Blood Lad, Vol. 4

By Yuuki Kodama. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

In the new Blood Lad omnibus, a lot of big things happen. We finally see what’s going on with Braz and what he’s planning; Wolf meets up with his human mother (an ex-Yanki, to boot!) and is told he may have to be the hero that saves the demon world; Staz is captured by the authorities and later reunited with Braz, who gives himself up; and a major confrontation seems to be what Vol. 5 will be all about. Despite all this, it’s the small character moments of Blood Lad that are the best, the funniest, the most heartwarming, and keep me coming back for more.

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Let’s take a look at Fuyumi. If nothing else, she continues to be the most problematic character in the series. Staz is trying to get her to be more of her own person, but this seems to have devolved into a basic shonen “I will protect you” stance that isn’t really helping. (Also, putting a rope around her and dragging her around is probably his low point. Naturally, Fuyumi points out how humiliating it is but doesn’t really object.) She does get a nice moment later on, where the cowboy outfit and accessories Staz bought her prove useful to getting her out of a perilous situation. But probably the most striking scene is seeing her addiction to Staz’s blood, and how this is shown to be VERY BAD for her and yet at the same time the most erotic scene in the entire volume. I suspect I’m reading too much into her each time, but what else am I supposed to do? Ogle the boobies? Let’s keep overanalyzing.

We meet up with a superhero team in this volume as well, who are shown on the cover. As with most superhero teams, they’re a collection of eccentric weirdos with bizarre powers that seem to bond together as a unit when the chips are down. And, as with Wolf and a number of other people, they’re pitted against Staz, who remains the “bad guy” even as he’s the hero. Can you be a good guy when the entire world views you differently? Later on, when Staz and Fuyumi are captured by the police, we see something similar. Staz is a vampire overlord with massive amounts of untapped power (so much it can apparently be used to resurrect the dead), and now is the best time to stop him, before he discovers that potential.

And then there’s the climax of the volume, which I will walk around and try not to spoil. It should be a very emotional, heartwarming moment, but it seems filled with a sort of impermanence, a sense that this isn’t going to last long. Braz seems to get this too – his open affection for Liz reads very much as a “I’m about to die and will never see you again” gesture (poor Liz, by the way – there’s some great in-text analysis of her character and how she’s starved for affection from her brother). In the end, I have a suspicion that the confrontation that is the cliffhanger to this volume will be dealt with swiftly and anticlimactically before long when we get to Volume 5.

Overall, this remains a great read. You breeze right through it, it’s filled with good humor, some creepy horror, and occasional character development. Plus the obligatory fanservice. It’s everything you could want in a shonen manga (well, except it’s seinen, running in Young Ace… shh, don’t talk to me about demographics).

Blood Lad, Vol. 3

By Yuuki Kodama. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I’d mentioned in my previous review that Blood Lad had become a very solid shonen series (that runs in a seinen magazine, yes). I’ll go further with Vol. 3: this is really excellent. The previous volume showed us the main characters being quite clever, something which continues here. But this volume also shows us the writer being very clever. Kodama has crafted a plot that makes me want to dig deeper, with no elements so far dominating the others. The internal power struggle for the demon world, the Frankenstein monster corpse-robbing from last time, and Staz’s quest to restore Fuyumi to life all get about the right weight, with few pointless side journeys. Best of all, we have Fuyumi’s backstory, which I’ll delve into further.

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I knew coming in that Fuyumi’s family was going to somehow be connected to the demon world, given all the hints we’d had in the previous book. And indeed, that turns out to be exactly the case. But there’s no secret adultery or trips to the demon world here. Instead, there’s a very clever (and fairly creepy) use of doppelganger legends to show how Fuyumi is related to Bell and her brother while still remaining completely human. What’s more, it actually plays out what happens after with Bell and Fuyumi’s fathers, and shows us that the demon world is not the only one to have scary guys. This is easily my favorite part of the book.

Of course, Fuyumi’s reaction to this is pretty much the same as it’s been since the start of the series: dull surprise. This is actually lampshaded in the series, as she notes after discovering her mother’s real identity that she’s been too overwhelmed by events to process anything since she came into the demon world, and seems to have been fairly mellow even before her death. Still, it can be frustrating, especially given how often she’s meant to be fanservice for the reader, how passive she is. Her stepfather gives Staz two very important conditions to satisfy before he’ll let Fuyumi put herself in danger by journeying with him, and both of them amount to the same thing: give Fuyumi agency to decide things herself.

Which is good, because while Staz is not your typical shonen ‘rush into fights’ dolt, he has not really given much thought to what Fuyumi wants, something else pointed out to him. He has to stop treating Fuyumi like an object (and then, perhaps, the manga itself will stop doing the same thing). Staz is already suffering from the fact that, as a vampire, he’s almost trained since birth to see himself as an evil person. So his desperate attempts to restore Fuyumi, without asking her what she really wants to do, are indicative of this. He thinks that this is something that makes him evil, and that, by listening to Fuyumi and doing what she really wants, he can become a hero for her. (This also brings up the question of whether they love each other – everyone except the two of them seem to think this is the case.)

Staz is, of course, already a hero, and I hope that this change of lifestyle for him does not involve more charging ahead and less cunning in fights. (The fanservice this volume went to Bell, by the way, and the fight between her and Staz is a great example of how to combine Staz’s intelligence and cunning and his complete lack of awareness when it comes to women’s feelings.) How all this plays out, though, is something I really am desperate to find out. Though I may have to wait a while: we’re caught up with Japan, at least as caught up as Western publishers like to get. In the meantime, read this series.

Blood Lad, Vol. 2

By Yuuki Kodama. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The second volume of Blood Lad improves on the first, and this has become a nice, solid series. The lead is different in an interesting way, the otaku humor is fit in better, we meet several new possibilities for antagonist, and the fighting and humor are top notch. There are still issues with the heroine, but I can’t have everything – and besides, this runs in Young Ace to begin with.

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Let’s start with Fuyumi, actually, as we do get a bit of a hint that there’s more to her than previously thought. Her mother has passed away, and Braz indicates in his usual vague yet evil way that she has a connection with Bell. It would not particularly surprise me if she turned out to have some demon blood in her (related to Bell?), which could possibly lead to new plot possibilities and a cure for her current condition. That said, I doubt it will lead to a cure of being Miss Fanservice. The scenes where she is sucking on the phallic water bottle made my eyes roll back so far into my head I worried I’d have to see a doctor.

That said, I’ve seen much worse fanservice than this, and the rest of the title more than makes up for it, particularly our reluctant hero. Staz’s limiter is removed in this volume, making him even more powerful than before – dangerously powerful, everyone notes. And yet he’s not all that hot-blooded of a shonen hero. Oh sure, during a fight he’ll get fired up, but there’s a passivity and caginess to Staz that really makes him appeal to me. He’s not going to go charging headlong at an enemy – well, not unless there’s a good reason to. Or they have a DVD set.

We also see more development of Staz’s two siblings. Braz is handled better, and walks a nice fine line between being an evil mastermind and being a supportive brother. He’s likely both, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. As for Liz, every fear I had about what she’d be like after finishing the first volume turned out to be absolutely correct. That said, she’s cute and harmless, so I’ll just roll with it. The scenes of her bonding with Staz and Fuyumi over watching Laputa: Castle in the Sky is sweet and adorable.

Lastly, here’s a rarity for a shonen manga (yes, it runs in Young Ace, but there’s absolutely nothing in this that shouldn’t be in Shonen Ace too); it’s very well-paced. No subplot outwears its welcome, and even the fights seem to be exactly the right length. This could be simply as everyone is very clever here. Staz shows it the most, but there’s a genre awareness here that permeates into all the characters, allowing it to get away with things that a reader wouldn’t otherwise accept. Combine that with a great sense of humor, as well as a worldscape filled with vampires, werewolves and demons, and you have something that should be a can’t miss it over here.