Vampire Knight, Vol. 19

By Matsuri Hino. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Viz.

And so after 19 volumes, we come to the end of this particular journey. Yes, there’s a novel due out next month, but for the main manga, this is it. There’s even a limited edition, which has (in my opinion) a better cover art picture and a limited edition hardcover artbook, which features some lovely character pieces. Vampire Knight has always been a series that I’ve found to be of the moment. I may forget what’s actually going on the moment I put down the book, but while I’m reading the book, I’m swept along by the drama and emotions going on within. This last volume takes that and amps it up even further, as Yuki and Kaname compete to see who can out-self-sacrifice each other.

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This is not to say there aren’t some issues. The incestuous subtext that’s been bubbling under the entire series becomes text early in this volume, and while it’s not dwelled on, I can’t say I was all that happy with it. Most of the supporting players who had large roles earlier in the series are reduced to little more than cameos here, though again it was excellent to see Yuki’s human best friend, Sayori, pop up to remind us that the world isn’t entirely vampires. (Nice flashforward as well.) And of course the entirely of this volume seems to feature both Kaname and Zero trying their best to protect Yuki by removing any agency she might have to strike off on her own, which usually makes me growl, but…

Yuki isn’t having any of it. The series has balanced a knife edge as to whether Yuki will finally slip and become a princess who needs to be protected and rescued or a knight who does the rescuing, and it’s to Hino’s credit that the final decision is Yuki’s, and it’s to live up to the title. Possibly the best panel in the entire volume shows Yuki, in her school uniform and sword in hand, dragging Aido (who is literally flapping in the wind” while shouting “We’ve got an academy to protect!” It does a heart good to see this.

As for Kaname’s master plan, well, in the end there’s not much they can do about it, but they do manage to find a sort of deus ex machina that can be fired off after a thousand years. The epilogue shows that all of the hatred and political intrigue that has dominated vampire life (and the series in general) seems to have dissipated. And Yuki and Zero are together, though this is given really short shrift – in the end, it’s not about whether Yuki ends up with her brother or her classmate, it’s about Yuki working with others to save both vampires and humans. Romance is an afterthought.

Vampire Knight’s pleasures may be fleeting, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. A lot of Vampire Knight’s covers have featured the main characters looking out at the reader, and the limited edition one does the same, with Yuki, Zero and Kaname lying exhausted yet satisfied (yes, yes, OT3), and saying to the reader, “We’re done. Is this enough?” It’s a very good conclusion.

Alice in the Country of Diamonds: Bet on My Heart

By Sana Shirakawa, Quin Rose, and Nana Fumitsuki, based on the game by Quin Rose. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

The Alice spinoffs, which is to say everything but the 6 main books that Tokyopop/Yen Press put out, have always had an issue to deal with which is to say that they’re made for readers in Japan who have played the original games that the series is based on. North America hasn’t really had that luxury, even though we do now have a somewhat machine-translated tablet version of the Hearts game. So there’s always a risk that you read something that requires, if not prior knowledge, at least passing familiarity with the game world you’re in. Or, as in the case of this light novel, you have a product that lots of times seems to read like an advertisement for a game you can’t get over here.

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That isn’t to say this isn’t a good novel, it’s quite well-written. The prose flows well (excellent translation by William Flanagan), and Alice and Blood, the main stars, sound like themselves. The premise, as you may have guessed, has Alice dropped in another world, a la Clover or Joker. But whereas Hearts had Alice looking for a passionate love, and Clover had Alice develop a relationship based on friendship turning to love, here she’s further in the past of Wonderland, no one knows who she is, and everyone starts out disliking her intensely. (Hence “Diamonds”.) Alice has her hands full trying to deal with this, and it’s not helped by ending up at Hatter Mansion with a Blood Dupre who’s far less adept at being aloof yet teasing than she remembers.

This book is drenched in the Blood/Alice ship, and fans of other ships won’t get much here. Eliot fans should particularly stay away, as he’s abused and beaten by Blood throughout, usually when he’s trying to shoot Alice. As for new characters, the White Queen and her Black Rabbit barely get a look, so most of what we get is Jericho Bermuda, the Gravekeeper, who seems to be based on Carroll’s dodo bird. He’s Alice’s oasis of calm in the excitement of dealing with Hatter mobster wars, and it’s frustrating that most of the hints we get about him being a “walking dead man” are not answered here.

There aren’t the sharp edges I like in some of the other Alice spinoffs – Alice doesn’t think of Lorina once, and most of her worries once she’s fallen in love come from a fear that she’ll switch countries again. The Hatter family are more battle ready and drenched in blood than the earlier games, as they’re still gaining power. But mostly I think this is a good book that makes a reader yearn to play the game. We want to see what’s up with the White Queen switching between child and adult form, like the Twins used to do. (They’re just adults here.) We’d like to see why the Black Rabbit seems to hate Alice (inverse of Peter, I expect.) Joker was mentioned to be here as well, but remains unseen. Jericho looks to be the author rewriting Mary Gowland to be less irritating, but who knows?

So this is a very good novel for Alice fans who want to dip into prose, or Alice/Blood shippers. But it also frustrated me, as it offers many questions without answers as well.

No Game No Life, Vol. 1

By Yuu Kamiya and Mashiro Hiiragi. Released in Japan by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Sedas.

Ah, Comic Alive, my old nemesis. We meet again. I see this time you’ve brought a title that I would probably find quite interesting were it not for the grotesque fanservice that is sprinkled throughout and unavoidable. Again. In fact, that seems to be your only weapon, really, though I was pleased by your one victory in the ‘yuri’ genre. Can’t we have more like Whispered Words and less like this? And so as ever, I’m left to figure out if there’s enough remaining in the title to pull me in, or if I’m going to be driven off by an excess of panty flashing, underage nudity, and boob groping. All of which No Game No Life has plenty of.

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This is another in the increasingly popular genre of ‘gamers suddenly find themselves in a game world’, but with a slight twist. Our brother/sister heroes don’t find themselves in the game they were playing (and crushing everyone – they’re master gamers), but in a fantasy world where war has been replaced by games – any games, and the stakes can be quite high. As they struggle to figure out the history and rules of this new world, they meet the story’s designated victim, Princess Stephanie, who has just lost her kingdom due to being too naive, honest, and tsundere. Luckily for her, they’re not only master gamers, but total savants – with a few minor quirks.

Let’s break down the quirks, which are really the best and worst reasons to pick up this title. Sora is another overly perverse virgin whose first thought on winning a ‘ask anything of the pretty girl’ game is to ask the girl to fall in love with him. Shiro, while occasionally playing the jealous sister card, seems OK with him groping and assaulting said girl as long as it goes through her first. They are supposedly siblings (I will be very unsurprised if this turns out not to be true later on) but Sora professes he has no sexual desire towards Shiro… but that doesn’t stop them being all over each other anyway, thus gaining the best of both worlds for those who like that fetish.

So where’s the good? For all their smug confidence, much of which is justified, Sora and Shiro are two very broken teens (Shiro is 11, but whatever). If they’re apart from each other at all, they both have crippling breakdowns – we saw at the start they were a NEET (him) and a truant (her). Indeed, Shiro may actually have some sort of disorder – I’m not sure if her broken speech is meant to be a cute affectation or something more basic. And Ias I said earlier, they really do seem to be as good as they say they are – Shiro memorized a book almost instantly, and Sora, while not as good as that, is still said to be able to pick it up in a few hours.

So the question remains, what will the story do with these two? If it develops as a tale of how they deal with this world and its inhabitants while working to get over their social phobias, that’s quite a good possibility. That said, I expect the service is not going away and may even get worse. There is a light novel coming this spring, too. In the end, I suppose if you read Comic Alive stuff, you’ll enjoy this. If not, it might be interesting for the siblings, but I’d wait a few volumes to see if that pans out.