The Record of a Fallen Vampire wins a few points for sheer ambition ... otherwise, it's a mess.
Writer/Artist: Kyo Shirodaira / Yuri Kimura
Translated by: Andrew Cunningham
Adapted by: Andrew Cunningham
What They Say
Thousands of years ago, Vampire King Akabara Rosered Strauss lost both his kingdom and his queen. Since humans were unable to kill the queen, they sealed her away, erecting thousands of fake seals so that the king would never find her true location. Despite being pursued by relentless vampires, Akabara continues to search for his queen to this day...
Akabara's quest takes a sinister turn when an entity called the Black Swan appears. The Black Swan inhabits the body of a young human girl every 50 years, giving her the power to destroy the Vampire King and his queen. With each incarnation the Black Swan grows stronger - will the 49th Black Swan mean the end of Akabara?
The front cover artwork presents the main character Akabara standing in front of a ragged outcropping of rock and a looming full moon. Weirdly, this scene is set against a tranquil and bright blue sky, which (besides being mutually exclusive with the moon) doesn't mesh well with the dark gothic tone here that the rest of the cover tries to impart.
The print quality is nothing extraordinary for $10 manga: slightly yellowed paper, sharp lines, and the occasional muddy black level. For extras, we're given two "thank you" pages from the artist and staff as well as a two-page author's afterword.
Artistically, Fallen Vampire has two problems that seriously hurt its readability. First, Kimura repeatedly makes poor framing and compositional decisions. Nearly every frame is stuffed with character artwork to the point that it's extremely difficult to visually process what's going on. The sheer amount of layering is confusing and often outright silly; in one extreme example, Kimura takes a shot of a character's veiled face, stacks a close zoom-in of her dress's floral pattern on top of that portrait, and then places a full-body shot of the same character on top of that layer. The artwork throughout much of the story is a claustrophobic mess because of this, especially the fight sequences -- there're a lot of tight shots of faces accompanied by wooshes and explosions, until Kimura suddenly pans over and out a little to reveal a disembodied limb or a sword shoved into someone. The only way I could make any sense of these sequences was to skip ahead to reaction shots to figure out the fight's outcome, then work my way backwards with that knowledge to try to piece together how the story got from point A to point B.
To compound this problem, Renka and Akabara are drawn almost identically throughout most of the manga, barring slightly different hairstyles and some minor detailing in clothing. In keeping with Kimura's apparent love for claustrophobic shots, they're frequently framed in ways that cut off their hair or clothing, rendering them almost indistinguishable.
The dialog is about as shallow as you'd expect from an action series preoccupied with big fight sequences; the English script otherwise reads well enough in terms of both wording and lettering. The many Japanese SFX are replaced with English translations in varying typefaces (presumably corresponding to those used for the original Japanese).
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Record of a Fallen Vampire opens with an exceptionally long first chapter that makes up nearly half of Volume 1's pagecount. After a short flashback, we're abruptly dumped into a fight between men named Jin Renka and Akabara. Between the spells that the two lob at each other, the awkwardly-shouted dialog reveals that Akabara is a centuries-old king of the vampires while Renka is a "dhampire" (half-man, half-vampire). The exact reason for their fight isn't made clear until Renka escapes and Akabara is approached by an unnamed woman; she starts chatting him up and gets him to admit that he's traveling the world to find the seal humans placed on his former vampire queen. His hunt has been slow going, though, since those pesky humans have also placed thousands of decoy seals across the planet, and an immortal rival known as the Black Swan has teamed up with the dhampires to hinder Akabara's search. By an amazing coincidence, the lovely young woman who Akabara has been chatting with is the 49th incarnation of the Black Swan, aka Yuki Komatsubara, and she's more than happy to liberate a limb or two from Akabara's body before he can flee to a nearby forest.
At this point, we're introduced the impish Laetitia, who literally stumbles upon Akabara in the forest and appoints herself as his sidekick. She doesn't actively contribute much to the story at this point, but it's pretty transparent why Shirodaira and Kimura added her in: she latches onto Akabara like a lost puppy shortly before Shirodaira awkwardly shoves the fact that she's 18 into the script. Thankfully, the story doesn't linger on this point too much (yet), and before long Akabara is fully-healed and ready to deal with Yuki. After a length battle, Akabara takes her down with a couple of well-placed swords through her abdomen, releasing the Black Swan and giving him a temporary reprieve while he continues his hunt for the vampire queen's seal.
The story then jumps ahead 50 years as it heads into its remaining 2 chapters, where a very angry Renka has tracked down Akabara again with the help of two other dhampires. Despite this setback, Akabara is optimistic that he's finally located the true seal; however, just before he can open it, he finds himself face-to-face with the 50th incarnation of the Black Swan. To make matters worse, the Black Swan has the unfortunate property that it accumulates the powers of its past hosts, and that the 50th time around is enough to give it powers that exceed Akabara's own. The question now is not whether the Black Swan's new host can take down Akabara, but whether she wants to do it.
Even though Fallen Vampire is a vampire story on the surface, it's quickly shaping up to be a fighting series first and foremost and a supernatural series second. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really a huge fan of the shonen fighting formula; but even for readers among its target audience, I think Fallen Vampire is too flawed to really go over well. Though I hate to belabor the point about the artwork, it really drags this title down to the brink of being unreadable. A big proportion of the story is spent on these elaborate action sequences, and they're totally shackled by Kimura's almost obsessive need to stuff the pages with clutter. Heck, is it so much to ask for a protagonist and antagonist that I can easily tell apart? It doesn't help that the writing problems has lesser problems of its own, ranging from bland dialog to some really blatant and out-of-place pandering to the moé fanbase.
What makes this release all the more frustrating is that there are glimpses of inspired storytelling buried beneath all these layers of substandard execution. Take away the overcrowded artwork and annoying sidekick, and the basic plot outline that's left has promise: just the fact this volume alone straddles fifty years and two reincarnations of the Black Swan suggests that Shirodaira is trying (albeit with very limited success) to build something more epic than your bog-standard fighting title. With some story refinement and a more restrained artist, Fallen Vampire could have been at least an above-average title, or maybe even an excellent one -- unfortunately, a half-baked epic story is still a half-baked story in the end, and no amount of promise is enough to make up for a shoddy implementation.