Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Manga Review: Millennium Snow

Title: Millennium Snow
Genre: Romance
Publisher: Hakusensha (JP), Viz Manga (US)
Story/Artist: Bisco Hatori
Serialized in: Lala in 2001, Lala DX in 2013
Original Release Date: June 3, 2014
Review copy provided by Viz Media
Review originally posted on The Organization of Anti-Social Geniuses 

Bisco Hatori’s name may not be well-known in the west but her most famous work, Ouran High School Host Club, still finds new readers and viewers every year who enjoy the comedy mixed with bits of romance. Millennium Snow both predates the series and was finished after it. Hatori took a break from it to work on Ouran and it shows: the story doesn’t feel disjointed but the first two volumes have a very different tone and goal than the latter two do.

We begin the story with Chiyuki, a sickly girl who’s on borrowed time and might not even live to see the next snow (hence her seasonal name). Toya is a boy her own age whom she spots jumping off a roof and when a worried Chiyuki rushes over he tells her that he’s a vampire and to go away now. While Chiyuki wavers between being optimistic and despondent over her medical condition, Toya is just plain grumpy; a vampire will only feed from one main source and by doing so both he and his partner will live for a thousand years and Toya isn’t ready to make that choice. He doesn’t intend to die soon but after being abandoned by the human who raised him (the story is never very clear about how humans versus vampires work which I felt was a bad move since it makes Toya’s isolation feel petty and immature in ways it wasn’t supposed to) he doesn’t want to risk it happening again. Chiyuki is thrilled by this prospect however, at first she wants this chance to live a full and healthy life but the more they interact the more she realizes that she’s fallen for him and she truly wants to spend a millennium with him.

It’s made clear to the readers very early on that Chiyuki’s feelings have turned romantic but it takes a while for her to start acting on them in the manga which is where the gap in Hatori’s writing becomes apparent. In volumes 1 & 2, the tone plays out very similarly to how I remember Ouran, it’s light and fun with a greater focus on comedy than anything else. Want to have the characters go to Switzerland for a few chapters? Sure, who cares about the details! She makes an attempt at giving the characters deeper backstories, such as when she introduces a werewolf and tries to explain why he wants to embrace his humanity and be normal while Toya is perfectly fine with being a vampire “monster”, but it feels half-hearted, as if she is creating this character depth because it’s what’s expected.

The second half abandons much of this lightness however; it never becomes a dark story but our werewolf friend is shuffled off to the sidelines and suddenly the main plot point is Chiyuki wondering how to convince Toya that they love each other enough to be bound together for a thousand years. The change in character designs isn’t as unsettling a shift (everyone suddenly looks more rounded and less like angular stick-people) but it feels as if the rest of Chiyuki’s character has been reduced so that the story can focus just on this one plot line.

The story does also elaborate on Toya’s earlier abandonment and why he doesn’t want to make the effort to be “normal” and that storyline felt much better done than Mr. Werewolf’s. There was enough complexity to explain  Toya’s actions and overall was the strongest part of the entire manga. But the final, following arc is rather oddly put together, it’s meant to be the final step for Chiyuki to strengthen her resolve and for Toya to admit his feelings but the catalyst for it, another vampire finally appearing in the story and who of course has a tragic backstory, just didn’t quite work. The story still ends the way the readers have been expecting all along and in retrospect it feels as if there were never any real obstacles to Chiyuki and Toya’s relationship. The story is already a short one at just four volumes but with how little the characters actually changed in the story I feel as if it could have been shorter still.

If you’re looking for a romance then this isn’t a bad little series, perhaps a bit dull but not bad. However, if you want something more out of the story then you should best look elsewhere. Romances can be a really great place to find character development-heavy stories (since the entire focus is a change in a relationship) but none of the characters here felt nuanced enough for me to become invested in the story. The story also followed every standard, shoujo romance beat exactly as I expected which isn’t a lot of fun either!

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