Title: Black Rose Alice
Author: Setona Mizushiro
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 1, $9.99
Vintage: 2008 by Akita Publishing, August 2014 by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, romance, vampires, horror
Vampire Knight. Midnight Secretary. Soulless. I hadn’t realized there were so many ways to reinterpret the vampire mythos, but here comes another restyling of the classic horror creature. Some are better than others, and some quite clearly are designed for specific plot purposes, but Black Rose Alice not only takes things in a different direction, it actively leaves the sex out of the plot (Well, except for all the sex early on…maybe; going to have to wait for another volume to see, but I mean in relationship to something like Midnight Secretary where it’s integral to the vampire’s survival.). As in, it could literally kill the main character, so he isn’t likely to be having it any time soon. That means the story can focus on other things, like the psychological trauma in the minds of both Dimitri and his true love. The story opens in 1908 Vienna, on Lady Agnieszka’s sixteenth birthday. Her fiancé Theodore has gifted her with a specially designed knife to hang around her neck, but the biggest gift is the appearance and performance of her favorite opera singer (and Theo’s adopted brother), Dimitri. It’s very clear there are unspoken feelings between Dimitri and Agnieszka, but Dimitri is quickly whisked away by Duchess Lorenz, a frequent lover. In the morning, when he discovers that Theo has bedded Agnieszka during the night, Dimitri storms off and is run over by a carriage. Miraculously he survives, but his survival is accompanied by very strange events. After rehearsal for an upcoming show, nearly the entire cast and crew of the opera production winds up mysteriously dead. He finds himself overly sensitive to light, sound, and scent. And there’s an odd mark on the back of his neck. The mystery is answered with a handsome man named Maximilian appears and welcomes Dimitri into his new life as a vampire. Maximilian explains everything – how his former master died, and his seed chose Dimitri to carry on his lineage. This makes Dimitri Maximilian’s new master, and even grants him some of the personality traits and powers of the deceased vampire. Like the ability to make humans sacrifice themselves by singing a single specific note. Dimitri doesn’t believe Maximilian, of course, not even the warning that he could die if he has sex with the person he loves. Until, in his anger with Theo, he kills his oldest and dearest friend. Agnieszka walks in on him, and in his grief, Dimitri attempts to force himself on her, but the young woman kills herself instead. Filled with despair, Dimitri rushes her body to Maximilian and begs the vampire to save her. Her soul already gone, he is only able to save the woman’s body, and preserves it in perpetuity. One hundred years later in Tokyo, a high school teacher named Azusa Kikukawa is conducting an affair with one of her students, Koya. Frightened of her feelings, Azusa attempts to break things off, but they are both injured in an automobile accident. Koya severely. Dimitri comes to make a deal with her that will save Koya and give him what he’s been searching for during the last century.
I mention horror in the genre section, and once you read the manga you’ll understand why. The blood feasting bugs are, to me, pretty horrifying. If you’re squeamish about spiders, you may want to stay away from this volume at the very least (I’m not sure how much they’ll be used). Mizushiro did some research and they’re very detailed, and there’s a lot of them, and it certainly made me shudder a bit. There’s other bugs, too, but those spiders crawling in and out of Dimitri’s mouth are sure to give some readers the heebie-jeebies. Butterflies carry a vampire’s seed to a chosen corpse to create a new vampire, spiders crawl out from Dimitri’s mouth to gather blood to sustain him, dragon flies spy, beetles trap souls. Various bugs are used in varied ways through the volume. It’s an interesting take, and I can think of a couple metaphorical meanings to them. Mostly insects’ connections with death. Think about seeing the corpse of an animal, any animal really, from a beetle to a cat, and likely it was crawling with flies, gnats, ants, or other creatures taking sustenance. Since Mizushiro’s vampires do have to literally die before becoming vampires, it makes perfect sense they would command such creatures. Well, I say command, but these insects are coming out of their bodies; they don’t command the normal insects already in the world. Mizushiro doesn’t shy away from drawing her detailed insects exiting Dimitri’s mouth, as there are several pages where this is illustrated. Obviously it’s not all about creepy vampires and bugs. The crux of the story here is heartbreaking. While it’s unfortunate that Agnieszka is little more than a pawn, there for the men of the story to use, my hope is that this will change once Azusa’s soul awakens within her body. I’m also very interested to see how a century of living with the guilt over what he did to Theo and Agnieszka has changed Dimitri, because there’s not much provided on that in this volume. Other than the obvious obsession he’s had searching for a way to awaken his beloved. Who technically won’t be his beloved anymore, except in body. Maximilian is conspicuously absent in 2008, replaced with three young men, two of whom appear to be fairy recent additions. This is proving to be a fairly unique story, so it’s at least worth a look for that. The artwork isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s easy on the eyes, and the panels are clean and flow clearly. There’s no shortage of vampire manga out there, but with Vampire Knight wrapping up there’s certainly room for a new one.