From Jun Mochizuki, creator of Pandora Hearts, comes a brand new series involving vampires, steampunk elements, Paris, and old legends. Let’s see what she has to offer us with the first volume.
The Case Study of Vanitas Vol. 1 (Yen Press)
Written and drawn by: Jun Mochizuki
Translated by: Taylor Engel
Lettering by: Morgan Hart and Bianca Pistillo
Here’s the description as stated on the back:
Rumors revolving around The Book of Vanitas, a clockwork grimoire of dubious reputation, draw Noé, a young vampire in search of a friend’s salvation, to Paris. What awaits him in the City of Flowers, however, is not long hours treading the pavement or rifling through dusty bookshops in search of the tome. Instead, his quarry comes to him…in the arms of a man claiming to be a vampire doctor! Thrust into a conflict that threatens the peace between humans and vampires, will Noé cast in his lot with the curious and slightly unbalanced Vanitas and his quest to save vampirekind?
The Initial Reaction
I didn’t know what to fully expect coming into this manga. I had never heard of the creator before until I did further research on her, nor did I read her previous series. I didn’t even know what the manga was about–I just grabbed it off the shelf and decided to give it a shot. After reading the first volume, I’m of two minds about it. There are certain elements to it that I like and find myself being drawn to, but on the other hand, I feel cold and empty after reading it. It’s like it has a lot to offer, but is still missing a lot as well.
Story wise, the first volume of The Case Study of Vanitas tends to be rather confusing and not exactly clear on what it is trying to do. Just what is going on feels underdeveloped and not thoroughly explained well. All we know is that Noe wants to get the grimoire that Vanitas has, but he doesn’t know exactly why; Vanitas has some connection to this legendary vampire and wants to save vampirekind for some reason; Vanitas is working with an information broker and several other people we don’t know about; some people named Luca and Jeanne, who is Lord Ruthven’s Bourreau (neither of which are explained), are hunting for the grimoire themselves; and there’s a mysterious force corrupting vampires around Paris. Heck, the rules and mythology behind vampires are incredibly hazy and unexplained, so it is hard to know the limits for the characters. All of these plot elements and storylines could be interesting and have something going for them, but the storytelling is terrible here with how little things are actually explained. I don’t have a strong idea of what is happening.
Hopefully, the doctor isn’t as in your face as this gentleman is.
The same extends to the character. Noe is a vampire from somewhere far away looking for the Book of Vanitas, but his motivations for doing so are intentionally vague and unexplained. His mentor wants him to find it and… that’s it. Noe’s got a good heart and his wide-eyed excitement of exploring Paris is quite amusing, but I’m not sure where the creator is going with him. Vanitas is a vampire doctor, wanting to cure them of the unknown corruption that has been recently plaguing them. How he got the book, knows about what is going, and how he got to this point is unknown. All we do know is he’s a bit of a jackass, but one who is aiming to do right for some reason. There’s Luca and Jeanne and their motivations are quite limited as well, outside of Luca wanting the book to destroy it and Jeanne wanting to desperately protect him, to the point where he has to tell her not to kill people. We get hints of Jeanne’s backstory and it sounds interesting from what we see, but the story really veers away from it. There’s potential to these characters and the tiny bits of morsels we get with them, but Mochizuki does not spend enough time with them early on to get the audience invested or carrying about them.
The writing has both good and bad to it. The pacing is very quick, moving from moment to moment without much pause for breath. While it always keeps the story moving, the pacing runs into a problem where things are just too quick and the story and characters get glossed over, not expanding on certain details or explaining things. The story also has some awkward transitions, where it cuts from one scene or character to another without much context or setup, making things a bit disorienting at times. The dialogue itself isn’t too bad though and there is certainly personality and charm to it a lot of the time. The banter, for instance, between Noe and Vanitas is very engaging to read. They got a good chemistry and buddy cop kind of feel with their two different personalities bouncing off one another, always surprising one another. The humor is great as well during less serious moments, leading to absolutely terrific jokes that got a good laugh out of me. Despite the problems with the story, it does have good hooks and intrigue to it that leaves me curious about where the creator is going with her story, especially at the end. However, this manga needs to spend some time explaining some things, because it feels like we need a glossary or a companion book to go over all of the lore, terms, and backstory. Frankly, I would just settle for Yen Press at this point to provide a glossary explaining what the random French words in the book meant.
The one thing that really shines above all else is the artwork, which is gorgeous. It is certainly not without its own flaws, like poor transitions and awkward cuts in the action, but Mochizuki does a great job here. Character designs are nicely handled, and everyone looks distinct from one another. Characters are able to convey a good range of emotion in their facial expressions and body language, while the art is capable of capturing the right tone and mood for each scene with the angles and shading used in areas. The action is awkward and static, but there are some incredible shots from time to time that show how much power and energy there is in each blow, like when Jeanne goes off. The backgrounds tend to be empty at points, but when the scenery and locations are drawn, the artwork truly becomes breathtaking. Some good examples of that are when Noe is falling into Paris through the sky or when he steps out of jail and sees the hustle and bustle of streets during the day.
The Case Study of Vanitas Vol. 1 is a manga that should be good. It has all the right ingredients and shows a lot of potential in its story, characters, and writing, all while being bolstered by fabulous artwork. However, the lack of foundation, explanation, rules, and time spent on the story and characters cripple this manga. It’s hard to know what this story is about, where it is going, or even truly care about the characters when things are so unexplored or underdeveloped. It’s also not helped by terminology that is not explained. This is a series I could see doing well, but its writing and storytelling are not doing it any favors.