To many people, their first kiss is special. But what if your first kiss could change your fate?
Previously in the vampire romance genre: Twilight is a thing that happened, whether we like it or not, and has made a big impression on the genre. This varies from trying to catch the lightning-in-the-bottle and make a ton of money like Stephanie Meyer did, or criticizing it in subtle to not-so-subtle ways in other stories being told.
IF YOU’RE DEAD, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES LOVE MAKE?
A serial killer is loose near where Hinata Sorazono lives, and their most recent victim was a student at her school. The killer targets young women, and as the bodycount rises the police don’t have any more leads to go on. And while she’s advised by both her school and parents to be careful, she tries to go about her daily life as best she can. This is not limited to explaining to her best friend that vampires aren’t nice just because a series her friend likes to read says so. (Also, that vampires don’t exist, obviously.)
The series her friend is obsessed with is Until the Ends of the Earth, a historical fiction with a supernatural twist, and star-crossed lovers. It’s the big “it” topic at that time, much like Twilight was at its height, and Hinata does not understand the appeal. So, of course, she’s not very pleased when she finds out that the author of the series, Junya Tokinaga, moves in next door.
Junya looks to be in his early twenties, though acts much older, and likes to dress in traditional Japanese clothing. He takes immediate interest in Hinata, who is repelled from him for quite some time. He comes off as a playboy at first, and I can’t say his jokes about Hinata’s suspected virginity endeared me to him. Hinata doesn’t like him either, but as the volume progresses they keep running into each other. And, of course, because this is a shojo romance, Hinata isn’t going to continue hating him. It helps, though, when we learn that the playboy act is just that – an act.
I really appreciate the way that Mitsuki plays with the genre in a post-Twilight world. There’s a great balance of traditional vampire-romance tropes, as well as red herrings. I also have more than one theory to who the serial killer is, and want to see how that pans out. And I think I might be finding in Honey Blood what I wish Twilight might have been – instead of celebrating destructive and abusive relationships as an ideal, acknowledging when a relationship will be damaging to all parties involved and narratively watching the fallout. Hinata and Junya know that they are walking into a tragedy, but they cannot resist each other. The question is, how long will they last before the curtain falls.
I feel like the plot moved a bit fast, and wondered if this might be an artifact of how it was released. On the Major Spoilers podcast, the panel often talks of the difference of writing for the issue or for the trade. This, I think, is an example in how waiting month-to-month builds the story more. For the person following the chapters as they’re released, they have to wait four months for the big cliffhanger at the end of the volume. I think that, with time on its side, this story would not have felt nearly as quick as it did, and the cliffhanger would have more impact (and payoff).
STILL AT LARGE
I’ll admit, I’m a huge sucker (unintentional pun) for shojo art. More often than not it is incredibly detailed, and handsome men (aka ‘bishounen’) are often nearby. Junya is very pretty, even if I’m not immediately drawn to him. And no genre does fabulous hair like shojo does.
When it comes to detail, Mitsuki has plenty that I like. Junya’s love of traditional Japanese living gives reason to draw tatami mats, shoji (paper/wooden lattice screens and/or room dividers), and furniture that one would see out of a historical fiction piece. In fact, it’s because of the traditional style of the house that Junya decided to buy it.
Sprinkled around the wonderful art are occasional spittakes, the rare deformity used for emphasis, as well as the obligatory Catholic tie-in that every vampire manga I can remember reading seems to have. It makes sense that it would come up, if the author is playing with the western idea of vampires, but feels odd as a Western reader when I remember that, to the Japanese audience reading it, Christianity is very much the minority of religious practice in Japan.
But I think my favorite aspect of playing with the conventions of manga are the gray gutters occasionally used. A common staple in differentiating time in manga that crosses genre borders is the color of the gutters. White is for the “present” of the plot, and black is for the “past” of the current point-of-time-reference. (I dislike using “present/past” because this also happens in historical genres, but the point still stands.) But with the gray, it’s difficult to tell if it’s Junya’s past we’re talking about, or the story he’s written, or Hinata’s dreams, or if it all bleeds together. The narrative certainly suggests that it is running together, so it makes sense to use a gray instead of black.
BOTTOM LINE: INTRIGUING
When I initially read the blurb on Honey Blood, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the series or not. I’m a fan of vampires in all sorts of story forms, but had recently been burnt out by the genre. I didn’t want this to be another Twilight, and to my great surprise, it wasn’t. I’ll be keeping my eye out for volume 2, but I’m not sure if I would recommend this series yet to people not already fans of shojo manga. At least not yet; this is only the first volume.