The Case Study of Vanitas, Vol. 1

By Jun Mochizuki. Released in Japan as “Vanitas no Shuki” by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Gangan Joker. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Taylor Engel.

Steampunk as a genre is usually a sign that fun is about to ensue, and it’s no different in Japanese manga. From Soul Eater to Sakura Taisen, the idea of Victorian fashion and technological advances has always intrigued the promising new creator. And here we have The Case Study of Vanitas, a new series from the creator of Pandora Hearts. (A very new series, in fact – We’re already caught up with Japan, so don’t expect this one to be every other month.) And the story begins with a giant dirigible, looking as ridiculous as you could possibly imagine. Yet all of this is perhaps distracting myself from the simple fact that at its core, The Case Study of Vanitas is a series about various types of vampires and how to deal with them. Yup. More vampires.

My weariness of the glut of licensed vampire titles is well known, but I will quash it when it’s in the service of a good title. And, for the most part, The Case Study of Vanitas is a good title. It’s light and frothy, despite the presence of dark creatures of the night and the occasional horrific death. There’s lots of action scenes in midair, and confrontations on well-lit backroads. Our hero really isn’t the guy on the cover but Noe, a vampire who has come to Paris searching for the mysterious Book of Vanitas, which is said to be able to interfere with the true name of a vampire. Imagine our surprise when he finds the owner of the book after only about 30 pages. This *is* the guy on the cover, who calls himself Vanitas and is seemingly going around trying to be a “doctor” for vampires by using the book.

To be honest, there is one big weakness with the first volume, and that’s Vanitas himself. Normally I’m quite find of the obnoxious guy who rubs everyone the wrong way, but this time he was starting to rub me the wrong way too. Vanitas is simply too unlikable for a series that’s designed to revolve around him. I suspect the author knows this – that’s why Noe fulfills the hero role a bit better – but something just sours me, especially when he forces himself on the Witch Jeanne who’s come to wipe them out at the behest of her young master. I just suspect that I’m supposed to find him funny and amusing in a horrible way, but the horrible is what sticks.

That said, other than its title character, this was a great deal of fun. Lots of vampire lore and blood for those who do love the genre, a few officious bureaucrats and stoic servants, and in the middle of it is Noe, who spends much of the volume staring at Vanitas with a “the fuck?” look on his face. There’s hints of a tragic past with him, which I suspect we’ll get in the second volume. In the meantime, steampunk vampires!

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