Vampire Cheerleaders Must Die
Vampire Cheerleaders In Space…And Time?!
Arnold, Adam (story); Shiei (art); Comipa (art); Cang, Ian (art); Shelfer, Michael (art)
OEL Manga – Comedy, ecchi, fantasy, mature, sci-fi, supernatural
4 Volumes (complete)
At Bakertown, the A Squad cheerleaders are something special. Really special — they’re vampires! When their fifth member has an accident, the girls have no choice but to — ugh! — bring a B Squad member up. But Heather manages to impress, and now it’s time for initiation — into the squad and into a vampire! Plus, the Paranormal Mystery Squad is ready to fight monsters, but are they ready for new rules and their biggest crisis yet?
First, let me explain what this post is reviewing. The first two books, Vampire Cheerleaders Volume 1 and 2, are split in half between Vampire Cheerleaders, which unsurprisingly stars supernatural pom-pom girls, and Paranormal Mystery Squad, which is about a monster hunting group. The latter is billed as a spin-off of Aoi House because it features a character from that series’ ending and The Lost Episode, but all three series take place in the same universe. In fact, in Must Die and then In Space…And Time?!, the cheerleaders and PMS (yes, that’s their official abbreviation) end up meeting. So considering this is connected to Aoi House, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this once again sums up how I feel:
Before I go on, though, I do want to tell you that Seven Seas rates this as OT (16+). This is a firm OT, approaching 18+ territory because of the raunchiness and some of the horror elements. Fair warning. It doesn’t quite get to the level of smut, but characters strip and show nudity, talk dirty, use toys, and have orgies. Plus there is bloodshed and death.
Vampire Cheerleaders Volume 1 opens with the death of a cheerleader while she’s getting busy with a college guy. When then meet her squadmates as they squabble about what really happened to her. They are:
Lori – the queen bee
Zoe – always arguing with Suki
Suki – lazy, snarky, crude
Lesley – big sis type
The four girls are seniors, but they’re not just pretty and popular; they’re all pretty and popular vampires. Heather, a junior, tries out and makes the team, and she’s turned into a vampire. Vampires are given powers like the ability to “glamour” someone — i.e. command them and turn them into a slave — but there are trade-offs like sensitivity to the sun. The coven has some rules like limit the amount of blood to drink, don’t drink from schoolmates, and no killing. Their newest member thinks becoming a vampire is awesome. As we learn between the story and the end-of-volume extras, her parents are very strict, and her new life allows her to explore her wild side. Heather’s friend Leonard, who has always suspected the cheerleaders are vampires, becomes alarmed at Heather’s change of habits and personality.
In Paranormal Mystery Squad, the titular group is made up of three members who hunt down monsters aka cryptids: Stephanie (Steph), the goth girl and leader who uses a sword, Katherine (Katie), her younger sister not really interested in hunting, and Charlotte (Char), the spellcaster. When the People for Ethical Treatment of Monsters (PETM) shows up, PMS is ordered to stop killing. This angers Stephanie, as she has hated cryptids ever since her parents were killed. To keep an eye on PMS, one of its members, J.C., is sent to monitor their activities. Stephanie and J.C. don’t see eye to eye at all, but when Katherine is cursed, it may be J.C. who can help keep Stephanie’s one remaining family member alive.
That’s essentially a spoiler-free/lite version of the first volume. Have you ever seen manga or comics submitted for a contest where the magazine or platform then asks users to vote to see which one they want to read as a full series? That’s the kind of endings they have. The main conflict in the episode is resolved, but at the very end, the characters are already planning their next adventure.
Which is what the second volume does — same main characters, new problems. The cheerleaders have to keep the B squad at a distance while also needing them to take down the current cheerleading champions, but then the girls face an even bigger issue. Stephanie and crew have to do community service, but when a new threat arises, will they be able to do anything with their powers limited?
Which leads us to Vampire Cheerleaders Must Die. As I said earlier (and you can tell just from the cover and title), the Bakertown cheerleaders and PMS face off. And this is where the series lost me.
First of all, some of the characters seem different from their earlier selves. Maybe you could attribute some of this to the passage of time in-universe, but readers have only spent about a volume’s worth of time with each of the groups. Most notable is that Stephanie suddenly is super motivated by money.
Also, there seem to be a lot of characters that, based on the way they’re presented, may be from another series or a missing side story? And just when you think there’s going to be a surprising twist tying back to one of the earlier chapters… we get some kind of “epilogue” which is more like an alternate universe, including an unexpected return of someone and someone else kicking butt?
But hey, entering bizarro world in Must Die was just a warm-up for In Space…And Time?! It’s a mess whether you compare it to the previous entries or as a stand-alone. I often have a hard time summarizing things because I don’t want to make my reviews just a recap, but honestly, I don’t think I could write a good book report on this if my life depended on it. The whole paper could just be six words: time travel, moths, Hello Kitty, sexcapdes. Not necessarily in that order, but yeah, that’s about all I could tell you.
What compounds the problem is that most of the characters do little to endear themselves to the reader. Heather immediately drinks blood from her parents. Lori is pretty much the epitome of every high school cheerleading captain in every teen drama ever. One of the guys claims one of the girls is his soulmate but keeps sleeping with someone else right in front of her. Stephanie insists on confronting the cheerleaders at prom. Sure, the cheerleaders don’t kill and PMS does make good points about keeping people safe. But they’re still not especially kind or the kind of characters to root for.
Even if you disagree with me, when they face off, who are readers supposed to root for? Stephanie is right that the cheerleaders are glamouring people into doing whatever they want. But from an entertainment perspective and not a moral/legal perspective, readers won’t want to see them locked up or killed. There’s no epic team-up or little conflicting moral opinions that give characters pause — just “you’re not human” vs “you want to attack me”. Then, in the final volume, most of the two groups are split apart in favor of a mixed group, so while I did like some of the dynamics and character interactions in Vampire Cheerleaders and Paranormal Mystery Squad, we lose all of that for less engaging ones.
There’s another major thing to consider if you’re interested in Vampire Cheerleaders and its follow-ups: the art. Four different artists tackle parts of this series. The Vampire Cheerleaders stories in the first two volumes are done by Shiei, as seen in the first sample picture. Two different artists drew the Paranormal Mystery Squad adventures in those volumes; the second excerpt in this post is from Volume 1. Then another artist drew the crossover volumes, and his artwork is displayed in the last two pictures. Western comics regularly bounce between artists, but for a series read the manga way (and classified as such by some metrics), Arnold’s story feels more like something being put out by IDW Comics, Archie Comics, or the other American comic publishers rather than Seven Seas.
Shelfer’s art in particular is a huge departure from the more manga-esque earlier art. I mean, look how different Heather looks in the first and last images or Stephanie in the middle two pictures (let alone compared to what she looks like in Aoi House). The liaison assigned to PMS, J.C., goes from looking more like Tokyo Ghoul‘s protagonist (Ken) to the lead in Cowboy Bebop (Spike). I guess his hair suddenly started growing sideways in his mid-20s? The cover of Vampire Cheerleaders Volume 1 reminded me of Rosario + Vampire, but Shelfer’s style is decidedly Western with its thick lines, smaller eyes, pronounced noses, and angular art. It’s not necessarily bad, but as a manga fan, I felt like each new version got worse. To me, it’s like all those new versions of old cartoons WarnerMedia/Cartoon Network keeps putting out, like Wabbit/New Looney Tunes, Be Cool, Scooby Doo!, or Yabba Dabba Dinosaurs. Yeah, it’s not bad in a technical sense, but… why can’t we stick with its original style?? (And a side note: give a raise to whoever finally convinced the boneheaded executives to return to a more traditional Looney Tunes style!) I understand that Shiei/Comipa maybe didn’t want to or couldn’t do Must Die and/or In Space…And Time?!, but it’s a huge departure, and it’s compounded by the messy plot.
I talked about how Vampire Cheerleaders is rated for older teens, but maybe readers should be adults — 18 or 21+. That way you can be legally (if allowed in your area) high or drunk, and maybe if you’re on something, Vampire Cheerleaders In Space…And Time?! will make some sort of sense. Changing art maybe wasn’t a big issue when it was serialized on the web, but in a graphic novel series, it’s a negative. At best, stick to the first two volumes and create your own head canon over the actual canon.
Arnold and Shiei collaborated together on Aoi House. Shiei has also drawn Amazing Agent Luna, My Little Pony: The Manga, and others. All are available from Seven Seas. Shelfer drew Dead Already, also available from Seven Seas.
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