Title: Black Rose Alice
Author: Setona Mizushiro
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volumes 2 and 3, $9.99
Vintage: 2009 by Akita Publishing, November 2014 and February 2015 by Viz Media
Genre: Supernatural, romance, horror, vampires
Now that Azusa’s soul is in Agnieska’s body, the vampires must wait for her to awaken. They’ve already been waiting decades, so what’s a few more days or weeks? When she finally does wake up, she’s understandably confused to find herself in a body that’s not her own, surrounded by men she doesn’t know (Dimitri aside, but it’s not like she really knows him, either). Dimitri explains things, and the others – twins Kai and Reiji, and Leo – introduce themselves. They’re well-prepared for her. Kai and Reiji have been practicing cooking and baking (respectively), and Dimitri even fetched her cat, Cheshire, so there would be at least one familiar thing around. Since she’s in shock, they don’t immediately tell her what they are or why they need her, deciding instead to wait for the right time. Unfortunately Azusa finds out on her own, when she spies a trail of insects going into the twin’s bedroom, and then into their mouths while they sleep. Since that obviously requires explanation, Dimitri quickly fills her in – they’re all vampires, and she’s there to help them propagate. Before she agrees further to anything, Azusa wants to make sure Dimitri held up his end of the deal by keeping Koya alive. Since Koya is essentially a hostage, Dimitri takes her to see that he’s doing just fine, prepared to threaten him to make her cooperate. The threat is unnecessary. Azusa is willing to start bearing their children. It’s more complicated than that, however. Only one of them can propagate with her – that vampire will immediately die, and after giving birth, so will Azusa. Not only that, but Azusa’s feelings may have an impact on the vampire that is born. The more willing she is to accept a partner, the more likely the vampire born will be strong. She’s also asked to choose which vampire she feels will pass on the best traits to the next generation. Basically, Azusa needs to love the partner she chooses, love vampires, and want them to thrive. Wanting to start over fresh, she chooses a new name, Alice, and the vampires set about attempting to win her favor. Leo, who appears to be the closest to Dimitri, is the favored mate. The twins hang back and Dimitri pushes Leo forward, wanting the best for Leo, who is close to the end of his lifespan.
In her effort to turn the vampires around her into productive members of society, Alice transforms the dank, dull cafe they operate into a Vienna style pastry cafe. They start getting real customers, and life becomes busy and exciting for all of them. Leo doubles his efforts with Alice, taking her on dates and questioning her resolve to choose one of them. His time is running out, and he wants Alice to accept him as soon as possible. So does Dimitri, and he suggests Leo tell Alice that his life will end soon. Leo, however, doesn’t want Alice choosing him out of pity, or to feel overly pressured into choosing him, so he refuses. Still, Alice is obviously leaning towards him, so it becomes a matter of Alice fully committing to Leo. She likes him, certainly, but isn’t sure if she likes him because she chose to like him, or because the others chose him for her. Alice is perceptive, and she’s realized the other vampires have pushed Leo forward as the prime candidate. Until she’s absolutely positive Leo is the one she wants, she’s unwilling to consent to propagating with him. Unfortunately, Leo is out of time. He makes a final effort to propagate with Alice, but she refuses him, and Leo leaves feeling he’s failed Dimitri. Before he wanders off to die, he advises Dimitri to get over his past and take Alice for himself. In his grief over Leo’s death. Dimitri confesses his sins to Alice, as well as the fact that he does care for her. He still refuses to make a move, however, and it’s Reiji that steps up first.
Well, it’s still unique in a lot of ways, but my theory that it wouldn’t be all about sex was dashed. The whole plot is to make Alice fall in love with one of them so they can have sex and birth a new vampire. So while no one is actually having sex, they’re talking about it constantly. There’s still lots of spiders, beetles, and ants and things, too, so if you have bug phobias, I’ll mention again that you should probably stay away from this series. Honestly, the bugs are drawn with more detail than the characters, and are very realistic. Plus they’re crawling in and out of the vampires’ mouths, which doesn’t help. It’s a really neat way for them to get their nourishment, and they liken it to a corpse filled with feasting insects, but it can be disconcerting. Of course, let’s not forget that the heroine is the soul of a now dead woman transferred into the body of a preserved hundred-year-old corpse. There’s a lot of morbid elements in this series. Leo is on the brink of death for both of these volumes, and he desperately wants to not be a failure as a vampire. The twins are mostly on the back burner, since this is all Leo’s time, but there’s definitely something going on there that isn’t yet evident. Then, of course, there’s Dimitri, who is trying to make up for the heavy amount of guilt he’s been carrying over the last century. Agnieska died because of him, and he didn’t even allow her body to join her soul in death. His plan is to finally release her physical form through vampire propagation, which will let her body die, and also continue his species. Two birds with one stone, and all his guilt should vanish. Unfortunately all this guilt is what’s keeping him from doing this himself, as he purposefully avoids Alice, haunted by Agnieska’s memory. Alice is still drawn to him, though, and with Leo out of the picture, the balance of power is about to shift. He was willing to let Leo, a man who reminded him of his friend, servant, and partner, Maximilian, have her, as a twisted way to give meaning to Maximilian’s life (who died without propagating). Which is odd, considering Kai and Reiji actually are Maximilian, in a way, since it was his death that gave rise to their vampirism (Although, I think Leo is, too? It’s not really clear.). Alice, to her great credit, despite the bizarre situation she’s found herself in, sticks to her convictions throughout the story. She doesn’t like moochers or irresponsible men, so she kicks those vampires’ asses into gear. She’s willing to help them (she makes no argument about her fate), but she’s going to do it on her own terms. She’s strong-willed, knows what she wants, and also has a nurturing, caring heart. As far as shojo heroines go, she’s a good one. There are definitely things to like about this series, though to be honest, it’s just not pulling me in. I’m not impressed with the art, either. It has its moments, but there’s not enough diversity in facial expressions, and the eyes are drawn without much expression either. Particularly Alice’s very light eyes, which are wide and blank, with tiny pupils, that look like Pac-Man. There’s far more effort put into clothing and hair than faces, which makes the lack of expression there more obvious. It’s definitely different from other vampire series out there, though; whether in good or bad ways depends on what you like out of your vampire romances.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.