Once in a blue moon, a different kind of vampire is born.

Title: The Case Study of Vanitas
Genre: Supernatural, Historical
Publisher:  Square Enix (JP) Yen Press (US)
Creator: Jun Mochizuki
Translator: Taylor Engel
Original Release Date: December 20, 2016

While there aren’t many left these days, every now and then under a blood-red moon a vampire is born. These monsters of old can do without blood if they must and zealously guard their true names, a symbol of their very lives. But even more rarely, perhaps only once ever, a vampire is born under a blue moon. This vampire’s name was Vanitas; other vampires feared him, but they feared his his grimoire even more — said to have the power to interfere with a vampire’s true name. Ordinary vampire Noé has been sent to Paris to discover the true nature of The Book of Vanitas; while the book is truly there, the circumstances surrounding it are even more bizarre than Noé expected.

The Case Study of Vanitas has an okay start but it is nowhere near as gripping or bombastic as the opening to Jun Mochizuki’s previous work, Pandora HeartsPandora Hearts offered an immediate conflict while Vanitas is a bit more nebulous. Noe even muses that he’s not quite sure what he’s supposed to do with Vanitas and his book once he finds them, and even the exact powers and ways vampires work in this story remain a mystery. Despite his distance from the center of the story so far, Noe is a far better choice for the point of view character than Vanitas given how thoroughly unlikable Vanitas is so far. It’s certainly a deliberate move but instead of adding mystique and intrigue to the story it only serves to make the story more muddled.

It is a bit disappointing to see how generic the story is so far, but the story is only half the draw for MochiJun’s works. Her artwork has only improved over the years and her delicate, design-filled characters feel distinct without looking out of place in the broader span of manga. There’s not much in terms of backgrounds so far but part of this is due to the sheer number of action and fight scenes in this first volume; unfortunately this is another place where this volume falls flat. The fights are simply a bit hard to follow, and the fights between vampires emphasize speed over anything else. Similar to special attacks which pepper shounen manga, this means that there are fewer good “freeze frame” moments to convey what’s happening. As a result the fights are just a blur of panels trying to convey how fast all of the characters are moving and it’s just not very engaging. There is a neat extra at the end of the volume though, where MochiJun talks about commissioning artist Ryou Yamaguchi (Dragon Quest X) to design the airship “La Baliene” and her assistants then chiding her for choosing such a difficult design that they’ll all have to recreate.

I will be sticking around to read the second volume of The Case Study of Vanitas but only because I was such a big Pandora Hearts fan. You will sometimes find creators who only create one good story in their life and typically it’s a tale that feels fiercely and achingly fresh, something that can’t be recreated. Pandora Hearts was not stunningly original but its intricate and quite well foreshadowed plotting made it a deeply gripping fantasy read. The Case Study of Vanitas has all of the pieces to be an engaging read but so far it’s not there yet.