VAMPIRE KNIGHT (Vanpaia Naito), by Matsuri Hino. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2007.
Cross Academy has two classes, a day class and a night class. The day class is made up of ordinary students, even if there seems to be a far higher concentration of girls than normal. The night class is made of mostly beautiful young men, all of whom conceal a terrible secret: they are all vampires. The only people who know the truth about them are the headmaster and his two adopted children, Zero and Yuki. Thus, the headmaster tasks his children with being the class monitors, which mostly means trying to keep the girls of the day class away and keep the night class from nibbling on the student body. They do receive some assistance from Kaname, the head of the night class who has ties to Yuki's past. Unfortunately, the delicate balance between the classes is threatened by Zero, who has been concealing a terrible secret of his own, and Yuki finds herself in the middle of something far bigger and far more dangerous than she realized.
While I am grateful to find a vampire manga without a single loli (believe me, it's harder than you think), I can't say that Vampire Knight is any better than its subgenre brethren. It's simply pandering to a different audience through its slavish devotion to shoujo cliché.
I literally rolled my eyes when the night class was revealed to be nothing but a pack of bishonen, each more beautiful than the last, because it's just a given anymore than vampires are beautiful, seductive creatures. Of course every girl within a mile of them (save for our lead) is desperate and dying to get in their pants, because they're just doing what Hino expects her teenage audience would do in their place. Hino knows her audience well, even if she doesn't respect their intelligence very much.
It doesn't help that she can't be bothered to give her cast much in the way of character. Yuki has none to speak of, being defined more by her relationships than herself. Kaname is your standard princely type, and Zero is a sullen, pissy little thing. Also, if he were any more possessive about Yuki, he would pee on her to mark her as his territory. The sad thing is that of the main cast, he gets the most development. He at least goes through a physical change, even if it does nothing to improve his insufferable attitude. There's not even a villain for the main trio to react against. The closest this volume gets are a couple of Kaname's sleezier classmates.
Hino makes no effort to explain why there are vampires in this world, or why the headmaster is so set on the idea of peace between humans and vampires. There are other bits and pieces of world building, like the notion of vampire hunters and the notion of 'purebred' vampires free of any human lineage, but they're not tied together in any cohesive, intriguing manner. Instead, the only thing they seem to be tying together are the corners of the inevitable love triangle between our three leads. I wouldn't mind that those three had anything resembling a personality. That may be the story's greatest fault. These characters at best are stereotypes, and at worst are nothing at all.
Hino's art is just as stereotypical as her characters. The character designs are all points and limbs and shiny eyes, with hair that is so limp, messy, and long that it almost appears sentient. It's really telling that the biggest thing anybody took away from this series were the overly fussy and heavily detailed school uniforms, with the oh-so-clever twist of having the day class wear the black variations and the night class wear the white ones. The overdesigning continues into the panels, as Hino uses a lot of close-ups, dutch angles, and dingy obscuring screentones. This manga isn't even so much a collection of talking heads as it is a collection of staring, glowering heads, and when combined with the already thin story the result is a mess.
There's a brief, pointless little side story with a couple of the other vampires, as well as some translation notes and notes on the details of those notoriously tacky school uniforms.
The popularity of this series baffles me. It surely can't be for the stories or the characters, because there's barely anything there to speak of. It can't be the artwork either, because it's an appalling mess of fussy details over generic designs. So what's left to enjoy?
This series is published by Viz. The series is complete in Japan. 16 volumes have been published so far, and all are currently in print.
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