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by Kevin Cormack,

Blood Blade Volume 1

Manga Review

Blood Blade Volume 1 Manga Review

Reborn as a katana-wielding teenage girl, Vlad the Impaler (otherwise known as Count Dracula) rescues Clara, the golem grand-daughter of Victor Frankenstein, from her half-werewolf pursuer. Clara begs Vlad to join her on a journey to Monster Island, where supernatural creatures can live out their lives in peace, safe from the would-be world-conquering Cerberus organization. Cerberus hunts monsters to hybridize them with humans and gain their powers. Clara, Vlad, and servant Nan embark on a dangerous adventure, forever pursued by Cerberus' unholy minions.

Blood Blade has story and art by Oma Sei. Volume 1 is translated by Ko Ransom and lettered by E K Weaver.


Chapter two of this dark supernatural fantasy begins with the words, "Why does Vlad the Impaler look like a young girl?" The obvious, facetious answer that immediately springs to mind is "because Japan." If Oda Nobunaga can be reborn in multiple forms of Japanese media as an attractive young girl, why not the famed warlord, voivode of Wallachia, and impaler of corpses Vlad Tepes? In Blood Blade's history, Vlad was the devoted protector of his small border territory, deliberately becoming a figure of fear to deter would-be invaders. The corpses he impaled on roadsides were not from people murdered by him purely to provide gruesome deterrents but already dead people harvested from graves.

Throughout his life, Vlad gathered supernatural power, but his physical form was warped and mutated by the fear and hatred of others. Somehow (and it's not explained how or why), his diminished essence escapes the mound of putrefied flesh he had become, reborn as a perky teenage manga girl. I expect it's much easier to market manga about pretty young females slicing apart monsters than it would be about an elderly misshapen blob doing the same.

Author Oma Sei's art is very detailed, with a light, scratchy aesthetic for the attractive characters and liberal use of heavy black inks befitting the gothic European setting. Sei uses a lot of photographed references for their backgrounds, which provides a suitably ornate, dank atmosphere. However, the comparatively simpler characters sometimes look slightly out of place in the foregrounds. Such a technique is well-established in manga; just look at the works of celebrated artist Ryōichi Ikegami – Sei is in good company, and generally, their art looks pretty accomplished.

The new female version of Vlad is mostly an enigma – she seems motivated by random whims – such as her initial decision to rescue Clara from her would-be murderer. Vlad is impulsive, forever admonished by her maid/caretaker Nan, and is picky with her food. Although she's now a vampire (it's implied that she was merely human in her former male form), she only feeds from Nan, not other humans, and, in addition to a weakness for garlic, has a hatred for carrots. Far from the terrifying demonic presence of other popular Dracula incarnations, she seems to have a sense of duty towards her people, plus some degree of morality. That and a bloodthirst for battle with her blade. She's also somewhat behind the times, having been holed up in her dank castle for years. She has no idea what guns or gunpowder are.

Clara is something of a stereotypical pretty blonde "nice girl," except she's a golem stitched together from corpses. Now that her beloved grandfather (and creator) Dr. Frankenstein has died, she has been left to warn other "monsters" about the designs of the evil organization Cerberus and its leader, the "Imperial Justiciar," who himself sports many scars. Is he supposed to be Frankenstein's original, unnamed monster? Tone and story comparisons with The Case Study of Vanitas and Undead Girl Murder Farce are very much appropriate, and fans of either are likely to find much to enjoy here.

Sei's motivation in producing this manga is to "bring the spotlight back onto these monsters of yore," so it follows the "monster of the week" format as our main trio travels to the apparent safety of Monster Island. Vlad's attendant Nan is a shape-shifter and has taken the form of a crow, a bear, and even a fire-breathing dragon. Although she's shown as an older woman in flashbacks, due to Vlad "draining her," she has now reverted to cute glasses-girl form. Mmm-hmm. Apart from the goateed eyepatch-wearing half-werewolf guy in the initial chapters, we also meet a bandaged couple – male and female – who I wonder if they're supposed to be mummies. Part of the fun of future chapters will probably include playing "Spot the classic monster reference."

In terms of deeper themes, when passing through a village ruined by war, Vlad herself comments, "Humans are a bloodthirsty bunch. It makes you wonder who the real vampires are." The existence of the human-run organization Cerberus and its unethical experiments using monsters' bodies already confirms that humans are probably the bad guys. So far, this theme hasn't been explored with great depth or nuance, but this is only the first volume.

While I wasn't blown away by Blood Blade, I think it's a decent read, especially for those who appreciate classic horror stories and would like to see their favorite monsters given a modern Japanese manga twist. I don't think it's captured my imagination enough to entice me to read more, but it's a good quality manga that will hopefully find its audience.

Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B+

+ Really nice character designs, some fun character-based humor. Dark, gothic atmosphere.
Story is quite simple, there isn't enough of a narrative hook to keep me interested, we've done monsters being hunted by clandestine organisations so many times before.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Oma Sei
Licensed by: Kodansha Comics

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