vampire Knight, Vol. 1

A few years ago I started getting interested in manga, largely because I like the graphic style of many of the titles — at their best, they are lean, clear, and solidly grounded in the Japanese woodcut tradition. I ran across a couple of titles that got me interested, and then found Matsuri Hino’s Vampire Knight.

It’s a delightful series, about a boarding school with two classes, the Day Class and the Night Class. Yuki Cross, the headmaster’s adopted daughter, is on the Day Class disciplinary committee, along with another orphan, Zero Kiryu. Their task is to enforce the rules, but more important, to protect the Day Class from the Night Class, and the Night Class’ secret from the Day Class: the Night Class, an elite group, is composed entirely of vampires. Their president, the pureblood Kaname Kuran (and remember that the names in this one adhere to the Japanese convention of family name followed by personal name), had saved Yuki’s life when she was attacked by a vampire. Zero’s whole family was murdered by vampires and, as we soon learn, he was bitten by a pureblood, which doesn’t bode well for his future.

This volume includes the first five nights of the serial and a short side story. Much of this one is involved with explaining the characters and their backgrounds, although there’s certainly enough of a story line to keep the reader interested.

Vampire Knight falls within the category of shoujo manga, generally considered as “manga for girls,” as opposed to shounen manga, “manga for boys.” Although there is enough action to keep boys interested, the series adheres largely to the conventions of shoujo: the protagonist is a girl, the emphasis is on the relationships among the characters, and the style reflects the general cast of shoujo, being less linear (in fact, sometimes downright dizzying as page layouts verge dangerously close to losing any coherence whatsoever, although as I got used to reading from back to front and right to left, this got to be less of a problem) and often using backgrounds to denote the mood of the characters. (Hino tends to rely on subtle patterns which I think don’t denote mood so much as provide a break from the stark black-and-white of the images.)

The visual style is follows the shoujo convention: characters are rendered as slim, sometimes almost etiolated, willowy, with enormous eyes and shaggy hair. Facial features fall within a “Western” aesthetic, and in this case, without reference to the variations in costume and hairstyle, it’s almost impossible to tell one character from another. Some of the full view figures reminded me of Gainsborough portraits – there is a broad range of influences discernible here, all to the good, as far as I’m concerned.

This has been a very popular series, with anime adaptations and a number of collected volumes. I have no trouble recommending it.

(VIZ Media, 2007)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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