What They Say
Dimitri Lewandowski is a celebrated tenor in early 1900s Vienna. When he is killed in an accident, his corpse is colonized by the seeds of a vampire master. At first, Dimitri denies that anything has changed, but as the people around him start dying, he is forced to accept the ghastly truth.
Flash-forward to 2008. In Tokyo, Azusa Kikukawa agreed to sacrifice herself as the next breeding ground for the vampire group in exchange for Dimitri healing her fatally wounded young boyfriend. But now that the deal is struck, Azusa finds herself in a strange house and a strange body, surrounded by the men she must choose from for a deadly embrace…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The first volume of “Black Rose Alice” surprised me with its character depth and psychological horror. I came into the series expecting the typical from a supernatural-romance shoujo manga: a female protagonist with a flat personality; a tall, dark, and handsome vampire love interest; and a thin plot with even thinner romantic chemistry. Instead, volume 1 expanded upon Dimitri’s character and his lifestyle in 1905 Vienna with a surprisingly sophisticated clarity. From the first page he comes across as your typical brooding, womanizing celebrity, but Mizushiro takes the time to elaborate on Dimitri’s motivations and flaws, broadening out his character into a more three-dimensional portrait. Mizushiro has a little bit of a flair for the dramatic, but despite the soap opera-esque set-up, Dimitri’s transformation into a vampire was effective and even emotionally impactful. The use of Chinese-style vampires–vampires as parasitic “spirits” infecting human corpses–made for a breath of fresh air following the dearth of Western-style vampire stories flooding the entertainment industry.
Despite Mizushiro’s excellent start in volume 1, volume 2 takes a large step backwards. Volume 1 ends with a Faustian deal: Asuza agrees to serve Dimitri’s purposes as long as he saves her student and lover, Koya. As such, many questions remain that volume 2 begins to answer. Dimitri now lives with Leo (introduced in volume 1) and two other vampires inside of a mansion in Tokyo, and Dimitri continues to hold the body of his once-beloved Agnieszka precious. As part of the deal, Asuza’s personality–her “soul”–wakes up inside the body of Agnieskza to reanimate it. While this may seem like Dimitri’s ploy to reanimate his old lover, he explains near the end of the volume that he wishes to “unburden” himself of her by allowing her to propagate and live a happy life. Dimitri’s motivations for this deal prove not only complex but also psychologically and ethically tangled. Much like Leo, I suspect that Dimitri struck this deal for subconscious reasons not entirely known to himself, in that he DOES wish to see his lover reborn for him.
In-between the making of the deal and when “Alice” wakes up (Asuza decides to name herself and her new body this), we see flashbacks of how Asuza and Koya ended up together. Although the scenes occur in a much more sluggish manner than the first volume’s Vienna scenes, and although Koya lacks any convincing characterization whatsoever, the flashbacks do serve the nice appeal of allowing us to learn more about Asuza herself. Even after she wakes up as Alice, I do feel she serves as a much stronger female character than I had anticipated for a work of this genre.
Where volume 2 truly suffers, however, is in the plot progression after Alice wakes up and learns of her situation. The manga, at this point, turns into a male vampire harem: Alice must get to know each vampire living in the mansion and make the decision to propagate with only one, after which the both of them will perish and a new vampire will be born. Asuza takes this situation a little too easily and with a little too much “moe” girl blushing shyness, and combined with Leo’s extremely aggressive and accepted romantic advances, the premise turns incredibly uncomfortable incredibly fast. I find myself “rooting” for Dimitri simply because he claims he doesn’t want to propagate with Alice, although it may also have something to do with the fact that Dimitri still has the best character development so far, while Leo, Kai, and Reiji suffer from archetype syndrome.
As usual, Mizushiro’s art looks good, but she can’t draw certain angles: from certain side-views faces can look warped, with eyes too close together. Otherwise, I enjoyed her attention to detail, especially in drawing the spiders and insects portrayed, and she does have a knack for smooth scene changes.
Overall, I am interested in reading more of the series–perhaps even eagerly anticipating it–although I hope volume 3 will undo some of the damage Mizushiro created with the uncomfortable harem aspects and flat side-characters. I have read many shoujo manga since I first discovered it a decade ago, and this series shows to have an odd plot progression, one rather unlike other supernatural-romance works of its kind. This uniqueness feels refreshing, but it also generates a lot of questions about where Mizushiro plans on taking future installments. She has created an intriguing start, but how she treats this harem nonsense could either make or break the series for good.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 18+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 4th, 2014