I can honestly say that Step isn't at all what I expected from its cover artwork and Yen Press's story summary.
Writer/Artist: Yu Yanshu
Translation: J. Gustave McBride
Adaptation: J. Gustave McBride
What They Say
Unaware of how her entire family met its demise, Dynasty-Tang, now a young, orphaned vampire, is collected by Mr. Han, a vampire himself and a monster fighter. But his motives for taking this orphan in are far from friendly. What he wants is her blood, an exquisite draught endowed with magical powers. But he is unable to keep it to himself for long...
The book is printed in full color on non-glossy paperstock. The artwork has a lot of flat-shaded, bold colors that come out well on the printed page, if a touch dark. The entire thing is wrapped in a glossy softcover featuring a fantastic-looking (but sadly unrepresentative) portrait of the two main characters.
Yen Press includes a short "About the Creator" section and five supplemental pages of illustrations as extras.
Despite the beautifully drawn cover artwork, most of the interior artwork ranges from okay to amateurish. Characters frequently go off-model, to the point that I literally misinterpreted some illustrations of Dynasty Tang as representing an entirely new character during my first read-through. Yanshu seems to struggle with drawing faces right; I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something really wrong about the way a faces are proportioned in a lot of panels. Likewise, the quality of the coloring (particularly the shading) varies a lot throughout the book.
On the other hand, the five full-page illustrations in the backmatter look very good -- the middle three look fantastic, actually -- so Yanshu obviously has the talent to pull off good artwork. I actually wonder what happened to make the artwork in the rest of the book such a big step down from this supplemental material.
J. Guastve McBride's translation flows well, without any noticeable grammatical errors. Signs are printed in English, presumably replacing the original Chinese lettering; SFX are printed in English below the Chinese text with similar typefaces. A few cultural footnotes are printed inside the artwork in small print. I've got a small nit to pick with the way that speech bubbles are printed: the bubbles are printed in different colors for different character, and not all the foreground/background combinations have high enough contrast.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Don't pay too much attention to Yen Press's promotional blurb about the series, which seems to be billing Step as a dramatic vampire-hunting series. If I had to sum up this book's structure in one sentence, I'd say that it's a collection of short stories told mostly in a gag comedy style and (very) loosely held together by plot thread related to the protagonist's vampire-hunting business. And even that's not completely accurate: a few of the stories presented in this volume aren't comedies at all, and sometimes the connections to the main plot thread are really tenuous.
The plot nominally follows the vampire hunter Mr. Han, who takes various jobs throughout the book dealing with supernatural entities like vampires, demons, ghosts, and so on. Mr. Han is also the legal guardian of the orphaned vampire Dynasty Tang, who sometimes tags along with Mr. Han on his jobs. As rival vampires encounter Mr. Han (conveniently without Dynasty Tang around), they start filling in more pieces of the backstory; by the middle of the book, we know that Mr. Han is responsible for killing Dynasty Tang's entire family, and that having Dynasty Tang under his protection has increased his vampire-killing powers tenfold.
But with that said, most of the book is made up of stories that only vaguely have anything to do with the main plot thread. A typical story, for example, has to do with Mr. Han and Dynasty Tang hunting nine-tailed foxes in a mountainside forest -- Yanshu doesn't explain exactly why they're out doing this, and the whole expedition is never mentioned again after the chapter ends. Another chapter tells an Aesop-style fable that's framed as a bedtime story for Dynasty Tang but otherwise has nothing to do with the plot. Yet another chapter describes the spirits that power mobile phones, which could have come from another series altogether if not for the few panels where Mr. Han and Dynasty Tang show up as secondary characters.
So a coherent plot isn't one of Step's strong points; but to be fair to Yanshu, that doesn't seem to be the focus of most of Step's stories anyway. A good number of the chapters here work perfectly fine as self-contained gag stories, where a strong narrative connecting them all isn't something that's really needed. On the other hand, some of the stories don't come off as well; the serious ones especially tend to feel like they just don't go anywhere, because there's almost nothing explaining what any of them have to do with each other.
I wouldn't say that this volume is a completely bad one overall; it's just one that's all over the place in quality. Unfortunately, when you factor in artwork that's inconsistent enough to be a hindrance to reading, this release drops down from something I'd weakly recommend to something that most readers should skip.