Eight and a bit years of Vampire-fuelled fandom came to an end last month. Damn, that makes me feel old.
Hino Matsuri’s shoujo manga was the second that I ever read, and it was my first taste of the frustration of “Whaddaya mean there’s no more chapters yet?!” I didn’t read it from the very beginning, (November 2004) but instead got into it about three years later and was instantly hooked. To the point of I was meant to be writing an essay for my English GCSE and was rewarding myself by reading a page for every paragraph written. Then it was a sentence. And then I thought that I really deserved a tea-break and what else should I do but… Read Vampire Knight.
Luckily for my degree, these days I have more of a manga/life balance thing going on but I’ve still been following Yuki, Kaname and Zero all of these years and recently re-read the entire thing from start to finish. So, has my opinion changed that much since my first (read:old and busted) review? Let’s re-evaluate, shall we?
Yuki Cross was left abandoned in the snow with nothing, not even her memories when she was ten years old. She is saved from a predatory vampire by Kaname Kuran and taken to to Kaien Cross, the principle of an elite boarding school who adopts her as his daughter. Five years later, she and her tsundere foster-brother, Zero Kiryuu, act as Prefects in that self-same school – which Kaname also attends as President of the mysterious and elite “Night Class.” But Yuki and Zero have a far more important function within the school than keeping the Day Class in line; it is their job to make sure that the Day and Night Classes stay separate – why? Because every single last student in the Night Class is a vampire.
Okay, for a start I’m not as enamoured of the earlier artwork as I once was. In contrast to what comes later, it looks quite clumsy and strangely-proportioned. But whilst it has its flaws and the later draftsmanship is far more refined, it was still very distinctive and completely unlike anything else that was being done at the time. The artwork does get better as it goes along and it is truly, mesmerisingly beautiful.
It’s very interesting looking at the plot of Vampire Knight from a post-Twilight perspective, because they do share a few elements. From the beginning amongst fans, there was a Team Kaname vs Team Zero aspect as to who should end up with Yuki – with the latter having very complicated feelings towards both of them. This is where I point out that Vampire Knight pre-dates Twilight as thing as such in the global consciousness. Team Kaname had a boost at the time from the delay between chapters (which at one stage was a very big one for English-speakers), and the fact that he was so wrapped up in the main mystery elements of the story, particularly those to do with Yuki’s past. Why did this character benefit from the gap do much? Because when you read the chapters in quick succession, you notice what a, frankly, manipulative bastard Kaname can be. Equally, the cumulative effect of Zero’s actions and little gestures is positive. Just through re-reading them all I went from Team Kaname to Team Zero. (Admittedly, my main justification for the former in the first place was more to do with the fact that Yuki fancied Kaname first and therefore I somehow thought that he had first dibs).
There is one big section about three-quarters of the way through the story in which the plot seems to come to a stop altogether. Seems. As I discovered the other day when I was attempting to explain how the manga ended to a friend on Skype, I realised that actually a lot of groundwork is laid slowly but surely in this slow bit for the final story arc. The supernatural and mystery elements work really well throughout the entire story to produce an original take on the vampire trope, with a couple of genuinely good twists. My main criticism of the plot would be an apparently pointless sub-plot in the last quarter involving the blood-tablets which takes precious pages away from where we really want to be.
It’s visually-stunning, with some memorable characters and a pretty solid well-planned plot. Read it if you haven’t and buy the actual volumes if you have. Remember: Vampires are demons in human form, not sparkly vegetarians.