When I picked up the first volume of this series, I was a little worried because the first chapter mainly seemed to be concerned with characters talking to each other in long paragraphs of exposition. After reading the first three volumes, I found myself enjoying the series a bit more, but in a “I’d pick it up from the library” if I had nothing else to read type of way. Part of my lukewarm reaction is the way Record of a Fallen Vampire reminded me of other series that I enjoyed much more, and part of it is undoubtably due to the fact that I have better things to read in my stack of unread manga. But I do think that inexhaustible vampire manga fans could find something to enjoy in this series.
The manga starts out with an appropriately emo backstory about a Vampire King whose Queen was about to destroy the world with her magic. Shut away and disguised by hundreds of decoy magical seals, her King has to roam the world destroying the seals until he finds the true one that has entrapped his queen. He’s hunted by both dhampires (human vampire hybrids), and a powerful mystical force known as the Black Swan who keeps being reborn generation after generation as a human girl. Akabara Strauss is the Vampire King. He’s joined in his quest by Laetitia, a dhampire who is trapped in a childlike form. Anyone who has been around for hundreds of years builds up quite a past, and Strauss’ main dhampire enemy is Bridget, a powerful warrior who at one point led his army and was treated by him as an adoptive daughter. The incarnation of the black swan retains the memories of her predecessors, who were all killed by battling Strauss. A dhampire named Renka was in love with the 49th Black Swan, and his determination for revenge causes him to be reckless in battle.
Strauss and his enemies battle each other in safe zones in cities, hidden from humans. This reminded me a bit of X/1999, but the art in Record of a Fallen Vampire isn’t nearly as good. The character designs are all somewhat feminine but generic, and the battle scenes are sometimes a little difficult to follow. There’s no extra visual flair in this manga to make it more interesting. Most of the three volumes contrast reality with the semi-fable of the King searching for his lost Queen. It is revealed that love might not be Strauss’ main motivation. Renka is destroyed when he sees that the latest Black Swan Koyuki is a dead ringer for his long-lost love. Bridget continues her efforts to hunt down her former mentor, and Strauss can’t get rid of Laeti even if he tries. The pace of the revelations at the end of each volume does serve to keep the story moving forward after a fashion, but there are still a bit too many scenes of the characters telling the story instead of showing it – as plot developments are often revealed through various discussions as opposed to action.
I did enjoy the new Black Swan Koyuki, as she acts in unpredictable ways and thus totally confuses the dhampires. She temporarily allies herself with Strauss even though they’ve been enemies for hundreds of years. She’s pragmatic and a little cynical, and she might be the most powerful Black Swan yet. She’s smart to wait and see what might be going on instead of throwing herself into battle and dying almost immediately like many of her predecessors. Koyuki is one of the few people in the manga that have a more distinct personality. Most characters with the exception of Laeti are either tormented, sad, wistful, or filled with a burning desire for vengeance. There’s not very much to lighten the mood in Record of a Fallen Vampire, but it isn’t quite gothically over-the-top for me to enjoy all the angst for the sake of angst.
The third volume ends with a revelation that in a manga I was enjoying more would have filled me with delight – aliens are headed towards Earth and the humans, dhampires, and vampires must join together to fight an extraterrestrial menace. Believe me when I say that I would normally read anything featuring vampires fighting aliens quite happily. But Record of a Fallen Vampire just seems so serious, I don’t have much faith that the fun aspect of vampire/alien conflict will be explored at all. If any of the characters in Record of a Fallen Vampire had more of a sense of humor, I’d be sticking with the series past the first three volumes.
If you’ve read the series and think that it gets better, please let me know. I’m a little intrigued by the arrival of aliens, but I have so much higher quality manga to read that I’m not going to invest the time in this series unless someone tells me that it is worth it.