February 6, 2010

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Rosario+Vampire Volume 1

Written by Akihisa Ikeda
Illustrated by Akihisa Ikeda
Viz

Sometimes I like to read complex, intellectual comics that will leave me thinking for weeks after I read them. And sometimes I just want to laugh at a ridiculous premise with about as much substance as a piece of tissue paper.

Fortunately, I was in the mood for the latter when I read Rosario+Vampire, a story that's really silly even by comic standards.

Tsukune is a failed student who can only get into one school--an odd duck of a place well off the beaten path. It's better than nothing, especially when a beautiful girl takes a shining to him--and his blood. Soon Tsukune learns he is at a very special school--it's designed for monsters!

What's worse--these monsters are training to live in the human world, concealing their abilities so that they can eventually fit in. The school has one rule--no humans allowed!

The typical fish out of water story is really played up here, as Tsukune tries to decide if the companionship of Moka, an honest to god vampire with multiple personality disorder maintained by a Rosario is worth the very real chance that he's going to die at school.

Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, as Moka is gorgeous and Tsukune is a teenage boy. However, he's going to have to deal with the fact that she wants his blood, others (like a succubus and a killer mermaid) want his body, and still others might just kill him because they want Moka for themselves.

In other words, it's a bit like Ranma 1/2, complete with comedic relationships, mistaken/dual identity, and a completely chaotic world that everyone seems to treat normally. In this case, however, Tsukune has absolutely no way to defend himself, and must rely on being able to release Moka's inner vampire to save the day. It's a nice twist seeing the male character be helpless, after reading so many stories in all kinds of comics where the man rushes in to save the day.

There are four stories in this trade, each getting about equal space. The first sets up the premise, including the idea of Moka's dual nature. Stories two and three feature the idea of other monsters wanting Tsukune for themselves, and the final story flips the idea, with Moka the object of affection.

All of the stories use the monster school premise to good effect, turning traditional tropes you'd see in a shojo maga on their head. Joining a club is just as mandatory here, but picking the wrong club can be deadly, for instance. They generally climax with a big battle, appropriate for a shonen story, but at least so far the fights have been varied and pretty well constructed. I will be curious to see if Tsukune ever gets to do more than just release Moka's aggressive side, however,as it would be nice to see him player a bigger role in the conflicts.

Fitting for a series like this, there are a few recurring themes. The most obvious is that a lot of the monsters suspect Tsukune may not be a fellow creature, though they never get to the whole truth. Another is that, as monsters, they tend to beat each other up a lot. There's also the idea that Moka keeps draining Tsukune of blood, leading to comedic scenes of him falling all over the place. It's fun to see how Ikeda plays with those themes in this volume, and I'm sure it will continue in the rest of the books.

Ikeda does a really nice job with the art chores in the book, keeping her character designs varied and taking advantage of the monstrous setting to place gothic and creepy backgrounds everywhere. I love how she gives the succubus a large chest, makes the teacher a cat monster, and transitions the characters from their human shells to their true, monster identities. In some cases, it's a bit like watching the stop motion photography in the old horror movies.

There's definitely some fan service going on. We get several panty shots, a little cleavage, and more than a few sexy outfits for the girl characters. However, this is meant to be enjoyed in the same way you might enjoy, say, Animal House, so I think it fits in fine with the stories being told here. What might look really out of place in Mars (or even Bleach) seems perfectly normal in this manga.

Rosario+Vampire is never going to make a New York Times Notable Book list, but that's not what it's meant for. Sometimes it's nice to just relax with a quick, light read. If you want a screwball comedy that has classic monsters with hormones attacking each other, this is the place for you. It's silly fun for those of us who love horror creatures and grew up on Scooby Doo, and there's nothing wrong with that.