By Setona Mizushiro. Released in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Princess. Released in North America by Viz.
I’m usually quite fond of series that try to get by on pure mood, even if the plot is not one that reaches out and grabs me. This odd shoujo series definitely falls into that category. It’s not exactly something I would read to see what happens next – the entire time I was reading the first volume, my thoughts were “Didn’t I read this in a Kaoru Yuki title 5 years back?” – but the aesthetic is glorious and gruesome, with the corpses stacking up and anguish present on every face. It’s dark, gothic grand guignol shoujo, and marks a welcome return of Akita Shoten’s titles to out shores (as well as the author of After School Nightmare).
Most of the first volume is prologue to what we’ll be seeing from now on. One hundred years earlier, we meet Dimitri, who is not of noble blood but is possessed of a remarkable singing voice. He loves Agnieszka, a young and innocent noblewoman, but she’s betrothed to his friend Theodor, who, while he has been doing his best to advance Dimitri’s vocal career, will only go so far. It’s the sort of storyline that makes you await the inevitable tragedy, and sure enough, a runaway horse seems to kill our hero. But he’s not really dead, as it turns out that his body is now being used by Bradley, a vampire! If the plot sounds melodramatic, well, I hope you knew that when you purchased it.
This is a horror title, by the way, in case my use of the words ‘gothic’ and ‘vampire’ did not clue you in. There are many, many mass suicides about halfway through, and some grotesque shots of blood. Oh yes, and there’s the spiders, which is the way that Dimitri acquires blood after his victims have obligingly offered themselves to him. They’re supremely creepy, but also very effective at showing the horror of what Dimitri is becoming. There’s also a sexual assault, as a desperate Dimitri, who wants nothing more than to die when he hears what he has become, rapes Agnieska to try to achieve this. It doesn’t work.
The main part of the book looks like it’s set in present day Japan, and features a more prosaic teacher-student romance, which is no less forbidden and yet intoxicating than the previous one. Koya is trying to convince his teacher Azusa that she is not merely a schoolboy crush to him, and she’s trying to push him away but desperately unable to. This leads to her making quite a nasty bargain, whose effects we don’t quite see in this volume but I’ve no doubt will prove to resonate down the line. Also, Dimitri, who was so horrified at the prospect of turning evil in Vienna, seems to have warmed up to it now that he’s in Japan. Ah well.
I’m not sure that I’m the audience for this book, really. But I’m sure that there is a huge audience for it. Those who enjoyed the darker, more sensual side of Shojo Beat’s titles, and want another supernatural romance with vampires who are likely quite bad for you, won’t be able to put it down. The spiders may be horrible, but it’s the doomed yet overpowering love that will draw them in.