The Case Study of Vanitas Vol. 1 - Manga Review

In the streets of Paris below stalk the creatures of the night: vampires. Above flies La Baleine, a magnificent airship heralding the arrival of a newcomer to the city of beauty. In this new series from the creator of Pandora Hearts, La Baleine's passenger, Noé, is on the hunt for a powerful relic, a cursed grimoire said to be destined to destroy vampire kind: The Book of Vanitas.

The Lowdown

Many years ago, there was a terrible feud between a rare blue moon vampire, Vanitas, and his red-blooded kin. As a result of the vampire Vanitas’ pain and suffering, he manifested his power and hatred into the Book of Vanitas, a tome that is supposedly destined to destroy his vampire brethren. It is in search of this book that Noé, a country vampire, comes to Paris. However, he finds himself faced with the flamboyant new Vanitas - a human “vampire doctor” who uses the cursed grimoire he inherited to “heal” those vampires who lose control of their “true name” and become feral unreasoning beasts. After a quick skirmish between the doctor and Noé over the vampire patient Amelia, the two of them find themselves against the clock to prove themselves to the local vampire Count that Vanitas’ treatment is actually real, driving them into conflict with even more cursed vampires as well as normal vampires bent on destroying the cursed Book of Vanitas.

How Was It?

The Case Study of Vanitas is an immediately striking work whose pages gush over with fantastical vibrancy right from the start. From the gorgeous Victorian garments to the austere steampunk airship La Baliene to the dazzling nighttime Parisian street lights, every page of this manga revels in splendid opulence. The visual flair imbues everything about it, from the true name transformation sequences reminiscent of Madoka Magica, the scenes of flowery freedom, and the children’s fairy tale books to the opening pages’ classic Dracula-esque film grain aesthetic. The artwork manages to make all these disparate styles work, going from beautiful, almost romantic scenes of beauty to bloody monster horror with incredible deftness and skill. It blends all these elements: beauty, action, exposition, quick gag comedy, with swift precision and effectiveness that gives it a light exciting visual pacing and style similar to the highly acclaimed Fullmetal Alchemist series.

From the outset, The Case Study of Vanitas strongly reminded me of Fullmetal Alchemist not just from the steampunk/fantasy Europe setting or its style of humor, but also from its central character dynamic. The new human Vanitas is like a mashup of the incredibly competent and excitable Edward Elric mixed with the flamboyant romanticism of Tamaki Suoh from Ouran Highschool Host Club. He is an incredibly engaging and exciting character to watch as his whims seem to garner conflict, surprise or astonishment from everyone he meets. In opposition to him is his newfound partner Noé, the straight man to Vanitas’ crazier antics who is the physical muscle of the pair while also being the less culturally savvy (these last two traits coming from his background as a country born and bred Vampire). The interplay between Vanitas and Noé is incredibly fun to watch, from their first combat encounter against each other right up through the end of the volume when they become a team, even if Vanitas mostly dominates the relationship. However, this is hardly a bad thing. Vanitas and his socially idiosyncratic worldview’s relationship to the rest of the cast gives ample opportunities for characterization. There are many examples of this, including his casually antagonistic relationship toward his information broker/employed sidekick Dante and his reckless romantic advances on the Vampire Jeanne. This also makes for some interesting inter-character tensions I am very curious to see play out in later volumes.

The world these fun characters live in is just as well-realized. The steampunk alt-history Paris feels tonally authentic, while the few steampunk elements introduced also feel right at home with the setting. I’m also a big fan of how Vanitas brings in its vampire mythology with small hints to previous events. The one simple twist to the formula on normal vampirism, namely the addition of corrupted true names into the equation, allows for various other monstrous abilities, like magical thorns or lycanthropy, that are sure to make many of the fights interesting and dynamic. The enigmatic origin of the Book of Vanitas (including its power and purpose) coupled with some very explicit foreshadowing of Noé ultimately killing Vanitas gives the series a distinct mysteriousness and tenseness that adds more weight to the already exciting current events.

The series is also impeccably paced with each chapter giving enough breathing space to gradually introduce the cast and mythology as it goes along. For instance, there is the shrewd handling of Dante’s introduction. Dante appears as Vanitas’ comedic sidekick in chapter one’s action scene, only to be fully introduced in chapter three when his larger role actually becomes significant. It helps that not every aspect of the world has to be immediately explained right away, allowing the story to unfold naturally and not disrupting the comedy or action scenes with untimely exposition. Instead, the spreading out of the exposition amongst the chapters allows for a feeling of exploring a living world instead of just reading an ad-hoc creation of an author. Vanitas feels like a world you can explore, one where there are many secrets, surprising abilities, dark pasts and hidden factions that are just hiding beneath the surface, a surface I can’t wait to dive into more.

Final Thoughts

The Case Study of Vanitas Vol. 1 is a gorgeously drawn and exciting beginning that has left me eager to experience more of this story. Its cast has an interesting, tension-filled relationship, and the steampunk world of vampires and curses seems to have a lot of secrets to uncover later on. An excellent pickup for any fantasy, steampunk, or action fans.


The Case Study of Vanitas Vol. 1 was published in English by Yen Press on Dec 20, 2016. It was created by Jun Mochizuki and translated by Taylor Engel. The series is simul-published digitally by Yen Press, with volume 2 releasing physically May 2017.

Verdict:

A

Date of Publication: December 20th, 2017

Author: Jun Mochizuki

Translator: Taylor Engel

Publisher: Yen Press