This lengthy light novel provides just the right amount of buildup.
Title: Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire (Akaoni no Keiyakusha)
Publisher: Cross Infinite World (US)
Translation: Charis Messier
Original Release Date: July 31, 2017
Review copy provided by Cross Infinite World
First of all, in terms of length, Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire Volume 1 is a monster. (Pun intended.) The light novel is over 90,000 words long and has 66 (albeit short) chapters. Several times I told myself I’ll stop at such-and-such percent, then I read for what I thought was a long while, and still have a ways to go. If you want to read something that is going to last you a while, then stop reading right now and go buy Akaoni Volume 1.
A warning though: the quick chapters tempt you to keep reading; if you try to marathon the volume, some of the character development and change of hearts will seem too fast.
Most of you will have no idea what I’m talking about right now, so let me start at the beginning. Which in this case, features the heroine, Azusa, being kidnapped.
Yes, the story certainly doesn’t waste any time jumping right in to the action. The trade-off, however, is that we don’t really get a sense of who Azusa is until after she’s rescued and living her new life — a life she adjusts to rather quickly. Azusa learns about the existence of vampires, the reasons for her capture, and the truth about her family… and within three days (which are skipped) she’s cracking jokes and making breakfast for her bodyguard (read: monitor) Ichi. It’s these kind of gaps that make me recommend reading Akaoni in small doses. When you read one chapter after another, her adjustment seems sudden, but if you space them out, it’s easier to imagine how Azusa spent those three days grappling with the truth.
But back to the actual plot. Akaoni reminds me a lot of Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (with some Hakuoki thrown in of course). Azusa is rescued by Kouya, a vampire known as the Akaoni who strikes down those how have gone berserk. While Kouya is rumored to be a cold-blooded murderer, she finds the real Akaoni to be a nice, dessert-loving guy. Azusa gradually is given more freedom in the own thanks to her charge-ahead personality. The titular contract doesn’t take place for quite a while, and the thought of it having romantic connotations shocks Azusa more than any other revelation in the story. The volume bounces back and forth between struggles with those who want to bring Azusa to their side and her days with Kouya, Ichi, and their friend Subaru.
The real strength of Akaoni lies in Kouya himself. Shoujo heroes often outrank shoujo heroines in popularity polls, but Kouya really is the star of the story. From his reluctance to drink blood to his (in his opinion, one-sided) friendship with Subaru to his relationships with his father and brothers, I perked up whenever a chapter switched to Kouya’s point-of-view. Kouya is the type where “…” is a catchphrase, but I like how everyone understands him. (He’s a terrible liar, a quality not often found in mysterious types.) No manga or light novel fan has difficulty finding vampire stories, but you won’t find many who don’t try to rape or bite the heroine from the start and develop feelings for the protagonist first. Some readers may have problems with the age gap and his sudden displays of jealousy, but it’s nothing out of the range of manga behavior.
While Azusa learns about her history at the beginning, the light novel ends with more mysteries than it started with. It’s not a cliffhanger ending, but the last few pages have that “the true battle starts now” aura. A lot of times, these sorts of finales feel like a cop-out for a sequel, but the buildup here feels natural, a combination of an extended prequel and a Part 1. The plot progression rewards readers who stick through the slow parts of the story involving girl talk or school stalkers.
Insert images seem a bit on the low side, but perhaps this is because Akaoni is longer than many other light novels. The art reminded me a bit of Alice in the Country of Hearts with its long faces and soft pastels in the color images. Meanwhile, the translation appeared to be on the formal side, and I think the volume would have been stronger with some more casual speech: “was surprisingly normal” instead of “went by surprisingly normally” for instance. Even lines such as, “What a healthy vampire you are to not need blood!” sounds more like from Red Riding Hood rather than a typical Japanese girl. I also noticed at least one typo (“balls of steal”).
All in all, Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire is not going to revolutionize the vampire genre. But even for those of us who have the strength of the story lies in Kouya. I thoroughly enjoyed not having to suffer yet another “you’re my property”-type male lead, and his conflicting emotions made the Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire come alive. The somewhat-mysterious ending and the revelations leaves me to believe Akaoni: Contract with a Vampire Volume 2 will be even stronger.