Do we change our nature or does our nature change us?
In the town of Misaki, where last year’s so-called ‘Vampire Murders’ took place, a curse is manifesting itself by degrees. Anxiety is growing among the townspeople. Rumors start to spread that the serial murders are beginning anew. The sweltering heat and bits of bad luck that keep happening to people seem like innocent, mundane problems. Sion, however, knows all too well that this is merely the prelude to a far worse climax.
As a sequel to Tsukihime, there’s a great deal of back-story that comes with the territory. Depending on which adaptation you’re familiar with,
the starting point may or may not reflect the ending you remember. Think of this as the Best Case Scenario’s next chapter. Every significant character from Tsukihime returns in one form or another alongside a few new additions -- including our new protagonist.
One worry when a new main character is added to a solid, preexisting cast is compatibility. In the absolute worst instances they feel extraneous. Maybe they seem a pale imitation of one character we already know and love or an amalgamation of several others. Not so with Sion Eltnam Atlasia. She easily holds her own with the current heroines and, as far as depth is concerned, possibly rivals them.
Melty Blood is ultimately her story. It is predominately told from her perspective, filtered through her fears and hopes, framed by her limitations and talents. Hailing from Alexandria, the great center of learning in antiquity and the present day location of Atlas Academy, she is a powerful alchemist. As an alchemist, she possesses no aptitude for magic whatsoever. However, her genius-level of intelligence and use of technology more than make up for this deficiency.
Sion is a scientist and a loner. She’s selfish and calculating, constantly taking anything she considers valuable that might benefit her research. At the same time, she’s very socially awkward. The fact that her fellow alchemists in Atlas have avoided her like the plague has clearly stunted her emotional growth. Add to that the further isolation she imposes on herself by ignoring them altogether and you have a girl who doesn’t intuitively understand how to interact with others.
To her, people are tools at best… but usually just dead weight.
Thanks to her self-absorption, she possesses some striking mental abilities. By quickly analyzing a given situation, she creates predictive models for all likely outcomes, then adapts her actions to ensure the best possible solution occurs. It’s something akin to logical foresight on a grand scale. This is further aided by the fact that she can actually partition her mind to allow multiple thought processes to be performed at once. Being such a clever concept, I’m dumbfounded why no major cyberpunk works have done anything remotely similar.
Shiki Tohno has the second largest presence in the manga. His affectionate and friendly temperament is the perfect counterpoint to Sion’s own standoffishness. It’s something that gets under her skin, mostly because it confuses her so deeply. Why does he help someone when it profits him nothing? Why is he so reasonable? So understanding? So kind?
Sion can successfully predict his movements in a fight, but hasn’t got a clue why he would extend a helping hand to a defeated opponent lying on the ground.
Sadly, all the other characters exist too much in the background. Aside from two of them, everyone else pretty much just pushes the action forward without playing any significant role at all. In fact, the subplot that rears its head halfway through feels similarly out of focus. While it becomes the main plot in the less-serious Melty Blood ACT:2, here it comes off a little shallow and just an attempt to add some mysterious overtones. This doesn’t in anyway detract from the quality of the story, but it certainly keeps the manga from reaching the epic feel of its predecessor.
Fighting is at the heart of Melty Blood and always looks magnificent. The kinetic force behind each impact is as apparent in the victim as it is in the environment. Some of the most climactic battles leave enough scars on the land to keep the rumormongers busy for weeks. As with the diminished presence of the secondary characters, the earlier fights can feel a little pointless in retrospect. Yes, their battle was wicked, but did they really have to fight? The resolution seems forced. If both parties were really out for blood, it’s strange that they would talk to each other so rationally afterwards. This simply seems to be a holdover from the fighting game the manga is based on and, again, not a huge problem.
Overall, the art is of high quality. The environments are creative, reasonably memorable except for a few generic settings. Pacing and transitions are spot on. During fights, the special powers that get employed lead to some truly spectacular images. Full page (and even half-page) spreads are glorious. The attention to detail paid for character emotions is something I can’t praise enough. From start to finish, each page is visually engaging.
What with the wealth of awesome background material, it’s really hard to suggest this manga to anyone unfamiliar with all things Tsukihime. The first chapter alone is Downtown Spoiler Central. And yet, if that doesn’t bother you, I think this might be a fun way to enter that world. Sion is herself an outsider and although knowledgeable of this place and its inhabitants, she’s experiencing it for the first time too.
Towards the end of Waiting for Godot, Vladimir notes that “The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener.” This embodies Sion wholly. She is so locked into her familiar world and way of thinking that she overlooks the most obvious truths about her existence. She scrutinizes and cares for only herself to such an extent that she is tragically oblivious to her essential nature. Sion strains against fate. Sion slams her fist against logic. Sion misses the point entirely.
Melty Blood starts and ends with a question. Whether it’s the same question is debatable, but Sion risks everything in pursuit of the answer. The extent to which she succeeds or fails is certainly the focus, but the stubborn journey she takes to get there is what makes her stumbling so meaningful.