The island of Growerth in northern Germany is home to Viscount Gerhardt von Waldstein, a vampire who rules the island as the Master of the Night. His accepting and merciful character has naturally attracted many nonhumans to the island in search of a place to call home. All sorts of colorful characters, from fellow vampires to witches and werewolves inhabit Waldstein Castle. Chief among its residents, however, are the viscount's family—his twin children Relic and Ferret.
Only a slight distance from the castle is the city of Rukram, whose mayor is a trash-talking Dhampyr with a bone to pick against the viscount. There also seems to be a young woman with a taste for vampires' flesh, and a shapeshifter with a complex about his true form.
And then there's the mysterious Organization—a group of vampires plotting... something. No one quite knows what they're up to, not even the members themselves.
A vampire series by Ryohgo Narita, Vamp is an early installment in Naritaverse, along with Baccano! and Durarara!!.
Written by the same author as the immensely popular Durarara!! and the acclaimed Baccano!, Vamp! is.... surprisingly under the radar. It has similar characteristics of Narita's other works including a ridiculously unique cast of characters and pretty solid plot twists but for some reason nobody has ever heard of it.
I for one had a ton of fun reading it and very much enjoyed it.
The story revolves around Waldstein Castle, a castle in Germany that is also a tourist attraction on the Island of Growerth. What most of the tourists don't realize is that the castle is also inhabited by Viscount Von Waldstein and his
adopted children Relic and Ferret, who happen to be vampires. Narita drives inspiration from literally every kind of vampire mythology and runs with it. Unlike every other vampire series I've seen, Vamp! doesn't limit vampires to anything. There are some that drink blood, and others who might prefer a cheesburger. Literally anything is possible. I'll talk about that more in the character section.
Each of Vamp!'s volumes has a different story, except for volumes 2 and 3 which are 1 arc. I found the stories in each volume to have a very nice plot for each, which manages to incorporate scores of characters without getting bogged down by them. I laughed many times and even cried a few times, too. While the series as a whole starts out lighthearted, it often takes a darker turn, similar to Durarara!!
The only reason I didn't give the story a 10/10 is because a certain female character is held hostage a few more times than I would prefer. Other than that, the story definitely manages to keep up with a characters, not an easy task considering how many there are, and be interesting and entertaining.
The characters have always been a strong point for Narita. Like I said earlier, Vamp! is full of vampire mythology of all shapes and sizes. Before Vamp! I did not know that watermelon vampires existed, but after reading it and with a little bit of research, I discovered that it is actually derived from the Romani people in Eastern Europe. Not only has the author clearly done his research, he has managed to incorporate it into such an entertaining read.
I don't have the time to talk about all of the characters unfortunately, but I'll talk about some very important ones, who may also be my favorites. Relic Von Waldstein is pretty much exactly what you would expect in a vampire. Weakness to sunlight. He's got it. Immortal and incredibly powerful. Yep, although it does take a psychological toll. If Vamp! every got popular I feel like the majority of people would want to marry Relic or at least wrap him in blankets and give him hot chocolate. Next up is Relic's twin sister Ferret, who unlike her brother has no vampire powers whatsoever, but she also doesn't have any weaknesses. Ferret is just about the definition of a tsundere and may be my favorite character.
Next, are Val and Selim, who are in the running for most original vampires in the series, although they might not win. While I can't say much about Val, I will say that he might be considered the linchpin in this series and is a huge sweetheart.
There are so may characters I want to talk about but I'll just mention a few more. Watt is the mayor and may seem like a huge asshole but you get used to it and a lot of people love him. Doctor, although not coming up until the second volume, is probably the most well-written character in the series, who also deserves some blankets and hot chocolate. Michael is one of the few humans, but that doesn't stop him from interacting with vampires, and even loving a few. There's the Viscount, who runs this whole setup to begin with and while being eccentric, is a regular gentleman (also in the running for most unique vampire). And there is the mysterious vampire Organization with its own eccentrics, and the vampire hunter Shizune, who eats any vampire she catches.
Enami Katsumi is a wonderful artist, and I thoroughly enjoyed his work in Baccano! Unfortunately, because of the long gap between novels in Vamp! many of the characters in the illustration, despite being wonderfully drawn, have inconsistent designs between novels. Its probably not noticeable unless you use them for reference pictures like I do....
Vamp! was thoroughly enjoyable. I would have said tons of fun, but despite the fact that I often laughed, there were also parts when I felt like being run over by a truck. Which, is a good thing... sort of. At any rate, this story was wonderful.
Despite some issues with the art, Vamp! was an excellent read, and I would give it a 9.5/10. Since MAL doesn't have decimals, I've decided to round down. Honestly, what Vamp! would benefit the most from is exposure. Unlike Baccano! and Durarara, Vamp! despite being written similarly, does not receive the popularity it deserves, which is why more volumes are not published often. If you're interested in reading it, but can't read Japanese, the blog Untuned Strings has done an excellent job translating it into English. I would consider it a must read for fans of Baccano!, Durarara!!, or Etsusa Bridge, and even if you haven't read/seen any of those, but are interested in a vampire story that avoids just about every cliche possible, give it a look!
Vamp is incredible. And an experience. And it's written by the Durarara and Baccano guy, both of which tend to be very well received, and pretty popular here. So why is Vamp so overlooked? Other than the lack of an anime adaptation, you'd think that for such a good series more people would have noticed it. I hope with this review to inspire at least a few more people to read it since there's a prominent lack of a fanbase.
On to the review.
One of the great things about Vamp is it takes elements from all kinds of vampire stories but avoids casting vampires as
one, singular species. Some are humanoid, others are animals (or even sentient telepathic black holes). Some can turn into fog and bats, some can only do one or the other, or neither. Some vampires need to drink blood, some don't need to. Most are weak to sunlight (weakness varies), but a fair amount are completely immune. Just like how every human is different, each vampire has different strengths and weaknesses.
Vamp exhibits the typical Narita story characteristics, but I find it to also be a lot more straightforward than Durarara and Baccano. Durarara jumps around the time of day, Baccano does that and mixes up the years, but Vamp tends to proceed in more or less chronological order. All those characters run around, do their thing, and meet back up at the end of the day.
Since it's part of the Naritaverse along with Baccano, Durarara, and Etsusa Bridge, there's also various references to the other series here and there. They may or may not provide hints about the plots of the others.
This story also has that Narita tendency where it'll end on a cliffhanger, and immediately switch to another character's point of view, where they may end up being a part of the same thing as the other character once their timeline coincides with the previous one. As infuriating as this "switch RIGHT as you're about to find something big out" habit is, it's also a very effective suspense-building mechanism because it makes you want to keep turning the page to discover what exactly it was.
As far as the actual volumes go, Volume I is essentially an introduction to some of our protagonists, as well as establishing the beginnings of a conflict that will span the other volumes. This first volume is considered to be the slowest of the existing five--even the translator said they were put off by it but decided to continue reading anyway. I personally found Vamp engaging right from the start, so it's different for everyone, I guess. The other four volumes were definitely better, though.
Volumes II and III cover the same story, taking place a year after the first volume, and a lot of big stuff happens. More characters are introduced, backstory is given, and it's one wild ride the whole way through.
Volume IV takes place six months after the previous two, and slows the pace a little bit to allow characters to feel the aftereffects of the previous narrative. It focuses a lot on how the characters feel about what has happened to them, and starts to build, develop, and strengthen the relationships. On top of that, it really brings into the light, for the first time, the wacky Organization that was previously mentioned but not particularly elaborated on.
(I think it's worth noting here that Narita intended this to be a short story anthology but decided against it later. He said the same thing about Volume V, and again in that volume's afterword about Volume VI.)
Volume V happens to be my personal favorite. It takes place at the same time as Volume IV but is about different characters. It introduces a really, really interesting conflict, as well as expands on the central theme of "Can humans and vampires really get along?" This is the theme introduced in Volume I and continues to be the conflict around which all the stories revolve. It introduces still more characters and ends up having some absolutely heartbreaking scenes that nearly brought me to tears, as well as a setup that could make for an interesting and satisfying finale, if it were to be adapted.
One of my personal pet peeves about Vamp is that far too much of the character development for one character revolves around one of the female characters being kidnapped practically every volume. As I said, it's important to the plot so I don't really know how it could be rewritten, but every time it happened I rolled my eyes and said "Here we go again."
Vamp is sort of a side project for Narita, which is why there usually have been long gaps between the novels. However, I expect it to continue for a while yet because he keeps mentioning in his afterwords what he wants to write about in the future, but hasn't gotten around to yet. Plus, the complicated central theme I mentioned earlier is nowhere near being resolved.
One of the definite other downsides to the long wait are the minor story inconsistencies. There aren't many, but there is the particular case of a certain character mentioned to be an orphan but later suddenly having parents in a different volume. The orphan part wasn't very important to this character's upbringing as I remember, but it's still something that had to be changed for later things to work.
There hasn't been a new volume in nearly five years (Narita has been busy with Durarara and Baccano mostly), but don't let that demotivate you from reading it.
Vamp is illustrated by Enami Katsumi, the same person who draws for the Baccano novels. Due to the long time gap between volumes, you can see the improvement over the years. Our female lead, Ferret, gets prettier with every passing volume, and the other characters seem to become more lively the farther on we get.
The cover art gets a lot better as well. Volume I (the one pictured on the front page) is pretty busy visually, the characters are in semi-awkward poses, and our main twins look rather emotional. Volumes II and III are portraits of characters lined up, which is also not very interesting visually. Volume IV is where it starts to get good, featuring some of the important characters walking through the sky a la Howl's Moving Castle. There's a lot of vague silhouettes behind the defined characters, making it also very crowded. But it's still a very nice cover. Volume V is the best composition-wise, since it has much fewer characters, they're spread out, and it draws the eye into a spiral motion. The lighting is also really nice, as well as the facial expressions. Since the covers only get better as we go, I can't wait to see what the Volume VI cover will look like.
However, there are a fair amount of inconsistencies. The collar/neckline of Ferret's dress seems to be different in every drawing, a certain other female character is drawn with the figure of a grown woman even though she's only 16, Ferret's hair is varying degrees of curliness, the twins' eyes change from blue to green, and our male lead Michael seems to grow younger every volume even though he's actually getting older. There's some other details, but those are the only ones coming to mind right now.
As expected of a Ryohgo Narita work, the characters are the highlight of the whole thing. They're all different kinds of personalities and each have unique backstories, motivations, and desires. Not to mention each vampire's abilities either directly complements or directly contrasts their personality.
I'll just give a rundown of some of the more major figures, since there's about 30 different characters mentioned total, and new ones are still to come.
First, there's our lead twins, Relic and Ferret. If Vamp were more popular, I'd guess the fans would be divided on which one they liked better, since they're both great.
Relic is basically the most powerful vampire in the world. He has all the typical vampire abilities, but on a much more massive scale than anyone else. Instead of just transforming his body and maybe objects close to him, he's capable of bringing the entire island they live on under his control. And it's quite a large island.
However, he also has nearly every weakness you could think of, balancing him out.
His sister Ferret, on the other hand, is practically human. She's mentioned to have no strengths (though she is immortal and has super-strength, both of which I consider powers, but whatever), but she also has none of the weaknesses her brother does. She's fine against sunlight, running water, silver, and other such things. Personality-wise, she's a lot like your typical tsundere, though with a lot more internal conflict and arm strength than you'd expect to see.
The interesting conflict between these two is that Relic looks and behaves like any other kid his age, whereas Ferret, the more "normal" one, is obsessed with behaving like an arisocrat, and even dresses more like how you'd expect a vampire to dress. The development they undergo during the series is also opposite from one another, and the way they deal with consequences of their actions is also worlds apart.
One of our other lead roles is Michael Dietrich, the obligatory sweet, pure character. He's head over heels for Ferret and though she practically gives him a concussion every time he speaks to her (which seems very exaggerated to me; he's only human after all), Michael's upfront personality is slowly bringing them closer together. Other characters have commented on his capability of bridging the gap between humans and vampires, since he uses his love for Ferret to relate to any and every other topic. The fact that she's a born vampire doesn't bother him in the slightest, and he has a tendency to overlook other such things. He's a very trusting person, which is both a positive and negative trait.
The last character I will mention is Relic and Ferret's adoptive father, Gerhardt von Waldstein. Considering he is quite literally a large telekinetic puddle of blood, he's quite the dork and doesn't behave at all according to expectations. He seems to be the mandatory "character who communicates by writing" of this series. He's also very mild-mannered and tends to joke around a lot, and is rarely ever serious.
On a side note, Narita has written about him before he became a sentient pool of blood, but I'd like to someday see what he looked like before he took on that form.
There are many, many other characters in this series, though. We have Hilda, Michael's younger sister and Relic's girlfriend; Shizune, a vampire eater who is hellbent on exterminating all vampires; Watt, who is a half-human half-vampire with a bitter grudge against the viscount; Val, a plant-based vampire capable of advanced shapeshifting; Selim, another plant-based vampire who practically steals the show when her backstory is revealed; Doctor and Professor, a wacky pseudoscience duo with a dark past; and so many others that I can't talk about for fear of this section ending up too long.
Bottom line: There's a ton of characters, all well-written even if they're not necessarily likeable people. Everyone has a character they get very attached to. It's impossible to avoid in this series.
This series was a hell of a lot of fun to read. I didn't really ever feel bored while reading, but did have trouble finding motivation at times, hence the point deduction. It's a real page-turner, for sure.
One of the only problems I found with Vamp was that at the beginning, I was reading very slowly, though normally I'm very fast. I don't really think it was the translation as much as it was getting used to the different writing style--light novels are written a lot differently than our books. A lot more dialogue and a lot less description, to give a basic idea.
However, once I found my pace (around Volume IV), I was able to pick up my reading speed until I was pretty much at my normal speed, and finished Volume V in just a couple of hours. It honestly felt like the novels were getting way shorter the farther I went.
Vamp is so very overlooked. There's practically zero fans, and the only other review for this series is written by a friend of mine. Most of the members that have added it haven't read it yet. Only one person has translated it, and it wasn't even translated until fairly recently (the series began in 2004).
But despite all this lack of attention, it's a very good series with a complex plot and amazing characters. The stories and art only get better as time passes, so I hope at least a few people will be spurred to start reading it from my review. Vamp needs the fans. Considering how popular Baccano and Durarara are, if just a fraction of those people decided to read Vamp, I'd be overjoyed.
Also, I know that a review isn't really the place for this, but if you do start reading Vamp or want to, let me know! Reactions are amusing, and I can also provide a download link to all five translated volumes if you so desire.