Manga Review – Chibi Vampire

Chibi Vampire Volume 1

Chibi Vampire
かりん (Karin)
KAGESAKI Yuna
Shounen – Comedy, romance, supernatural, drama, mystery
14 Volumes (complete)
Tokyopop / Viz Media
Out-of-print

Summary:

Karin is from a family of vampires. But unlike the rest of her family, Karin can walk around in the day and gives blood to humans instead of sucking it from them! She has been protecting her secret for years, but her “normal” life is turned upside down when a boy, Kenta, transfers to her school and accidentally sees her biting someone.

Review:

Chibi Vampire is a refreshing twist on the typical vampire manga.

Vampire stories are incredibly popular. I don’t abhor vampire stories, but I do feel a lot of fiction (manga or otherwise) are pretty generic. Super hot guy (or girl) is either a) a horndog or b) emo who laments about humans’ shorter lifespans. Both formulas have found success across the globe. Fortunately, every now and then, someone tries to shake up the genre.

In Chibi Vampire, we meet Karin, a blood-making vampire instead of a blood-sucking one. She is also far from a seductress or a loner; she’s clumsy, friendly, and a bit of a scaredy-cat. The titular heroine would probably cry in fright at vampires from Diabolik Lovers or other such series. But whilee lame and unusual vampires can be found in several other series (Crimson Prince, My Monster Secret), there’s another aspect of Chibi Vampire that’s pretty atypical: the family dynamic. Karin not only has both of her parents around, but she has siblings as well. The Maaka/Marker family gets plenty of screentime, and everyone gets at least one flashback. Not too many fantasy and supernatural manga have the entire family play such important roles in the story.

Of course, the manga incorporates some of the typical vampire tropes (bats, coffins, etc.). But by putting a few wrenches into the usual, Chibi Vampire becomes more engaging than many other vampire stories. A good author doesn’t need to take an old archetype and deconstruct it; a good author can just put some twists on a typical one and make an enjoyable tale. The vampire aspect also helps the romcom aspect of the story. In the first few volumes, Karin spends a lot of time embarrassing herself in front of Kenta. As a human? She would be pretty irritating in how unrealistically clumsy she is. As a vampire? She’s funny.

However, all the twists don’t make the story flawless. The manga is roughly divided into three main arcs: the comedic “hide the secret” arc, the romance arc, and the mysteries and drama arc. The three sections have different focuses, and the tone changes as the story becomes more serious. This doesn’t mean the humor disappears completely, but it no longer becomes the primary genre. Karin constantly panics in the first few volumes, but she is less spazzy later. I don’t mind the story becoming more serious (and it makes sense considering the content), but the shifts are more noticeable when the story is read in quick succession. Even the author couldn’t believe she wrote such a cute romance. (Evidently, the series was only supposed to be a vampire comedy, not a romantic comedy.) Chapters starring Anju are among the strongest of the series, as she is mature, but she is still to young to fully understand the world. The ending has also left many fans split. The story ends on a melancholy note, and many readers have questioned whether the ultimate result was the best choice. I tend to agree I would have liked to see it end differently. At least it’s not an open ending like in other series…

As a shounen series, the manga also has a bit of ecchi-ness to it. There’s not an overload of fanservice, but there are underwear and bikini shots as well as some suggestive imagery. I don’t know what these scenes really do outside of increasing the manga’s age rating. Readers wouldn’t choose this if they’re looking for something with a lot of fanservice, but it’s hard to ignore when other people grab Karin’s breasts or when she accidentally flashes a certain somebody. Kagesaki admits she’s a bit of a sadist to her characters, and it shows. But perhaps other readers love the touch of ecchi; I just feel it’s mostly out-of-place.

One final note: the light novels were written as the manga was being serialized, and some parts are spoiled in the extra pages of the manga. A few characters (mainly classmates) are added to the manga from the light novels.

As for the characters, Karin is very similar to many shoujo high school girl protagonists. She’s nice and cute, but she’s not really the type to really idolize. She’s more like a friend or girlfriend you’d like to have. Kenta is the nice–if overly serious–love interest with the scary eyes and no money. Again, I doubt many people would want to live Kenta’s life, but he would make a nice friend or lover. Where the series really comes alive is with Karin’s family: the overprotective father, her domineering mother, the playboy older brother, and Karin’s goth-loli little sister. As I mentioned earlier, it’s rare for family members to play such a role in a romance story or even in manga in general. (Well, outside of a sibling or an absent parent.) I love the Marker family: they’re all crazy, but they aren’t as mean or cold-hearted as they may seem. Calera may yell at her family, but she treasures all of them. Anju seems expressionless, but she loves her elder sister so much. Even Ren the super jerk has his good points. The Markers’ bond with Karin is something not often seen in a manga series. Although Karin is the titular character, I think Chibi Vampire is at its best when the manga includes her friends and family. I doubt I would have liked this series half as much without the Marker clan. I could live without Boogie-kun though. Boogie-kun gives me nightmares.

Kagesaki definitely has her own style. Firstly, I don’t think anybody in the manga’s universe will ever need a DNA test. Everyone looks like another member of their family. Fortunately, even the dopplegangers are easy to tell apart. Karin and her look-alike, for instance, wear their hair differently. The author also has several different ways to draw eyes. Karin and Anju, for instance, have the classical big anime eyes, but their mother’s eyes are much sharper. Henry and Kenta both have small pupils, and Henry has very large eyebrows. Maki is initially the only friend of Karin’s really given attention, but as characters from the novel are introduced, a few more classmates start standing out from the crowd. Anyways, the manga is visually dark. Karin has dark hair and wears a dark uniform, the Markers only come out at night, blood…there’s a lot of black- and greytones used in the series. The Markers’ European roots can be seen in the decor and Anju’s choice of clothing. Sometimes the manga can be hard to follow. In one scene, Karin’s mouth is taped, and then it disappears in the next panel. Karin suddenly has a flashback, but it isn’t clear that it is a flashback until you realize Karin’s outfit has changed. The scene just seems to change from an empty park to a crowded one. Bats don’t really make for great weapons in action scenes, and I’ve already discussed the more titillating ones. I may seem hard on the art, but I do like its uniqueness.

Translation:

Firstly, the series’ name change caused a lot of controversy when the manga was first licensed. I do think “Karin” isn’t a very descriptive title, but the English title is also off. She’s short, yeah, but she’s a reverse vampire, a blood-giving vampire; she’s not really a chibi one. Some of the English covers are also ugly.

Honorifics are generally used. Maki, for instance, is sometimes “Maki” to Karin and other times “Maki-chan”. In the first volume, the Maaka siblings refer to each other by their first names instead of “Onii-chan” and the like. The second volume uses “Big Brother”, but Anju uses “Onii-chan” when talking to Kenta. Why the team has her using “Onii-chan” for Kenta but “Big Brother” for Ren I’ll never know. Then it goes back to first names in volume three, and both are used beyond. Yeah, not constant. The Maaka/Marker difference is explained, and Tokyopop adds the explanation about the kanji’s meaning. A couple of the names (Anju, Calera) are romanized differently across the volumes (Anjyu, Carrera). In the latter’s case, “Calera” is used in one of the last volumes.

There are some dialogue changes, and some create errors. In the second chapter, in English, Henry gives Calera the blood of a liar, and then she gets mad about the lies only being a guy bragging to his fishing buddies. In the original, Henry gives Calera the blood of a lying woman, and she gets mad that the taste is of an ordinary liar’s. When Kenta tries to welcome a customer for the first time, Tokyopop has the manager telling Kenta not to glare. In Japanese, the manager says Kenta sounds like a sushi bar owner. Tokyopop also incorrectly has Karin and Kenta randomly calling each other by their first names long before they’re supposed to. Tokyopop’s version also has Karin mentioning Anju is in third grade in volume one (Japanese text just says she’s in elementary school), but volume three confirms she’s in fifth. There’s a few other similar instances across the volumes.

Karin’s blood preference is translated as “misfortune”. While this is an accurate translation for 不幸, I think “unhappiness” works better. “Misfortune” sounds more like her victims are accident-prone. “Unhappiness” also explains why she decides to make Kenta happy: it’s the opposite of what she’s drawn to. The girl who runs away I would also describe more as sad than unfortunate. I also think Karin comes across as having more of an attitude in English than in Japanese: “because of this guy” versus “this damn transfer student”, a couple of swear words in place of her stammering, etc.

All in all, this isn’t Tokyopop’s best or worst work.

I believe all printed copies of volume one (at least the first print) were printed with the front and back covers swapped (i.e. Western order versus Eastern). The manga still reads right-to-left (unflipped).

Final Comments:

Chibi Vampire is not perfect, but it passes the most important test for any series: it’s entertaining. Karin’s story is worth the cost of admission. Even if you tend to avoid vampire manga, take a chance on Chibi Vampire.

While the manga is out-of-print, Viz Media has the series available digitally ($4.99 a volume on Viz Manga, currently $3.49 on Amazon). Used physical copies are available, and the entire series is available for under $50 on eBay. Some individual volumes almost cost that much on Amazon!

Tokyopop also released the fanbook (Chibi Vampire: Bites), short story collection (Chibi Vampire: Airmail), and the light novels based on this series. Airmail is available from Viz Media, but the others aren’t. Tokyopop also licensed Kagesaki’s AiON, and Viz rescued the only two volumes printed for a digital release. Geneon released the anime under the series’ original title, Karin.

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