by Makoto Tateno; translation by Duane Johnson
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Mika Sumino is a transfer student. She has long, thick, raven hair and bone white flawless skin. She is so attractive her classmates call her a living doll. In fact, they are so intimated by her beauty they’re scared to talk to her. Nana Makimura sits next to her in class and is the only person with enough courage to befriend her. Later in the school year, Mika begins missing classes. Nana is asked by one of the teachers to deliver some handouts. During Nana’s visit, Mika reveals her true nature: she’s a vampire. Mika drains enough of Nana’s blood to sustain herself, but not enough to either kill Nana or turn her into a vampire. Needless to say, Mika leaves town that night.
Red Angel is a collection of four stories detailing discrete episodes in the life of Mika. The series title comes from the fact that Mika has blood-colored angel wings that she can make appear at will. These wings also serve to let us know that Mika is not your typical vampire and this is not your typical vampire book.
I generally like vampire stories and don’t mind artists playing with the genre. However, Red Angel never clicked with me. The main problem is that even though Mika is the lead character of the series, she’s not the central character in the first three stories. In fact, attention keeps getting diverted from her. Even when Mika interacts with other characters, we don’t learn much about her or get any insight into her character. Her dialogue is polite and perfunctory, and Mika directs the conversation away from herself. She doesn’t talk about herself, even when she is alone with her servants. I found this elusiveness very unsatisfactory.
There is a major shift in focus with the fourth story. Mika encounters another person with red wings. Finally, she comes alive to the reader, as she searches for this stranger. She is filled with doubts and questions and hopes this stranger can provide some clues to her true identity.
However, this character development comes too late in the book. It feels like Tateno is trying to flesh out Mika and her world in the first three stories. Each of those stories reveals some new ability that Mika has that other vampires don’t. The fourth story really feels like the true beginning of the series. Tateno appears now to have a good handle on Mika and the kind of story she wants to tell. This book would have been a better read if it had simply dropped the first three stories and jumped into the main plot line.
Tateno does a good job of giving the book a moody feel. Since this isn’t meant to be a traditional vampire story, she stays away from giving the book a gothic atmosphere. You can tell Tateno has a love of fashion, as she gives the all the clothing in the book lush details. My one complaint is that there isn’t much variation in the faces or body types of the characters. Everyone is slender with delicate features, including the men. They all look like European fashion models. Given the similarities between the characters, it’s hard to envision Mika as this unique, unearthly beauty. I wish Tateno had lavished as much attention on character design as she did on wardrobe.
I really wanted to like this book. It has plenty of strong points, but it’s the small missteps that ruined the book for me. Red Angel is only a two volume series. Given that brevity, Tateno takes too long to find her pace. It’s simply not worth the money or the time to watch an author try to flesh out a character and storyline that will end in the next book. If the interesting developments in the last story continue in the second book, then it’s probably best to simply pick up the second volume and read it as a stand-alone book.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)