Feb 19 2009

A review of Vampire Game, by JUDAL

Tag: a: judal,manga — 11:45 pm

that will totally make you want to read it.

Once upon a time, the Vampire King Duzell got a bit grumpy and decided to kill all the humans. He came close, but was finally defeated by King Phelios, who destroyed him with a spell called La Gamme, which takes the life of both the target and the one who cast it. In his dying breath, Duzell curses both of them to be reborn again in one hundred years, to repeat their battle.

Phelios is destined to be reborn into the body of one of his descendents – but Duzell forgets to specify what he’s going to end up. The broody vampire king finds himself trapped in the body of a newborn kitten, and the pet of Phelios’s descendant, the irresponsible and manipulative Princess Ishtar.

Ishtar holds Phelios in contempt for 1) being the sort of person who would throw his life away, and 2) marrying his cousin, something that afterwards became a royal tradition. Ishtar does not like her cousins. Sometimes they try to poison her. Though disconcerted, the scheming vampire king sees certain obvious possibilities in his situation. Duzell, eventually regaining enough of his power to transform his cat body into that of a human (with great restraint, the mangaka refrains from giving him fluffy ears), reveals himself to Ishtar.

And Ishtar, to Duzell’s bewilderment, joyfully takes over the entire project, sweeping him off on a tour of the country to meet all her cousins and kill whichever of them he wants. “And hey! Maybe I should give this world domination thing a shot, too!” It quickly becomes clear that Duzell is no longer the one in control of this intrigue. Ishtar particularly enamoured of his ability to shapeshift into a (male) body that looks just like her – she can make him deal with her suitors!

Duzell, whose social skills are stunted from centuries of talking only with his brainwashed servants, is no match for Ishtar. It’s particularly great when he starts falling for the suitors.

In case it is not clear, I really, really love the Ishtar-Duzell dynamic. Particularly the Ishtar half. She is possibly my favorite shoujo heroine ever. She’s smart and self-absorbed and lazy and lies a lot, and her occasional acts of heroism are perfectly in character, because the shallowness and meanness are how she protects herself from people who want to use her. She understands her own motivations perfectly. And she has actual relationships with female characters! They get whole plot arcs, even! (One of those plot arcs is extremely tedious, but let’s set that thought aside for the moment.) Duzell, by comparison, is extremely straightforward, and not much good at self-analysis – he wants to find Phelios and kill him, and he wants Ishtar to stop embarrassing him, and he has no idea how to accomplish either of these things.

The manga is not perfect. For one thing, it has some of the worst art in the universe. People have weird shoulders, I don’t even want to talk about it. There’s the problem of Darres, Ishtar’s bodyguard. It’s consistent with her character that she fall for someone like him, but his characterization is inconsistent, and it’s hard to get a handle on him. There are things he does at the end of the series that just don’t work.

Also, JUDAL either hadn’t thought the plot out very far in advance, or couldn’t bring herself to go through with some of what she’d planned – the pacing is bad, plot threads are dropped and never picked up, and character arcs are either too short or too long. You can literally feel her switching gears when she gets too attached to canon-fodder-type characters to kill them off. I can see where she’s coming from, but her reluctance to let the main characters get hurt seriously damages the ending.

And this isn’t exactly a problem with the manga itself, but there are major issues with the Tokyopop adapation. As in, worse than usual. Worse than with Kare Kano. Recent English manga translations often err on the side of fidelity, and the dialog ends up suffering from a tone-deaf literalness that damages its impact. (“Do you think he is the kind of person who would let his body be possessed for no reason?!” “No, I don’t.”)

With Vampire Game, Tokyopop made the opposite mistake. The adaptation’s tone is very crude, lots of potty-humor and smart-assery even when it’s wrong for the scene and the character. While it’s fine for Ishtar to make filthy jokes (and this is part of why I love her so), it usually isn’t for Duzell, and definitely not for Darres. It haven’t read the Japanese version, so I can’t be sure where and how severely liberties were taken, but if Darres wasn’t speaking very careful formal-style in every single scene in the original, I will eat some item that is generally applied topically, such as for instance shoes.

(Seriously, Tokyopop, if you guys are thinking about re-releasing this series for Twilight-related reasons – because it is so the anti-Twilight – I would be happy to write you a less South Park-ed up adaptation. I’ll leave the Vaseline line in there if you’re really attached to it. Just let me wash Darres’ mouth out with soap.)

…uh, in conclusion, read the manga, and write me fanfic where Ishtar embarrasses Duzell, but be prepared for a vague sense of dissatisfaction?

I think I’m not very good at making people read stuff.