'Shojo' (see glossary) anime has rarely done that well in the UK. Pretty much all of the UK anime distributors have had their fingers burned by it, shelling out for titles with big followings and finding that the audience has largely moved on by the time they release them. The license of the popular romantic drama Vampire Knight was big news when Manga got it, but with the likes of Black Butler vying for its crown does it have enough substance to stand its ground?
The story in this volume is reaching a partial climax, with Zero fast losing his
battle against his inevitable descent into madness. The appearance of
Shizuka Hio, the pureblood vampire who attacked him and killed his parents, has
set him on the path of revenge but his actions could hasten his decline,
especially when another figure from his past is hell bent on killing him.
Meanwhile Yuki is torn by a deadly deal that Shizuka has offered her, a choice
that could save Zero's life... but at a terrible cost. Shizuka has the
power to stop the madness in Zero by making him into a vampire, but her
conditions for doing this are that Yuki must be turned first, and must kill
Night Class head Kaname Kuran. Kaname is an extremely powerful pureblood
vampire and the only true threat to Shizuka at the Cross Academy. His
infatuation with Yuki would make it easy for her to catch him with his guard
down, and the forthcoming school ball would be the perfect opportunity to get
close to him. Will Yuki sacrifice one potential suitor to save the other?
And will Zero accept becoming the thing he most despises in order to save his
own life? Then there's the question of Kaname and the Night Class, how
will they react to the appearance of a renegade vampire like Shizuka in their
With the inexplicably popular Twilight saga still drawing huge crowds to the cinema it would appear that Vampire Knight's mix of supernatural drama and supernaturally attractive characters is hitting the shelves at around the right time. Certainly on the surface there's lots to like in this volume, which closes the initial thirteen episode story arc in suitably dramatic fashion. Visually the series remains pretty good, with the style that made Matsuri Hino's original manga look so good translated quite impressively to the screen. The character
design is quite a standard shojo style but has enough variety to tell the characters apart, and the dub - in both Japanese and English - is decent too. Shojo often gets pigeonholed as just romance, but Vampire Knight contains a quite considerable amount of action. From the start the three episodes on this disc (yes, three, I'll come back to this later) are action-packed with Zero facing several emotionally charged battles that recall some terrible memories from his past.
The 'conclusion' of the story in this volume is slightly anti-climactic.
With a second series following immediately after the first it's unsurprising
that there would be questions left open, but despite a quite meaningful meeting
between Kaname and Zero there isn't a great change in the character dynamic or
relationship between the central trio. Instead we get a huge amount of
melodrama and angst but no real indication of where Zero and Yuki's story is
going to go. Kaname is his usual enigmatic self during this volume, but at
the end he has a much larger part to play than he has at pretty much any point
of the story so far. The story looks like it is gearing up to bring him
more to the fore in the second series, but it does make you wonder how Yuki and
Zero are going to be involved.
Vampire Knight suffers from some of the same problems that many modern vampire stories and shojo series do. For one it's trapped by the conventions and stereotypes of both genres, whether Shojo's standard love triangle, archetypal male characters and feisty but sincere female lead, or vampire story clichés such as supreme attractiveness and superior, scheming 'pureblood' vampires. The style of the series is good, but not distinctive enough to set it apart - particularly with the overused school setting and familiar character
design that enables you to know what the characters will be like just from how they look. There's not really anything fresh or original to get your teeth into, and the main innovation of setting the series in a human/vampire co-ed school has largely been squandered by the story's focus on the vampiric Night Class. Most disappointing though is the fact that a thirteen episode series has been released in four single-disc volumes. Although I know that Manga were forced into this by the Japanese licensor and tried to compensate by lowering the price of each volume, three episodes on a disc has never been good value for money. It's been a long time since I saw an anime DVD with such a low episode count, and with a future box set release pretty much inevitable it will be interesting to see how many people have picked up the series in single-disc form.
In the end Vampire Knight vol 4 was a decent enough mid-point
to a diverting series. There's a couple of big scenes and some
good fights, but it's all buried under piles of angsty melodrama
that's all a bit overpowering. Vampire fans will no doubt like
the increased focus on vampire lore that comes with the surprisingly
creepy Shizuka Hio, and shojo fans will no doubt like the
smouldering Kaname and the emotional scenes between Zero and Yuki.
However, it's likely that everyone else will find it all a bit
lightweight and unimaginative, with not a great deal to separate it
from the host of teen vampire stories cropping up at the moment or
the standard school-based shojo series. The problem is that
the standard shojo or vampire series nowadays come in multi-episode
box sets for under £30, not four separate volumes setting you back
over £50. It's disappointing, as the concept of the series has
some promise, but in the end it doesn't deliver enough variety on
tried and tested themes to warrant the price or be anything more
Nothing, which is pretty disappointing when there's just three
episodes on the disc. I mean, there's not even trailers, even back when
many releases were three episodes a disc there were hardly any that had no other