Hello, hello, hello! It seems the fourth Wednesday of every month is always near some sort of holiday, but unfortunately I don’t know of any manga that centers around Thanksgiving. So, let’s just awkwardly sidestep that and move straight into today’s discussion: Matsuri Hino’s Vampire Knight.
I’ll be honest: I’m not as into this series as I first was, but I think that’s mostly because senior year of college got in the way. I did love it enough to buy the first 13 volumes, though, so that’s a good sign! Anywho, Vampire Knight takes place at Cross Academy, a school for both humans and vampires. Headmaster Cross has an adopted daughter, Yuki, whose earliest memory is being attacked by a vampire and subsequently being saved by Kaname Kuran, another vampire. Yuki and Zero – a childhood friend – are members of the disciplinary committee, but their main job is keeping the human students from finding out about the vampires. There’s a lot of tension between humans and vampires in general throughout the series, almost as much tension as there is between Yuki, Kaname, and Zero. Yuki wants to learn about her past, but strange things happen every time she tries to remember. The series ended its run earlier this year, and there’s also an anime.
There are a few things that really work for this manga; the first is the content. The bulk of this series and the corresponding anime came out during the Twilight/vampire craze in the US, so it’s no surprise that it took off here in the States (it was REALLY hard to find copies in bookstores because they kept running out!). But unlike a lot of the vampire books and television shows that came out, Vampire Knight isn’t primarily a love story; it’s about people coming to terms with who they are, dealing with prejudices, and learning how to mend the past and present to have a better future. Vampires are often seen as metaphors for a variety of things including sex and drugs, and trust me when I say there are a few bloodsucking scenes that will make you…ah…blush (seriously – all I could think was I C WUT U DID THAR). But this eroticism leads to more tension between humans and vampires, all of which is manifested brilliantly in Zero. And this leads us neatly into the second thing this manga has working in its favor: complex characters.
To me, Zero is one of the most fascinating manga characters I’ve come across. He hates vampires, but it’s his duty as a disciplinary committee member to protect their secret. He’s a member of the Hunter Association, a group that destroys vampires deemed too dangerous and unstable, but the Association is corrupt. He’s been with Yuki and her father for years, but he can’t bring himself to admit he’s a part of their family. He hates Kaname because he’s a vampire, but he recognizes when Kaname is trying to protect Yuki. Zero is full of contradictions, and the series is just as much his story as it is Yuki’s. Truthfully, I find his story more compelling to watch because of the sacrifices (shh, spoilers!) he makes. Not to slight the development of Yuki’s character, though; from the very first chapter we’re shown that she’s independent and in pure awe of Kaname, but (thankfully) as time goes on she removes Kaname from the pedestal she placed him on. She doubts her strength towards the beginning of the series, but she learns that what constitutes strength isn’t universal and that she can find her own type of strength. Yuki puts her friends first even if they don’t want help, and she’s honestly amazing.
Kaname rounds out our trio of main characters, and he’s a rather difficult character. Kaname is a pureblood vampire, meaning that he has special powers and is both revered and feared amongst the vampire community. He’s been with Yuki since she was a child, and he’s quite devoted to her. He is the Tvtropes definition of a Chessmaster, and there are actually scenes of him with a chessboard as he plans things. Yuki is hopelessly in love with him, but she can’t bring herself to reveal her true feelings. My main problem with Kaname is that he’s incredibly controlling; he decides if something is too dangerous for Yuki, he decides if she needs to know something. We’re provided with reasons for this, but it still makes him come across as a form of abusive. And Yuki does in fact realize how ruthless he can be, but his role as her protector ultimately trumps that. There are several moments when Yuki states she’s not worthy of Kaname or that she doesn’t him, and it’s frustrating. Kaname’s struggle and ensuing fights garner sympathy, but Yuki’s realizations that he’s not being fair always casts him in a permanently grey light.
Finally, the last thing that I’d like to hit on is the artwork. Simply put, it’s stunning. Whereas Kaori Yuki’s detailed work, in comparison, can feel overwhelming, I’ve always felt that Vampire Knight has some of the cleanest lines, lovely details, and well-drawn characters I’ve seen. Oh, oh, speaking of well-drawn characters, can I also just say that the secondary characters are wonderful? A lot of the student vampires we meet, for instance, have unique personalities and grow to play large roles within the series. And this is another random aside, but the pun on the title – Vampire Knight – is rather brilliant when you start to wonder who is enacting the role of the knight throughout the series.
The biggest quibble I have with the series is that there’s a lot of receptiveness; almost every chapter shows the very first scene of the manga – Yuki being attacked by a vampire as a child – or has Yuki mention that she has no memories of her past. It’s a bit annoying, especially when a tankōbon volume holds 5 chapters and you read the same scene 5 times in one sitting. Since the series is fundamentally about the lack of trust we have for others – those we love, those we loathe – things get pretty dark. But Matsuri Hino is clever to put in a few humorous scenes between chapters, many of which have to do with the student vampires.
So! I do indeed recommend this series. There’s love, darkness, humor, tears, pain, laughter, sadness, oh-my-word-are-you-serious moments – and gorgeous artwork to boot.
Until next time, enjoy the holidays, good luck on finals, and get pumped for the review!