Kyo Shirodaira / Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2010 – 9 volumes

The thrilling conclusion!  This is an extra-long volume.  I figured the story would be twisting and turning right up to the end, but the only really big surprise comes in the form of an ultimatum Strauss offers the Black Swan.  Most everything else goes more or less according to plan.  Not to say that it isn’t awesome.  I mean, the climax of the series (in a matter of speaking) is a pair of vampires flying through space to swallow an alien spaceship with their powers in a battle that takes place on the moon.  Just because I knew it was coming didn’t make it any less awesome.

There’s lots of final conversations between characters, as expected from a last volume.  Everyone loves Strauss, which runs fairly contrary to the first volume, where everyone hated him.  It’s been a wild ride and a pretty satisfying 180, I have to say.  My favorite conversation was actually between Strauss and Laetitia, his little Dhampire assistant, the one person who didn’t hate him.  She was also the only one that didn’t get all weepy, and the only one that got an “I love you” out of him.  Aww.  We get a last word for pretty much everyone but Sabarhagen.  Well, we even get a last word from her, I suppose.  The talks do drag the story on a little, and I was really dying for the conclusion while everyone was still talking, but they did have to be there.

The final outcome was not expected, though not the earth-shattering twist that “unexpected” implies from this series.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll only say I had mixed feelings about it.  One of the things I like best about this series, though, is that whenever something unusual comes up in the storytelling, Shirodaira discusses it in his essay in the back of the book.  This was no exception, but he really offers no explanation other than the story, especially the ending, was heavily inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac.

That’s right.  A story about that ends with vampires fighting aliens on the moon was inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac.  What’s more, I can kind of see it after he brought it up.

Marry me, Kyo Shirodaira.

I was pretty satisfied with the conclusion, and I was more than satisfied with the series as a whole.  I still can’t get over how well the unusual story was told, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants a well-written, bizarre story full of twists.  It’s got to be one of the best for this, and I think it (or at the very least, its panache) will stay with me for quite some time.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Record of a Fallen Vampire 8

February 14, 2010

Kyo Shirodaira / Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2010 – 9 volumes

Holy crap, yes!  YES!  This series is incredible!  I am so ridiculously pumped after reading this volume.  There is nothing quite like the story in this series, ridiculous as it seems at first.

After all the stuff revealed last time, I was a little shy about sitting down with this one and had to make time to re-read volume 7.  But man.  I thought that the last two volumes would be taking care of the alien problem.  They are, in a sense, but it’s not nearly as straightforward as it seems, and along with revealing more of just how awesome Strauss is, there is one more huge twist.  Not perspective-changing, as the last one was, but still a pretty major stumblng block for the end of the story to resolve.

I love the treatment of vampires here.  It gets pretty ridiculous when the series goes on and we keep learning about additional powers Strauss has.  He has one more major one here that shocks everybody, but it was kind of ruined for me because I was under the impression he could do this, along with all other vampires (maybe because I believed him when he said it at the beginning, and talked about the history of the vampires).  But Strauss is quite literally an immortal badass.  He’s polite about it, and doesn’t brag or show off.  On the contrary, he keeps as much to himself as possible.  The vampires also don’t suck blood, something that Bridget mentioned towards the beginning and is explained further here.  Shirodaira mentions his reasons behind this towards the back, but the logic behind why it was necessary for the vampires of the past and not the present is interesting.  He also promises more on that next volume, and I am truly, TRULY looking forward to it.

The other thing about the vampires in this volume is a spoiler.  But it’s pretty extreme.  Silly, but I loved it anyway.  It fits so well with the nature of the series.

One of the things I thought about here were the similarities in exposition between this series and Tsubasa.  Both are based almost entirely around past events.  Tsubasa has a bad habit of having characters sit down and explain things to you periodically, and as a result doesn’t make much sense if you don’t read big chunks of volumes together.  RoaFV does the same thing, and I’ll admit I was a little antsy when storytime with Strauss came up again, but I think the difference is that the flashbacks in this series are told through long story segments that take place in the past rather than just having the character tell you.  It shows you, which helps.  It also helps that there is more than one character available to tell the story most of the time, so they pass the stories between them and add perspective and help make sense of things.  But in a sense, it is a bit like Tsubasa since most of the story isn’t happening in the present, and you have to pay attention to follow things.  But Tsubasa is a bit farther out in left field than this one is, and I think the story here is told better and is also easier to understand.

I cannot recommend this series enough.  It’s got an amazingly well-told story, one of the more interesting I’ve seen.  It’s not long, and it’s also got all its seriousness balanced out in its inherent silly nature (vampires vs. aliens).  I love the constant change of perspectives and the twists, and I am dying to read the conclusion.  Pick it up if you think it sounds at all interesting, you will not be disappointed.

Kyo Shirodaira / Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2009 – 9 volumes

Now, there are two schools of thought regarding what happened in this volume (these schools of thought may only exist in my head, but they exist nonetheless).  Let me see if I can talk through this.

Now, it’s significant that, with Strauss’s side of the story revealed in this volume, something we’ve been waiting for the entire series, literally everything has been overturned.  I was pretty sure something like this was going to happen, but I didn’t think the story transformation would be so complete.  There was something wrong with Strauss, something strange about his act and all the horrible crimes he was charged with.  His view offers a satisfying explanation, shames the other characters, and just reverses the whole point of the story.  And comes handily back to the aliens after all this time.

Normally when this happens, I hate it.  I love well-wrought twists in the story, something Record of a Fallen Vampire is masterful with, but it’s ridiculous when everything is reversed.  There’s usually no real reason for it.  Why tell a story only to reverse it for the shock value?  I can recognize it as a pretty ridiculous storytelling technique.

And yet, when Record of a Fallen Vampire does it, it makes so much sense.  It’s pretty clear that this was how the story has been laid out from the beginning, and everything that’s happened ties back into this explanation and is explained to my satisfaction.  As I said, I value a good twist.  This series has been doing great ones for the last several volumes, and this one was the last and greatest of them.  In the essay in the back, Kyo Shirodaira mentions that this is the last twist, promise, and that the story will just tie up the loose ends and wrap itself up from here.

Shirodaira also mentions that this story is his response to unreliable memory, and how in narratives the fact that nobody really remembers anything perfectly is something that is forgiven for the sake of the story.  It’s natural to forget details, both significant and small, over the course of several years, and of course the characters here have had 1,000 years to let their memories sit and to shape them and recall only the parts that suit their particular version of the truth.  I liked it a whole lot better when I read that, too.

There’s one final twist at the end.  Not one as significant as the explanation of Strauss’s role, but one that sort of ties two characters together that shouldn’t be linked.  The link is significant, but since the reader doesn’t directly “know” either of the characters, the twist isn’t really as big a shock, more like… Big News of the type that most other series pull off.  Small potatoes in the scope of things here.

Record of a Fallen Vampire is amazing.  I promise.  I’m sure nothing the story will finish with will be able to top this volume, but I am looking forward to a satisfying conclusion (and learning what’s up with the aliens) all the same.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Story by Kyo Shirodaira, Art by Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2009 – 9 volumes

A bad schedule at work coupled with the fact I’ve only felt like re-reading From Eroica with Love means there haven’t been a lot of reviews on the site this week. I probably should have read something else, since I just reviewed a volume of this, but hey, it’s awesome, and I couldn’t help myself.

The story of the past concludes, more or less, in this volume. It wraps up the best it can considering there are still several variables and questions Bridget leaves open, which the characters set about to pointing out and discussing immediately. I liked this a lot since the story is so subtle that it’s easy to miss out on some of the hints. The biggest one is still the fact that Bridget was not present when Adelheid and Strauss were reunited, which seems to be turning into one of the more major plot points of the series. The characters point out one I wouldn’t have considered, which is the question of why Strauss was hated so much by humans, vampires, and all of the neighboring kingdoms when he was, according to Bridget, a very benevolent and peace-loving king. To me, it was enough that he was very powerful, but it’s a fair point that he didn’t seem to be rocking the boat. Strauss answers part of this question at the end of the volume, though it doesn’t strike me as much as it seems to have struck all the characters in the book. I mean… they can do that if they’re old enough, right? Or do I just read too many vampire books?

Strauss is still wearing his mask of stoicism, and the story goes about hinting that he basically is up to something and can’t be stopped at whatever that task is in the present. He uses his powers and impresses everybody, though I suspect he is still infinitely more powerful than what we’ve seen here.

We do get to see two more sides of his personality. We see a bit of the feral rage that overcame him after Adelheid was sealed, and we see him blushing like a schoolboy around the female scientist at the base in the present… which was a bit puzzling since there doesn’t seem to be anything romantic going on there. All the same, I will savor any scraps of personality dropped by Akabara Strauss, because he is quite the fascinating enigma.

Kyo Shirodaira has another interesting essay at the back of the book about the different points of simple plots versus complex plots, and how an interesting concept will serve as an intriguing hook regardless of the quality of the story. He (or she) acknowledges the fact that the vampire vs. aliens hook in the story here isn’t one that immediately communicates an interesting story, which is true. The vampire vs. alien plot is more than likely not the reason anyone reads this, but it’s still a pretty awesome thing to have running in the background. He also admits the title of the story isn’t the best, since it doesn’t put across a firm idea of the story (which is true of the Japanese title, “Vampire Cross-World,” as well as the English title) and contrasts it with the title “The One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine.” He says that hooks like that are great since they communicate a variety of vivid possibilities, and refuses to believe that such a to-the-point title alienates potential audience members rather than drawing more in. He has a point, since Master of the Flying Guillotine is the only kung-fu movie I’ve ever seen. Awesome as it was (hint: very, very awesome), I’ve never been inclined to try another because… well, one-armed boxer versus flying guillotine.

Another sad thing is that Adelheid is still not awake, but with one cross left and the issue of the backstory out of the way, there’s no real way of getting around her next time. But now I’m all caught up, and I’m going to be dying for the last few volumes of the series. It truly is a great one.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Story by Kyo Shirodaira, Art by Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2009 – 9 volumes

This series is so very good! It was hard to believe an essay at the back of the volume where Kyo Shirodaira mentions that several elements have evolved beyond what he (or she) had imagined and the story had to be adapted accordingly since one of his biggest pet peeves is when important story elements hinted at early on are not utilized later. It’s difficult for me to imagine that the story was not developed and fully formed before the first chapter came out. It’s a story of perspectives, and it seems like it would be difficult to change anything about it.

I’m having a hard time explaining this. Because the story seems largely about Strauss, how all the characters perceive him, and how their different positions and goals make him a completely different person to each and every one of them, it’s strange that parts of it have changed from what was originally imagined since… well, part of the fun seems to come with contradicting the earlier perceptions entirely, so it’s hard for me to believe that those earlier parts were not written with that in mind. Probably they were. Who am I to say?

This volume focused on the past, as told by Bridget. It was incredible, since Strauss is yet again a completely different person, and the events went down much differently than history recorded them. The most fun was seeing Strauss in love and completely devoted to Stella. Stella’s portrayal was also quite excellent, since in a world full of powerful creatures and people of status, she was… just herself, and that was enough for Strauss.

But even in this story, there is room for error on Bridget’s part. The confrontation between Strauss and Adelheid was not something she witnessed, so we don’t know what went on there. Similarly, she didn’t see Stella’s death, so it’s possible that impression will be completely subverted in the future, perhaps when Adelheid comes around.

Shirodaira mentions specifically that Stella was not a character he had thought of when the story first started, which is pretty incredible since a lot of the possible misinterpretations and changes in viewpoint happen as a result of her. About the only other thing I can see that might have changed since the first volume is Bridget, whose attitude here doesn’t quite match her earlier persona. But perhaps there will be an explanation for that as well. I’m sure it will be awesome.

Again, this series is pretty incredible and nearly peerless when it comes to the intricate storytelling techniques. Even with everyone talking about Strauss and who he is, the Strauss of the present is himself completely faceless and very much an enigma when it comes to what it is that he wants. I am very much looking forward to when his mask comes off and all of that is revealed. Also, with all this talk of the ancient vampire kingdom, I’m also looking forward to how exactly the alien invasion will fit into the story. I am very sure there is a point to that and that I will be blown away when it is revealed.

Story by Kyo Shirodaira, Art by Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2008 – 9 volumes

I loved this volume, though I still think volume 3 is where things really get interesting.  There were a few interesting story elements in the first volume, but nothing outstanding that made the series really stand out.  Volume two takes those elements and makes them far more interesting, and then volume three takes that interesting plot and turns it on its head, and the rest of the story fragments it and brings it back together.  I think.  Let me read a little further to make sure.

Anyway, the most interesting thing here is the alliance between Strauss and the Black Swan.  Now, one of the interesting things in the last volume was the curse of the Black Swan, the human race’s defense against Strauss, King of Vampire.  The curse takes over one human and sets them against Strauss, and if that human is killed in battle, the curse jumps to a new human.  Except for each new human, the magic of the Black Swan increases, and the collective memories of all of the Black Swans are also part of the deal, so the present human host has magic roughly equal to Akabara’s and knowledge of how each of her 50 predecessors were defeated.  All of this is cool, but after establishing that the Black Swan and the Vampire King are mortal enemies now and forever, the second volume expertly reverses that and has the two pairing up at the behest of the Black Swan.  Her intentions are not clear, and death is promised at the end of the alliance, but the fact that the story pulled this off in the second volume when most series who reverse a rivalry like that fail spectacularly is nothing short of astounding.  Again, if you had told me that happened in this series, I would think there was no way it couldn’t be terrible.  But that’s the magic of Record of a Fallen Vampire.  It takes what should, by all accounts, be a really horrible story and makes it amazing.

The other good thing about this volume is that it humbles Strauss, but then shows that he may or may not have infinite tricks up his sleeve.  He should have lost in battle several times, he has no magic to fight back against the Dhampires, and yet he seems to always win by outsmarting them.  Bridget reveals the depth of his plans later, but the fact that he brought down four powerful opponents with no magic at his disposal was pretty cool.  And again, this doesn’t sound cool, but something about it was.  The fights are interesting, and I love seeing how the dynamics of them work.  There’s even a fantastic art sequence where Strauss takes a sword from someone and turns it on them.

Strauss works as a character, I think, despite his status of Godlike powerful being, because he rarely says anything, and also doesn’t really show off or struggle or use his powers when not necessary.  He’s very secretive, and no matter what, even without his saying anything, he always seems to have the upper hand in battles.  I like his personality and the mystery surrounding him, which probably would have hooked me here had I started from the beginning of the series.

Lots of the mechanics of magic and the lines of friend and foe are explained in this volume, but even with lengthy explanations of what’s going on and a new representative for the human race showing up and turning the simple “rock, paper, scissors” game that Strauss, Black Swan, and the Dhampires played with one another into an extremely delicate and volatile system of checks and balances, with death promised at the end.

I like it.  I like it a lot.  It’s definitely a high recommendation.  I’m very much looking forward to the next few volumes, and will probably cover up to the current release this weekend.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Story: Kyo Shirodaira / Art: Yuri Kimura – Viz – 2008 – 9 volumes

I got some more volumes of this, so let’s see if I can’t work my way to the newest English volume.

Reading this volume after starting further in, my feelings were kind of split here.  On one hand, I do wish I had started here, because the first volume paints a picture of the lonely Vampire King working against all odds to find his Queen and be together with her again.  It’s very romantic, and this volume sort of humanizes Strauss in a way that the others haven’t, since it’s here that he meets and takes in his Dhampire apprentice, and we also see how he restrains himself when fighting for the safety of humans, and how fondly he speaks of the old Vampire Kingdom, stuff like that.  It’s interesting to see the genesis of the conflict between Strauss and Renka, which hinges on the death of the former Black Swan.  Killing the Black Swan, just as he’s killed all the previous Black Swans, is the only truly vicious thing that Strauss does, but on the other hand, the Black Swan is also probably the biggest threat to him and the only person that would be likely to pursue Strauss to the point of death, since that is her destiny, so the death makes sense.

But really, it amused me that Strauss was depicted as the mooning lover in this volume, since that’s not at all how he’s portrayed later.  I’m not entirely convinced of the opposite now, after reading this, but seeing him in full-blown tragic mode was great.

All that is good stuff, and really helps me figure out some additional pieces of the story.  But on the other hand, there’s not a whole lot in the first volume to distinguish it from a regular vampire-ish action series, aside from the fact the story is well-told.  We’ve got the brooding Strauss looking for his queen, an elaborate human curse out to stop him, and Dhampires that are trying to prevent his waking of his queen too, since the two of them combined possess the most powerful magic known to exist.  Nothing there really stands out, and for me, the appeal lies in the way the story twists later, so I’m sort of glad I didn’t start with this volume.  On the other hand, I’m a sucker for well-told vampire stories, so it’s likely I would have been even more delighted with the later volumes since I probably would have taken this at face value and loved it.

But let me see where things go in volume 2.  I know volume 3 is where it begins to get nutty, and I’ll probably re-read 3 and 4 before moving on to 5 and 6.