Manga: Rosario + Vampire

I don’t normally do manga; my taste has moved away from comic books in general over the years, and manga is particularly hard for me to read, since it involves running against the (western) habit of reading left to right. Despite that, I spent yesterday checking out scanlations of R+V, to get an idea of whether or not the animé was going to be worth a long-term commitment, or if it was going to be another GSNK.

The result? I’m kind of disappointed, but it’s still got some good parts. There’s some serious drama here, some clichés, some character development, some illogic, and so on. It’s very much a mixed bag, and there’s nobody to blame but the manga-ka, Ikeda Akihisa. I would describe him as a naive space cadet who thinks the whole world should be friends, at least based on a few notes he included with the story, the general tone and theme of the manga (friendship conquers all), and one specific storyline he wrote in response to a stabbing near where he lived. Now how much of his story is going to make it into the animé is yet to be determined, but obviously they plan to get all four girls in, despite the fact that one of them shows up very late in the manga. If they bring her in early, it will require significant changes to the continuity, as when/how she gets involved is tied into things that not only haven’t happened yet, they’ve actually been either dropped or pushed back in the sequence. Personally, I believe it’s the latter, or there’s some serious violence done to the story. Which, for some aspects, might be a good idea. And that’s all I can say above the fold: I must warn you that I”m going to get into some discussion of story spoilers eventually: the good, the bad, and the amusing.

The “amusing” (non-spoiler) would be the fans of the manga; their reaction has been pretty negative, from what I’ve seen here and on a forum I lost the link to. Everyone seems upset that Gonzo upped the fanservice. Hmmm. Guys, are we reading the same manga? It’s more per chapter because the manga has fewer opportunities; it would have to be a panty shot every frame to equal in numbers what the animé delivers. I will concede there is still a proportional increase, that the first glomping was a change, and the “upgrading” of alt-Moka’s bust and butt size. I will also say that I think the first was necessary if the show was going to get made, the second criticism may be correct, and I agree with the third change; I think the Manga-ka’s style of continuing to draw her with thin hips and bust is in error. (I originally wrote “bush”…Thank you Sigmund Freud.) There were scenes where I couldn’t tell for certain which Moka was present, until I saw the rosario was off. Furthermore, she looks more mature in the animé; there is no question that alt-Moka is an adult, whereas in the manga, she still looks like a teen due to the skinnier appearance. Most amusing was a comment on the lost forum, indicating that Gonzo had ruined a serious romantic story. Much h8 for Gonzo!

Serious. Romantic. Story. Are you kidding me? This is a harem comedy! Whomever wrote that wouldn’t know serious romance if it bit him on the neck.

Now, having gotten past my snark, let’s dive below the fold and get into some spoilerific territory. While I avoid specifics, there are still plot spoilers galore, and not behind tags. You have been warned.

The good: I like the fourth girl, Mizoré the snow fairy; she’s actually my favorite, in terms of personality. (Kurumu still has my libido locked up.) Quiet, a bit shy, a loner, creepy, misunderstood… and crazy. Stalker-crazy. “Fairy” is actually a misnomer; she’s introduced as the icy equivalent of a Will o’wisp; one who lures men to their doom in snowstorms. Her motivations are a bit different; she’s a stalker-fan from reading Tskune’s articles in the school newspaper. She sees him as a kindred soul and tries to kidnap him. She eventually accepts that she’s not going to be able to as long as the other girls are around, but Mizore continues to stalk him at every opportunity; she is occasionally unnoticed, somewhere in the scene. She’s the least gregarious of the girls, and appears to have excellent stealth ability, though it’s not clear whether that is supernatural. Several times, no one sees Mizore until she speaks. (FYI, it’s a lolipop that she always has in her mouth.)

Somewhat good: it becomes obvious just how much danger Tskune is in. Several times he’s badly wounded and nearly killed. Eventually, all four of the girls (and a few others) discover that he is human, and all of them chose to protect him. Of course, this has the expected effect of making him feel less “manly”; his reactions (and subsequent events) drive a wedge between him and Moka, keeping the other girls’ hopes up. While this sometimes falls flat (especially early on before the danger rears its head), overall it means that the harem aspect isn’t forced; it becomes believable (at least to them) that one of the other girls could win — although it would clearly hurt Tskune, who’s remains fixated on Moka even when mad at her. (You have to care to be mad at someone.)

Yet more good: The “one-teacher school” trope is avoided. Mostly. There is a caveat: Every time we meet another teacher, they’re evil and the gang is forced to confront them. (I originally said “bust them.” There’s just so many loaded words when you’re talking about this show, aren’t there?)

The bad: Ikeda-sama has trapped himself with his one-trick pony. Only Tskune can yank off the rosary and release alt-Moka. Therefore, almost every battle follows the predictable formula that one or another of them gets into trouble, and then Tskune saves the day by risking life and limb to pull the rosary. Later, a wrinkle gets added that involves up-powering Tskune temporarily (which is not without its dangers). Only three times in 26 chapters is the day saved by anything other than removing the rosario. Well, four, but the last one was special. Worse, the manga-ka has not dropped the first hint of why alt-Moka has locked herself away behind a weaker personality. Several times, it almost gets her killed; while she’s strong and fast compared to a human, shes far weaker than other monsters — until the rosario is removed. Then, only three opponents ever give alt-Moka serious trouble, and in two of those cases, she was weakened first.

More bad: One of the battles won without alt-Moka involved Kurumu developing a new power; one that only the most powerful succubi can achieve…. and then we never see it again, even though it would be very, very useful afterwards. It’s just forgotten.

Yet more bad: Some villains are also completely forgotten. There’s a very fascistic group at the school that targets the gang, due to their activities in the newspaper club. There appear to be five or six of them, but the gang only confronts two; they take down one assigned to watching them, then have an epic confrontation with their leader. We never hear from or see the others.

And a final bad: the manga seems a lot like a monster-of-the-week series, especially early on. It’s either that or angst. It gets better later on, as the drama develops.

In addition to the teacher caveat above, we never see the school’s administration or staff. We do see the staff of the school’s hospital. Apparently, monster fights are so common, it has its own hospital, which appears to be as large as the school itself.

It’s needed: the show turns quite bloody, and there are casualties. Innocent people die; so do guilty ones. (Fortunately, none of the innocents are the core girls). I can’t tell at this point if Ikeda-sama actually has a plan and long term plot in mind; however I’m going to speculate on what I think it is. I warn you, it’s a massive spoiler, so behind the tag it goes.

First, facts from the manga: There are hybrid monsters, crossbreeds whose powers are complete wildcards, and may be related to no legendary creature, as all the others are. They are in conflict with the purebloods. The purebloods look down on the hybrids, and the latter are not happy about it. There may be a reason, however; I have yet to see a hybrid that isn’t a homicidal psychopath. Some are more intelligent and patient than others, but they all share a ruthless and bloody-minded streak. It’s not just that they’re willing to kill to achieve their goals; they are eager to and will kill unnecessarily. They’re driven by a “survival of the fittest” mindset, and screwing up is a ticket to execution. While it hasn’t been specifically addressed, the hybrids would probably not try to live quietly and in secret among humans, and it’s possible this is another factor in the conflict. The purebloods concede that humans run the world, because there’s comparatively just too many of them to kill. For instance, Kurumu characterizes her race as “tiny.” (She also hints that their abilities are a survival mechanism allowing them to chose the best possible mate, which made her more sympathetic in the manga than in the animé. Downcheck: Gonzo.)

Now the speculation: I think there’s a semi-secret civil war underway in monster “society” between the upstart hybrids and the ruling purebloods, and the school has become ground zero for machinations by both sides. Both sides have secret organizations operating in the background, and we know that the bus driver and Neko-sensei are members of one; presumably theirs is the purebloods’ faction. They also have an unknown priest that looks suspiciously like the one that “lost” the application to Youkai Acadamy, which raises some interesting questions I’ll deal with ahead.

Alt-Moka is a pureblood vampire; probably a member of whatever ruling caste the monsters have. It is mentioned that she is a direct descendant of Nosferatu, and she certainly considers herself upper caste. Tellingly, she has a habit of finishing opponents with the line, “Know your place!” I believe that she is there in the school to find agents of the hybrids, and target them for removal. I believe regular Moka is the product of a powerful spell cast by that priest to hide alt-Moka behind a ditzy exterior personality. To keep her enemies from discovering her, a condition was placed on the rosary that only a friend could remove it. (I think the school’s guardians were an earlier attempt to purge the hybrid agents, but it failed when they went their own way, under the control of an insane leader.)

The question in my mind is whether Tskuné represents a deliberate ploy on the part of the pureblood faction, or if they’re merely taking advantage of the happenstance of his involvement with Moka. As I note, the priest looks very similar to the one that lost the papers that allowed Tskune to enter. And the bus driver brought him, and him alone, on that ride into the school, to be met by Moka first. Just coincidence? Was “outer Moka” primed to fall for Tskuné, and his planned role was to function as alt-Moka’s keeper? That would also explain how he got past the seal without being killed–the driver had to bring him in alone because he countered the seal’s effect, and other youkai might have noticed.

It is clear by the middle chapters that the purebood faction is using the group as catspaws to solve certain problems; looking back I think the confrontation with the guardians was planned by Neko-sensei, not accidental. It seems impossible that she wouldn’t warn her students, especially given what happened the prior year, no mater how spacey she is. And she’s definitely part of what I presume is the pureblood faction. I’d say that the involvement of the other three girls was unplanned, but considered fortunate.

Then the bus driver appears at a crucial juncture, with that priest in tow to rescue Tskune from both death and a fate worse than death. That’s a total giveaway. Nobody but the four girls should have known where he was, and they had no opportunity to tell anyone; it’s apparent that they’re under observation. What bugs me is that no one has figured it out yet. (There’s a slim possibility here: alt-Moka wouldn’t tell if she’s in on it, Mizore is too uncommunicative to tell if she knows, Kurumu isn’t that smart, and while Yukari is, she’s also young and naive–it simply might not occur to her to question events. Tskune has no direct memory of what happened, and subsequent events have prevented him from questioning the details; he has only the bare outlines of what happened.)

By the point the scanlations have reached (ch.26), the gang has realized that they are all in danger, but most specifically Tskune is a target; they’ve narrowly foiled three attacks on him, one on Moka (in the process of getting to him), and another on Moka and Kurumu. Mizore has only just arrived, and there’s been no attack on Yukari as yet. One of the attacks on Tskune had a high body count of innocent bystanders, yet the school seems to be doing nothing. This adds to my suspicions regarding what’s really going on.

To be using teens and a human as such pawns, the purebloods aren’t without their own share of ruthlessness.

I’m not sure that Ikeda-sama is really all that forward thinking, and put together that much background. He could easily just be telling whatever story comes to mind, and making it up as he goes along. The thing greatly supporting this hypothesis is that Tskune has never bothered to ask either of the Moka’s, “Why are you doing this?”

That, and his general blandness are what bother me most about him. Tskune is a teenager, and he’s acting like a teenager… “one of those half-assed male leads in a manga.” His assertiveness is limited to the tactical situation of the moment; he’s given no thought at all to the strategic view, or the rationale behind his situation Tskune isn’t strong enough to hold my attention as the lead. He’s brave and valiant, but he’s not curious enough about the chaos around him to be credible. Nor does he have much else going for him, like Yuuiji’s humanity, Kyon’s snarkiness, or Souské’s zeal.

Overall, I have to say that if the animé follows the manga faithfully, I will quite probably lose interest in it once I’ve had my fill of T&A. If Gonzo takes some chances and changes up a few things (especially the repetitive battles), and they do follow a script like the one above, then the show could be the sleeper of the winter. It would just depend on how Tskune and the transition from comedy to horror/drama are handled.

Edited for clarity

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