Anyone who went to Anime Expo knows that Viz is pushing Vampire Knight really hard. There was a manga sampler in the grab bag, and they handed out flyers for the anime at the Viz panel. Even before all this aggressive marketing, however, Vampire Knight has achieved tremendous popularity, as evidenced by its consistently high ranking on the New York Times bestselling manga lists. The most recent volume has been on the list for 5 weeks and is currently sitting at number three, and every volume released for the past year or so has consistently topped the charts.
Still, the response to the words “Vampire Knight” among most (male) anime/manga fans is generally “Wha?” or a flippant dismissal. Vampire Knight often gets compared to that other uber-popular vampire phenomenon in America, which is really unfair. Yes, it involves vampires, and yes, its popularity is largely fueled by squealing teenage girls. However, Vampire Knight has something that Twilight does not: actual entertainment value. You know, biting, blood, guns, battles, and a healthy serving of teenage angst to wash it all down. So, if you’ve been wondering what the heck it means to be Team Kaname or Team Zero, or why so many people wander around at cons dressed as Yuki Cross, then read on…
What You Need to Know
The original incarnation of Vampire Knight is the manga, which is written and drawn by Matsuri Hino, who was previously well-known for a shojo comedy called Merupuri. Vampire Knight is currently running in LaLa in Japan and was featured in the now-defunct Shojo Beat. The first ten volumes are currently available from Viz under their Shojo Beat imprint. The anime was adapted from the manga and includes two seasons, Vampire Knight and its sequel, Vampire Knight: Guilty. Viz is currently releasing the first season dubbed on DVD and on iTunes, but it is also available online (subbed) for free at vizanime.com, Hulu, and Anime News Network.
What To Expect
This is shojo. Expect romance, melodrama, and angst. However, also expect lots of blood, some explosive battle scenes, and enough political machinations and plot twists to make your head spin. No pastel colors or pretty flowers here; this series is all red, black, and goth.
Cross Academy has two groups of students: the ordinary Day Class (black uniform... seriously, this matters) and the mysterious Night Class (white uniform). Other than the headmaster, the Disciplinary Committee, and the students of the Night Class itself, no one knows that the beautiful, brilliant Night Class students are actually vampires. Since drinking human blood on campus is taboo, the Night Class vampires subsist on blood tablets and are carefully watched by both their leader, the pureblood Kaname Kuran, and the members of the Disciplinary Committee, Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu.
While the Night Class at Cross Academy was established to promote peace between humans and vampires, tensions obviously arise. The Night Class students are essentially living with their food, and the larger manipulations of the Vampire Senate and ruling purebloods put strains on the privileged adolescents at the academy. The Hunter Society, a human organization that kills crazed vampires, is also working in the shadows and has connections in the academy.
On top of all of the political machinations, each of the protagonists has a dark, murky past that will eventually catch up to him or her. Yuki Cross, who is the headmaster’s adopted daughter, has no memories before a snowy day in her childhood when she was attacked by a ravenous vampire. She was saved by none other than Kaname Kuran, who would never hurt Yuki but is definitely hiding important information from her. And finally, Zero Kiryu comes from a family of vampire hunters, but a pureblood vampire killed his mother, father, and twin brother when he was a child. He now lives with Yuki and Headmaster Cross and absolutely loathes vampires…despite the fact that he’s slowly turning into one.
The Characters You Must Know
1. Yuki Cross: The adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy. She is on the Disciplinary Committee with Zero and is charged with keeping peace between the Night and Day Classes. She cannot remember anything about her childhood before a day when she was attacked by a vampire then saved by another. Despite this terrible experience with a vampire, she wholeheartedly believes that the Night Class is full of good, peaceful vampires and especially adores Kaname. While she’s not particularly bright, she’s not helpless, either; she wields a powerful anti-vampire weapon called the Artemis Rod.
2. Zero Kiryu: Zero comes from a family of well-known vampire hunters, but his entire family was murdered by a pureblood vampire when he was a child. Although not officially Headmaster Cross’s adopted son, Zero lives at the academy and is on the Disciplinary Committee with Yuki. Unlike his fellow Disciplinary Committee member, he hates vampires and believes all of them to be beasts in human form. His weapon is even more dangerous than Yuki’s: an anti-vampire gun known as the Bloody Rose. However, Zero is hiding a dark secret; during the attack on his family, he was bitten by the pureblood vampire. While a normal vampire’s bite is no big deal, when a pureblood bites you, you turn into a vampire, and then you go mad.
3. Kaname Kuran: Kaname completes the obvious love triangle that is the romantic focus of the series. He’s the Night Class president, the only pureblood at the Academy, and he has a special hold over his classmates. Kaname clearly has a strange connection to Yuki, but the reason for his interest in a normal human girl is left unexplained. All in all, Kaname’s a pretty mysterious guy.
The Characters You Should Probably Know
1. Hanabusa Aido, Akatsuki Kain, and Ruka Souen: A trio of blonde cousins who unfailingly support Kaname. Aido’s proud and obnoxious but smart, Kain is a little spacey, and Ruka is head-over-heels for Kaname.
2. Takuma Ichijo: Kaname’s vice president. He’s friendly and seems to genuinely support Kaname, but his family’s political background typically pits him against Kaname’s trusty threesome.
3. Senri Shiki and Rima Toya: Two other Night Class students who tend to fall in Ichijo’s camp.
4. Sayori Wakaba: One of the few Day Class students who actually matters. She’s Yuki’s best friend.
5. Headmaster Cross: The man in charge of the academy and Yuki’s adoptive father. He’s probably a little too idealistic and silly to be running a school where one group of students could eat the other…
Manga or Anime?
Manga manga manga manga! Hino-sensei’s artwork is gothic and detailed and gorgeous, but her unique style does not completely translate into the anime. That said, the first season of the anime does not cover much of the manga but (from what I’ve seen) seems to be faithful to the story, so you could probably watch the anime and just skip the first few volumes of the manga. Honestly, though, read the manga.
Whether Vampire Knight would be your first foray into the strange world of shojo manga/anime or whether you’ve gobbled down everything from Princess Knight to Fruits Basket, there’s probably something in Vampire Knight for you to like. So many people pan this series as fangirl fodder, but there’s obviously something about it that makes it just as popular as the latest installment of Naruto. If that appeal has been confusing you, then I hope this guide helped. If nothing else, remember that that Vampire Knight cosplayers in black Cross Academy uniforms are probably fine; they know they're human. It's the ones in white you should probably look out for.
* This guide was written by Anime Vice user lizcat. We welcome submissions from our community!