Blood the Last Vampire Vol. #01 - Night of the Beasts -

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Mania Grade: B-

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  • Art Rating: N/A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: All
  • Released By: Dark Horse
  • MSRP: 8.99
  • Pages: 300
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Left to Right
  • Series: Blood the Last Vampire (novel)

Blood the Last Vampire Vol. #01 - Night of the Beasts

By Greg Hackmann     March 13, 2008
Release Date: November 01, 2005

Blood the Last Vampire Vol.#01 - Night of the Beasts
© Dark Horse

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Mamoru Oshii / Katsuya Terada
Translated by:Camella Nieh
Adapted by:

What They Say
At Yokota Base in Japan, American soldiers stand guard at the brink of the Vietnam War. Although they fear the enemy outside their base, an even more dangerous enemy waits within--bloodthirsty vampires walk among them. Appearing human, the beasts lurk in secret among the soldiers, waiting for the moment to attack. Saya, a fierce and beautiful vampire hunter, is sent to lead a team of undercover agents whose mission is to decide who is human and who is not, and wipe out the vampires before they can wipe out the base. But even though Saya is a powerful warrior whose skill with her Japanese sword is lethal, her ferocity may not be enough. The first book in a highly successful series of novels from Japan, Blood: The Last Vampire is a startling, fast-paced thriller full of chilling surprises.

The Review
Leave it to Mamoru Oshii to write a vampire-hunting novel that includes an actual, honest-to-goodness bibliography.

The novel's cover is heavy on blue tones, and features a somber drawing of Saya in the aftermath of a vampire hunt. Consistent with this motif, the back cover story synopsis is framed on the corners by faded splotches of blood. Though it looks nice, the cover art is also somewhat misleading: though characters spend a lot of time talking about Saya and her work, her actual presence in the novel is little more than a blip.

Printing is sharp inside, and set against an eye-pleasing white paper stock. The only extra is a short one-page About the Author/Illustrator section.

Dark Horse's English script is easily the densest among all the anime- or manga-related novels that I've read so far. Gone are the page-count-padding typesetting and full-page illustrations that are typical of the genre; in their place are vocabulary and sentence complexity written at least at an upper high-school level, mixed with discussions of some meaty (or, depending on your point-of-view, pretentious) subjects. Between its length, subject matter, and writing style, Night of the Beasts is far from a light read in any sense of the word. This is admittedly something that I consider a plus; but readers expecting a straightforward read should be prepared for a bit of a shock when they first dig into the novel's text.

Camella Nieh's translation reads well, especially considering the density of the source material. The text is mostly free of grammatical errors, barring a few typographical glitches (like missing quotation marks) that aren't out-of-line for a book of this length.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fleeing from a student protest turned violent, high school slacker and would-be revolutionist Rei Miwa becomes an accidental witness to an apparent killing: he runs into a high school girl bearing a blood-soaked sword, with a bloody spray staining the wall behind her and two foreigners in tow. As the foreigners knock him unconscious, he witnesses them drag a ghoulish corpse into a body bag. When he's later discovered by a bystander and turned into the police, they seem less than impressed by his story, but eventually clear him of all suspicion when forensic tests prove that the blood soaked into his clothing is non-human.

Even with the legal charges dropped, Rei is still in hot water with his school, which places him on suspension for his role in the revolutionary activities. While spending his suspension more-or-less confined to his room, Rei is visited by a man who identifies himself as Detective Gotouda. Gotouda has taken interest in Rei's unorthodox alibi, and matches it with an unusual story of his own: politically-active students across the country have been murdered one by one, with the only common thread being the enrollment of student Saya Otonashi in their classes shortly before each incident. This is where Rei's run-in with the mysterious girl figures into the puzzle; he soon identifies the girl he saw holding the blood-soaked sword as Saya.

Rei reluctantly agrees to help Gotouda with his investigation and to eventually introduce Gotouda to his revolutionary circle of friends. During a series of meetings with the students, they collectively compile a few observations about the case. First, Saya has recently enrolled in the students' own high school, suggesting that one of their comrades may be the next to disappear. Second, Saya has been frequently seen in the company of unidentified men with possible CIA or Mossad connections. Third, and most bizarrely, the person responsible for the students' disappearances left three corpses behind and then began disposing of the rest, an act that no rational killer would go to the effort to do.

At this point, the plot steadily starts going off the rails altogether. Members of Rei's circle are arrested while staking out Saya, and Rei himself is confined to house arrest. He's eventually coaxed out of his confinement by an urgent note from a comrade, but arrives at the meeting only to be attacked by a supernatural winged creature and saved by Saya's intervention. He and Gotouda (who tailed Rei to the scene of the attack) are then rounded up, kidnapped, dragged to a remote mansion, and forced to spend most of the rest of the book engaging in philosophical and cultural discourse with an old man over a glass of wine. (I'm not kidding about that last part.)

I'm usually not an advocate of judging a book by its cover. That said, if you take a careful look at Night of the Beasts's front cover, one subtle but important detail can tell you a great deal about how much you're likely to enjoy this book. Hovering just below the title glyph and just to the right of Saya's illustration, you'll find two short but important words, printed in red and haloed in white as to give them an ominous presence: "MAMORU OSHII".

If the mere mention of this name sends you into a quivering heap on the floor -- or causes you to instantly fall into a deep, philosophically-induced coma -- then the Blood the Last Vampire novel is probably not for you. Despite being a novel that's nominally about vampires tracking down and killing other vampires, Night of the Beasts is firmly rooted in the kind of hyper-literate style that has caused Oshii to routinely polarize audiences since the release of the first Ghost in the Shell film. Though Night of the Beasts doesn't show many hints of Oshii's recent surrealist binge, he still dedicates a surprising amount of the text to pet topics that are only tangentially related to the plot as a whole; Saya and her vampire-hunting practices are effectively relegated to extended cameos here. After all, why indulge in an uncivilized battle between supernatural creatures when you can ponder the evolution of modern society for fifty pages instead?

It'd be one thing if Oshii were simply using these themes to build on and enhance the narrative in Night of the Beasts. Instead, the time spent on these side topics simply detracts from the main narrative thread, and so the vampire-hunting plot suffers incredibly. When Oshii carries the story off into these extended tangents, the story stops cold in its tracks for thirty or forty pages at a time, and then suddenly snaps back into action with little or no warning. By the time the story picks back up, the reader's train of thought has been completely demolished -- and probably their interest as well. Although the novel's pitched as a continuation to the film and an introduction into Saya's backstory, Oshii's lack of direction will hinder most (if not all) readers from picking up more than scraps of a relevant storyline.

Now, I'd be much harsher when grading this novel if not for its one saving grace: as little as some of these rants have to do with the main storyline, they're often interesting diversions in their own right. Did the story events at the beginning of the novel really warrant a lengthy discussion of Japanese revolutionary tactics circa 1969? Probably not. Did I find it perversely fascinating when Gotouda delivered an impromptu lecture on burial traditions, with a bonus examination of eleven different ways to dispose of human corpses? Absolutely.

Really, the novel's failing is that it's not simply titled Mamoru Oshii's Soapbox, Guest-Starring Blood the Last Vampire. When taken as an extension to the film's storyline, Night of the Beasts is a disaster: the unfocused narrative will alienate and infuriate readers who just want Oshii to get to the point. But when read as a series of eccentric rants flimsily glued together with Blood the Last Vampire references, it isn't half bad; it's just rarely interesting for the expected reasons.


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