by Matsuri Hino
published in English by Viz Media, LLC, San Francisco
2004 – 2013
As I was exploring the Viz website, I decided to read a preview of Matsuri Hino’s popular shōjo vampire romance. I was immediately hooked on her humor – she laid out immediately that in the school setting where this story takes place, vampires are all gorgeous, and no one can resist them – plus, her clear dedication to fashion / costume design. This is going to be fun! Viz makes it easy to access the English editions by having the complete series available in a digital format for multiple platforms, including their own website (viz.com).
I’m unsure when it’s the best time to review a long series like this. At the moment, I’m 10 volumes in, and that means I’ve read 2,000 pages or so… I’m impressed and how much work it must have taken to lovingly produce these elaborately illustrated pages… Drawing the hair alone could take lifetimes! This is a work of great dedication.
The Story: Yuri Cross is an ordinary schoolgirl protagonist and apparent orphan, being raised by a headmaster at a private school. The school has a day class of ordinary students, and a night class of gorgeous, supermodel-attractive students who are secretly vampires. [squeal] Poor Yuri is tasked with keeping these groups apart during shift changes, even though she is TINY and not very persuasive, aside from having terrifyingly large eyes. (Really, they cross a line into scary-intense.)
Yuri has two love interests attending school, both of whom are relentlessly handsome: Zero, the troubled orphan from a vampire-hunter clan, who has an elaborate neck tattoo and a vampire-hating stare (day class, light hair, wearing black), and Kaname, the broody, indulgent vampire who saved Yuri’s life when she was a small child (night class president, dark hair, wearing white). Yuri doesn’t understand why Kaname, who could have anyone, indulges her, though she knows he is keeping a secret about her past.
Zero and Kaname are rivals for Yuri’s love, because of course they are.
Perfect set up, right? (Answer: Yes. And yes, there are entire articles about why this manga is superior to Twilight, so you don’t even have to raise that.) Societal forces and political intrigue off campus create all sorts of danger: eventually the school is attacked, and Yuri winds up wielding a super-cool weapon much larger than she is, and having to choose between her loves.
What I’m learning: arriving late to this genre, I had to learn some (probably) obvious things.
Chaste blood sucking: Blood sucking is the most forbidden, naughty, taboo thing you can do. (The text specified this.) So, having gorgeous boys lick your hand when you get a paper cut [swoon], or having them sweet talk you into letting you put their fangs into your neck (or each others’ long, handsome necks) [swoon], or generally drinking each others’ blood while making expressions of surrender and ecstasy is naughty, and is a stand-in for… any other possible exchange of bodily fluids. That’s why you keep letting handsome boys nibble on you only in secret: because it’s… taboo and forbidden on campus? Sure! Got it!
Dominance and submission: There are powers of mind control that powerful vampires naturally have over weaker ones! There are spells that can tame someone, and make them obedient to your wishes. Yes, there are.
Beauty appreciation/devotion: everyone is so gorgeous that same-sex attraction is totally understandable. No blame! Though it’s attractive to blush with embarrassment about it, because blushing just makes gorgeous people more gorgeous.
Fashion fetishism: There are the many beautiful fashion touches specific to Hino’s style. These made a big impression on me – the costumes are ELABORATE, and have so many unnecessary-but-pretty fasteners!
I have gone to so many kimono exhibits, and it took me a while to think about these costumes in contrast to those. Traditional Japanese clothing has its lovely flat collars, cord fasteners, printed patterns, straight edges, and wrapped contrasting layers, and these costumes are the opposite of each and every one of those details. Suddenly, Lolita-fashion as rebellion makes total sense. Lace! Buttons! Embroidery! Solids! Pleats! Clasps! Elaborately gathered skirts, crinolines, collars that could get a plane off the runway in a strong wind…. YES! This is fashion fetishism in a consistently designed, affectionate style.
YES, THERE ARE DRESS UP PARTIES – how could there not be? Also, castles, and ballrooms, and long eyelashes on nearly everyone.
Hino knows EXACTLY what a vampire romance should have, and she delivers with a style that shows great fashion talent and dedication. I see why this is popular! And I understand why there are multiple art books and a sequel.
Be careful of the fan wiki at vampireknight.fandom.com, because it is filled with spoilers, even though it will help you keep track of the characters. (There are lots of blonde men with similar names, but the explanations also tell you their fates!)
I’ll now resume reading the next volume to see what our overdressed heroine, whose big heart still burns for both men, and whose giant weapon can collapse conveniently to fit into a purse, does next…
P.S. A week or so later, at the end of volume 19: Oh! There is a lot of action (fighting, assassinations, explosions) in this series! It’s difficult to keep the peace between humanoids with such different powers and lifespans, especially since some of the vampires get violently ambitious. Major conflicts between the different factions, which complicate our heroine’s romantic relationships, are based in the struggle to keep certain vampires from abusing their special abilities. Note: I got emotional on the very last pages, which means the characters really meant something to me. (Awwwww! This really is bittersweet! I didn’t expect to be so moved.) I really did enjoy this well written, well-paced, gorgeously illustrated, action-packed story.