This first volume has been previously reviewed by Cho.
Azusa Saito finds herself abducted, bound and heading to who-knows-where in the back of a van. A typical high school girl, her life has been fairly mundane up until this point–living with her researcher father and taking care of the household chores. Confused as to the motivations of her kidnapping, she learns a shocking secret about herself when she’s rescued by a group of friendly vampires. The truth is that Azusa is not a normal teen girl, but instead a top-secret experimental test-tube baby who holds the blood of The Ancient One, the most powerful (and perhaps original) of all vampires. As such, she has become the target of vampires wanting to hunt down her blood and potential power, putting her life and freedom at risk. Her rescuers take her in for safety and their own observations, and thus Azusa is thrust headfirst into vampire society.
Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire vol. 1 is the debut novel from Hiroro, featuring illustrations by Mokoppe. Both were previously interviewed about this novel for the site. Published in English by Cross Infinite World, this book was released digitally on July 31, 2017.
Going into a Cross Infinite Worlds book, there are certain expectations to be had, and this book falls right in line with them. Akaoni is a shojo supernatural action romance about a (mostly) normal teenager who gets caught up in the warring factions of vampire society, and finds herself under the protection of the ‘vegetarian’, red-eyed Kouya–the feared and fabled Akaoni himself. Similarly to shojo manga like Vampire Knight, or any of the multitudes of vampire romance novels that were borne from Twilight‘s popularity, Akaoni appeals to the fantasy of a brooding-but-kind hero misunderstood by the world, saved by the kindness of our generic-but-plucky protagonist. Whilst the book also introduces some pretty interesting world-building and an ongoing conflict between three vampire factions–red, blue and yellow–if you’re not interested in reading about a sixteen-year-old being oblivious to romance, than this book probably isn’t for you.
It’s fairly obvious that this book was originally a web novel, published online chapter by chapter. The overall pacing is uneven and makes reading it sometimes tedious; the constant shift between character point of view making the tone and tension between chapters flip-flops enough that it’s hard to feel invested in any of the events happening–especially in the first half. A lot of the language choices used seemed off, and many conversations felt stilted or forced; I don’t know if that was the original style or a failure of translation, but it did make the book feel more soap-opera-y/teen-drama-y than probably intended. Another point is that the author tries hard to merge several plot-lines and events within this single book, which bloats it a little–at 65 chapters, it’s long for an introductory novel, and I do wonder if a simpler, more streamlined story focused on one plot thread may have worked better. The final conflict at the high school was great, and had some real emotional impact for both the characters and audience, but it seems like a consolation or reward for the audience after the slow first half.
Whilst this all sounds like I hated the book, I really didn’t–especially later on, as the cast expanded and the story stopped feeling like it was spinning it’s wheels. Azusa is a fairly typical shojo lead–strong-willed and independent, a hard worker who loves chores and cooking, but who gets easily embarrassed by the suggestion of romance. Her reactions to vampires and the culture she’s now being sequestered into are reasonable and understandable, and her irritation of being left out of the loop or confined to her room is palpable. I do think her character writing was inconsistent overall (swinging between being a strong kendo master who can protect herself from bullies, to a densely-naive blushing maiden unsure about Kouya’s feelings within mere sentences), but the book does try to merge both sides.
Our other main character is Kouya–the titular Akaoni himself. He’s the brooding male love interest one should expect for this type of book, and he plays the role perfectly. With natural red eyes that reflect how powerful he is (other vampires only get red eyes after drinking blood) and the heir to the current leader of the red faction, he has become a feared figure among other vampires within the town and has been put in charge of disposing of F-ranked vampires–zombie-like creatures who have fallen to madness and instinct under their own power after awakening. His self-hatred is fueled by those larger societal fears, as well as the guilt of his mother and brother’s deaths he’s been burdened with. Despite the expected tortured backstory, it gives good motivation to his actions toward the rest of the cast, his distaste for drinking blood, and his own insecurities in addressing Azusa’s friendship (and more?). The interactions between the two main characters is refreshing in that there’s no real antagonism between them more typical of shojo of this nature, so it doesn’t feel rushed or unexpected as they slowly realize their feelings for one another–they bicker and clash throughout the book, but its a product of their concern and frustration, rather than real ire.
The other main character of note is Tsukiharu, a mostly-antagonistic youth who attempts to capture Azusa’s notice over the book’s events (both directly and indirectly). His character arc is by far one of the most interesting, and his inclusion into the story is when things really start to develop in engaging ways. His introduction leaves impact and his character has an air of mystery and danger even up until the final chapters. How his character grows is realistic and feels organic, giving him a depth of character that has wonderful potential for future novels, but doesn’t make him feel like someone completely different to his first appearance.
As a first novel, Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire vol. 1 is a solid book within a cliched genre that doesn’t completely escape its faults. Its length and pacing make the book a slog to get through at times, and even though there is obvious efforts being put in to creating a rich and fully-realized world, not everything works (or needs to be introduced in this first book). There’s a lot of potential here, which can hopefully be capitalized on in future installments. If you’re a fan of the genre, there’s definitely some interesting stuff here, but I can’t see this gaining much of an audience outside of that.
Gee’s Rating: Maybe Recommended
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