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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Retrospective Review: Millennium Snow GN 1 & 2

Millennium Snow volume 1 & 2
Author: Bisco Hatori
Viz Manga/Shojo Beat
Approx. 200 pages per volume

Seventeen-year-old Chiyuki Matsuoka was born with heart problems, and her doctors say she won't live to see the next snow. Toya is an 18-year-old vampire who hates blood and refuses to make the traditional partnership with a human, whose life-giving blood would keep them both alive for a thousand years. (Source: Viz)

Spoiler warning: Retrospective reviews contain spoilers for the books they discuss as well as possible spoilers for later events in the series.
Before Bisco Hatori broke out onto the international manga stage with Ouran High School Host Club, she was the manga-ka of several earlier series that ran in Hakusensha magazines in Japan. And one of them was Millennium Snow/千年の雪, also known as Thousand Years of Snow. It's not her first manga—Isshunkan no Romance, her first one-shot which won a Hakusensha Newcomers’ Awards, is actually included in the first volume of Millennium Snow. But readers can see Hatori's sense of humor and drama come to life in these early works about a sickly young girl, her vampire friend, and their unlikely and dramatic courtship.

I first read both volume of Millennium Snow back when Viz Manga published it for the first time and that's all there was, two volumes with no definite ending. It was definitely pushed at the fans of Ouran High School Host Club, which was nearing peak popularity at the same time. Everything from the back cover to the inner adverts screamed "OURAN FANS! THIS IS A MANGA FOR YOU BECAUSE IT'S YOUR HATORI-SAN!!" which was smart marketing on their part.
At a glance, Millennium Snow doesn't have much in common with the longer and more in-depth series Ouran. Millennium Snow is about Chiyuki, who has chronic health issues, and Toya, a young vampire. When they meet, sparks fly, sometimes in romantic ways, sometimes not. Toya gives Chiyuki back her health (although it is implied it may not last forever) and Chiyuki vows to never leave Toya's side, since Toya is an anemic vampire who hates blood and refuses to draw up a contract with a human that would restore his strength. It's an unusual relationship, but Hatori does unusual ships well (such as main couple Haruhi and Tamaki in OHSHC).
But by the end of the first volume, we meet teen werewolf and resident hothead Satsuki, who is quickly set up as the third element of an ongoing love triangle. The romantic entanglements between Chiyuki and Toya and Satsuki soon make up a good portion of the plot. Later, Toya's bat companion Yamimaru is revealed to have a really tall and handsome human form that turns adorable verging on a Hunny-like shota style when necessary. Then Chiyuki's megane nerd cousin and doctor in training Keigo comes back from America to continue his sister complex/crush on her. Suddenly Chiyuki has a harem of handsome boys to fawn over her and complicate her life even further; you can practically hear Haruhi Fujioka nodding sagely in the distance, knowing full well what Chiyuki's man problems are about from experience.
Millennium Snow's first volume may be the weakest of the first two. It sets up the main conflicts of the series in short order—sick girl, vampire guy, werewolf rival in love—and then becomes more concerned with the ensuing love games. The fact that Chiyuki may relapse is pushed to the periphery, as is Chiyuki's offer to be Toya's partner in eternal life as a vampire. Luckily, these themes pop up again and more prominently in the second volume.
If anything, the second volume grabs the ball and goes for it with gusto. It fully embraces the more ridiculous elements of itself: the vampire who hates blood; the werewolf who can shrug off the moon; the cute shota boy bat; the strong but sickly heroine they all fight over. Then it tosses in the wild card character Keigo, whose sister complex leads to trouble when he finds out Toya's secret and his love for Chiyuki turns into terrible, creepy, stalker love that involves tying up Chiyuki 'for her own good' and trying to dissect Toya in the name of science. Jesus, Keigo, go back to the episode of Sword Art Online you crawled out of—he would get on splendidly with Oberon the Creeper King.
Bisco Hatori's art style at this point is still rough, but you can see her signature style begin to emerge from the sketchiness of it all. The art in the first volume is a mess; the panels and perspectives are all over the place, and her drawing can get sloppy in places, especially with faces. Things begin to tighten up in book two, especially in the more atmospheric scenes in the abandoned house, but it is not perfect. It will take Hatori several volumes of Ouran to achieve the art she's known for, the kind of art people will actually buy art books with colored prints of inside.
But what Millennium Snow has going for it is that it is fun. It is punctuated by Hatori's sense of quirky humor so that even when things get serious, it never gets so gloomy as to become depressing. And it helps that the world of Chiyuki is filled with supernatural handsome boys who can't be bothered to take their own conditions that seriously. Vampires walking around in the daylight! Werewolves who don't always change by the full moon! Wee bats turning into wee boys with brute stength! It slaps horror convention in the face by just existing.
At the heart of it is Chiyuki, who having been given the blood of a vampire has had her vigor renewed and wants to do everything and anything. Climb a roof! Climb the Alps! The world is her playground! And to think, at the beginning of the series, all she wanted to do is to live long enough to see snow on the ground. Now? She's practically swimming in it. And now all she wants to do, other than live life fully, is repay her vampire friend and love interest Toya by never leaving his side and keeping him company. Not a small order, that.
So yeah, I'm looking forward to what Bisco Hatori has up her sleeve for continuing Millennium Snow. Keep in mind that she hasn't touched Chiyuki's story for years, and since the series went on hiatus, Hatori has really grown as a manga-ka, in both storytelling and artistic abilities. What kind of live can Hatori breath into this stalled manga? And more importantly, will Chiyuki and Toya get a happy ending—together? I'm expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the new directions Hatori takes this long-hanging title to.

The third volume of Millennium Snow is now available in English from Viz's Shojo Beat imprint. The fourth volume is currently scheduled for release this December.