So, last time I look at Black Bird, a supernatural romance that is a shining example of how to make such things irritating and dull. So that begs the question: is there a way that it can be done right? Can a supernatural romance be done in an entertaining way?
MILLENNIUM SNOW (Sennen no Yuki), by Bisco Hatori. First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.
Chiyuki has a problem. She was born with a weak heart, and her heart only gets weaker with every year. Because of that, she's spent most of her childhood in the hospital, and every year she hopes to make it to the next snowfall. One evening, she witnesses a boy falling off the hospital roof.
Below, Chiyuki finds a young man, complaining of filthy humans and the scent of blood. This boy, Toya, is a vampire, although he doesn't quite fit the ideal. Sure, he's vulnerable to things like garlic, but he can tolerate sunlight just fine and can survive on human food when blood is unavailable (which is good, because he actually has a major distaste for blood). When he bites a victim, he doesn't turn them, but instead bestows extended life upon the victim and binds himself to the victim. Chiyuki sees this as her salvation. Toya sees this as a nightmare, being a bit of a sensitive, introspective boy.
Toya eventually yields to Chiyuki's request, and now the two must learn to get along as Chiyuki tries to bring Toya into the human world. Things only get more complicated when they meet Satsuki, a handsome classmate with a hairy little secret.
I know what you guys are thinking. You see a story involving a human girl caught in a love triangle with a grumpy, handsome vampire and an equally handsome werewolf, one where the girl constantly begs the vampire to bite her. You are likely getting Twilight flashbacks and recoiling at the thought of reading yet another story like that.
Well, let me put your fears at rest - Millennium Snow is no Twilight clone. It's far more lighthearted, it isn't asking us to accept the vampire as the ultimate romantic hero, and the werewolf is far more cheerful and far less prone to stalking. The best part is that here, the girl has a perfectly good reason for wanting to be bitten - for her, it's literally a matter of life and death.
I really like the characters. Chiyuki seems a bit bland at first, but after being bitten she becomes much more lively, and you get a real sense that this is the self she has always wanted to be. She's relatively proactive as well - she's willing to give the men around her a piece of her mind and is not swayed solely by the bishies around her. I really enjoyed Toya, and I suspect a lot of that is due to how he doesn't fit the mold of the typical manga vampire. Most vampires in manga are beautiful, seductive creatures, and a few are just outright mad monsters. Toya is neither of these, instead being high-strung and neurotic, qualities which in turn conceal the loathing he has for his condition and his fears of loneliness and rejection. He's no Casanova - he's grumpy comic relief. If anyone fits the role of beautiful seducer, you would have to look to Satsuki, whose cheerful, flirtatious nature conceals his own insecurities about his own identity as an orphan and as a werewolf.
This sounds like it could get a little too serious and dramatic for its own good, but thankfully Hatori never lets things get TOO serious. This is aided by Yamimaru, a goofy little bat who serves at Toya's minion, emergency food supply courier, and giver of exposition. He's useful enough at the beginning, but once the main plot gets going he disappears.
I should note there's also a short story afterwards, an early prize-winner from Hatori's early days. It's about a couple of best friends, one of whom has a strange sort of split personality. It's a solid little story with a bittersweet ending, and it's an nice little inclusion.
Millennium Snow is a novel little twist on supernatural shoujo romance, one that is strengthened by its well-rounded characters and its avoidance of the clichés of the genre.
Even by this point, Hatori had settled into her own distinct visual style. While her character designs fall very much in line with much modern shoujo, being all long legs and angles, she draws them lightly, with fine, fairly detailed linework and enormous, shimmering, and expressive eyes. In some ways, this really was a warm-up for her best known series, Ouran High School Host Club. It's certainly true when it comes to the character designs: Toya looks like Kyouya without his glasses, and Satsuki is pretty much a double for Tamaki.
One advantage this series has over later works like Ouran is that its panels are far less busy, since it's working with a smaller, less commentative cast. Instead she uses that space for more close-ups. This sounds claustrophobic, but she tends to leave the borders off the panels, which only enhances the lightness of her art. Backgrounds are sparse, and tend to be filled with very plain washes of screentone or speed lines. Hatori's art style might not be the most visually exciting, but it's delicate and eye-pleasing, and she finds a good balance between personal style and shoujo conventions.
There are translation notes, as well as an omake under the title of "Egoist Club," where she shares some character profiles of the cast.
It's a shame that Hatori abandoned this series for so long, because it's a pleasantly unmelodramatic take on vampire romance, and one that I would recommend to others.
This series is released by Viz. The series is ongoing, having been recently restarted, with 3 volumes available. 2 volumes have been published, and both are in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!