28 Jul, 2008

Vassalord, Vol. 1

By: Chloe Ferguson

By Nanae Chrono
Tokyopop, 192pp.
Rating: 16+

vassalord1.jpgOne part cyborg, one part vampire, Charlie’s exceptionally good at his job as a vampire hunter in the service of the Vatican. His personal life is a bit more problematic, as resident vampire playboy Johnny Rayflo finds him infinitely amusing, and a complicated relationship between the two continually binds them together. The pair faces a host of supernaturally suspicious problems, from a childish vampire princess to a sinister branch of the Unitarian Church—but before they can fight evil, they’ll have to stop fighting each other!

Vassalord, the latest addition to that thoroughly oversaturated cyborg-vampire-BL market, is, simply put, a bit of a mess. The first installment is content mainly to float along through the usual gothic trappings, buoyed by character banter and, of course, plenty of gore. It’s not terrible per se, but the whole thing seems like a violence-laden piece of male eye candy with a healthy dose of comedic friction: come for the looks, stay for the snark. The first book is also largely anecdotal, although unresolved elements from this installment promise at least some semblance of overarching plot.

If the phrase “vampire playboy” doesn’t make you grimace, this is certainly the series for you. Character types are played mostly as archetypes: uptight, do-gooder Charlie is designed to clash with loose, suggestive Johnny, and the series’ comedic steam is derived mainly from the cracks they take at one another. This being BL, there’s obligatory romantic tension between the two, but Chrono chooses mainly to play the relationship as the occasional gratuitous panel rather than as actual relationship development. And as other manga on the market has taught us, who needs sex when you’ve got vampirism?

Chrono may have an eye for drawing a detailed scene, but paneling an action sequence seems a bit more of a challenge. There’s plenty of dodging, slashing and other staples, but figuring your way through the motions of just what, exactly, is going on proves difficult. Action sequences should flow, guiding the reader through the motions as they occur in relation to one another. If you have to backtrack to figure out who’s where, or worse, if you missed a panel because the next seems nonsensical, then something is direly wrong. Detailed character renderings and a good sense of space are admirable, but still not enough to atone for a glut of poorly done action sequences.

Vassalord may have several marks against it, but in not taking itself particularly seriously, the series gains traction against many of its Vatican-minded competitors. Gimmicky, clichéd, but not entirely a lost cause, the series still needs to rise above its tacked together storyline and poor action paneling before it can merit any kind of recommendation. For now, it remains best approached by those with a gothic bent and a forgiving attitude.

Volume one of Vassalord is available now.

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