Vampire Knight (Vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino (art and story)
Vampire Knight has a great premise for a manga story that would appeal to most fans of Vampire love stories; however, the writing is clearly aimed at tween and young teenage girls (shojo). The story is in the boarding-school genre, and this particular boarding school runs day and night. The daytime students are your typical students, but the mysterious headmaster has added a night class of beautiful, brilliant students of whom the day students are in awe. But the day students don’t know that these students stand out because they are Vampires who are attempting to live peacefully with human beings as an experiment in Vampire pacifism.
The main characters are Yuki, Zero, and Kaname. Yuki and Zero act as Guardians of the School. As far as most students can tell, this duty is fairly mundane: They act as typical student patrol guards who direct pedestrian traffic every time the two classes shift from the two dormitories to the one main academic building. The Vampires live in the Moon Dorm and the day students live in the Sun Dorm, but since they share the same school, Yuki and Zero direct traffic and try to keep the two groups apart as much as possible because their real job — since, as the adopted children of the headmaster, they know the school’s secret — is to keep the day students from finding out that the night students are Vampires.
The third main character is Kaname. As a pureblood vampire, he possesses some built-in charismatic control over the rest of the vampires and naturally becomes the President of the Night Class and the Moon Dormitory. Since all the humans are enamored of the Vampires anyway, Kaname is the ultimate “popular boy” who is the leader in everything and on whom all girls have a crush, particularly Yuki. However, we are led to see their relationship as special since he saved her life ten years before the opening of the story. Kaname, the reader can tell, has a fondness for Yuki, though Yuki, of course, feels as if she is a nobody, invisible to the great, romantic figure that is Kaname!
The complications come both from the school’s secret and from the character of Zero who is developed carefully by the author (the author includes extra sidebar-epistles to the reader). Zero’s family — a family of Vampire Hunters — was killed by a family of pureblood vampires; Zero, of course, despises the very creatures he is supposed to protect. However, he does so because he has been shown kindness by the headmaster who has taken him in and treated him as a son. Since Zero and Yuki are like brother and sister, Yuki treats him as such, but Zero seems to have feelings beyond the brotherly type for Yuki. Kaname, therefore, is his worst enemy because he is both a pureblood vampire AND the object of Yuki’s poorly-hidden love. Since we are led to like Kaname and Yuki, we at first don’t like Zero, but the author throws in an extra twist that forces us to empathize with Zero. It’s well done.
Overall, I think the story has great potential, and I love the premise. The writing is very cutesy and aimed at young girls; however, I can’t fault a shojo manga for being shojo! If you enjoy shojo manga, I think you’ll love Vampire Knight. My only criticism of the book is one aspect of the art: I like the art itself stylistically, but in sequential art, narrative is conveyed through both words and images, and in the case of Vampire Knight, there are quite a number of sequences that are difficult to follow, even with the accompanying dialogue, because the art is just too confusing and obscure. However, perhaps visual ambiguity is a mark of shojo since I have noticed it in a few shojo volumes I’ve read but almost never in shonen works like Deathnote and Bakuman.
To summarize, if you like shojo and don’t mind a little narrative confusion in a few places (possibly intentional), then you’ll enjoy Vampire Knight. If you’re a middle-aged guy who is not already a big fan of shojo, you might want to take a pass — but not because it’s shojo. I’ll be recommending in future reviews some good shojo, particularly works by CLAMP, an all-female art collective that creates beautiful and intelligent manga.