5 out of 5
Coming in to Vanitas from the anime, I am utterly – and continually – blown away by how good Jun Mochizuki’s plotting is. Not that the anime wasn’t inherently interesting – it is, after all, what encouraged me to check out the manga – but in the way it both compresses and decompresses aspects of the narrative, I was occasionally left wondering why we were doing X, Y, or Z, and stray mention between scenes having gone lost on me. While I’ve had a particular struggle with the manga, trying to feel out the balance of how Mochizuki employs chibi sections at length, one thing that’s been grippingly in place is the storytelling. Allowed a more organic pacing, Jun’s world of Vanitas expands casually, and understandably, and never leaves our characters adrift in their various pursuits, whether that’s establishing Noe’s search for the book of Vanitas, or how / why he teams up with Vanitas himself and starts finding cursed vampires to cure. The way this is dotted with subplotty romantic entanglements and lore is perfect, with all of this coming together – expansion of the world, exciting story arcs, and better (by my take) juggling of the chibi moments – in the third volume. That latter bit could just be my getting used to it, of course, but I found that, while it’s still used quite frequently, these sequences are better effected for punctuation, juxtaposing serious moments or instilling whole sections with a kind of madcap comedy vibe; Jun makes sure to back off when Noe is doing some deeper thinking on his relationship with Vanitas and others.
Which is what the first half of the collection mostly covers: we’re introduced to senate member Ruthven, allowing the innocent Noe to be educated a bit more on the current state of human / vampire relations. Jeanne and Domi’s personalities are also explored more, which also branches into deepening Noe’s / Vanitas weird love / hate bond. Instead of being navel-gazing, this stuff is very rewarding: Jun’s characters are not the one-beat protags and everyone-has-a-tragic-backstory stuff of most manga, rather just, y’know, characters. We can still have our comedy inclusions – like Vanitas’ dhampir hanger-ons – but it’s backed up by a sense of personality.
The latter half of volume 3 gets us back to some action, in the fantastic setting of Paris’ underground burial chambers, fancied up by Vanitas lore of it housing church vamp-hunting agents, Chasseurs.
The art throughout this thing is stunning, and I’m not highlighting that nearly enough by relegating that to this final, single comment on it.