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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Manga Review: Millennium Snow GN 4

Millennium Snow volume 4
Author: Bisco Hatori
Viz Manga/Shojo Beat
200 pages

Spoiler alert: Review contains major spoilers for the fourth and final volume of Millennium Snow, as well as events leading up to it.

Toya still hasn’t agreed to make Chiyuki his partner, but while his opinion hasn’t budged, time has. It’s now their last year in high school, and Toya is facing the prospect of supporting himself for the rest of his long life. But even with Chiyuki’s calming influence, is Toya capable of holding down a job? And if he’s not, how will a lone vampire survive in this cold world?

In 2001, manga-ka Bisco Hatori would begin work on her vampire shojo series Millennium Snow. A year later and another series would quickly eclipse the first's in popularity and steal away Hatori's attentions, leading to putting Millennium Snow on hiatus for years and years (that second series being, of course, the classic rom-com Ouran High School Host Club).

Over ten years later, Hatori has returned to her first series proper and given it a real ending. While it occasionally dips into the melodramatic and the rushed, it marks a significant uptick in Hatori's manga repertoire and gives the story of Chiyuki and Toya a much desired conclusion.

The official synopsis of this volume greatly undersells what actually happens in Millennium Snow's last book. The chapters are cleanly split between two sub-plots: Toya's grandfather, caught in the throes of dementia, and the appearance of a vampire like Toya who is nearing the end of his own millennium and has come to serve as a cautionary tale of vampire/human relationships.

In this, Millennium Snow has abandoned episodic plots completely and has focused on what matters: Toya and Chiyuki's relationship, and their future together. The story is more concerned with Toya's childhood and how it relates to his vampiric nature as well as Chiyuki's health and how she feels about Toya than any of the sophomoric ideas that populated the series' earlier volumes. For this, the fourth book takes on a darker, sharper, maturer tone than it has ever reached before. Rather than feel intrusive against the whole series, it fits neatly into a world where vampires and werewolves roam freely among us.

It would be a given that secondary characters like the 'wolf boy' Satsuki, Yamimaru the shape-shifter, and the recently introduced Kaede would get short changed by being in the finale and the focus being on Chiyuki and Toya. Luckily, Millennium Snow doesn't allow its more periphery cast to be lost in the shuffle; Satsuki and Kaede are heavily involved in researching the dying nameless vampire's extensive history, and Kaede's inquisitiveness into the nature of vampires and werewolves is fuel for the first sub-plot of the book. For this, I am glad, as it allows them to grow beyond the positions of sidekicks and potential love interests. Also, I am totally down with any implied Kaede/Satsuki; they are an interesting couple that could be a good potential romantic ship.

As said above, the series dips occasionally into the melodramatic as it enters its final chapter. When the nameless vampire reveals his story, Toya quickly runs away from home and Chiyuki's health slips into a dangerous near-death state. All of the in-text hints that the time Chiyuki has with Toya is about to be cut short come true, but it comes so quickly and so suddenly that there isn't a lot of time to develop the moments between the vampire's story and the 'six months later' chapter that ends the series. In lieu of a long drawn-out development, we get Toya flouncing out of the scene and Chiyuki crying so dramatically, she looks like she was plucked out of a Ryoko Ikeda/Rose of Versailles manga chapter.

Luckily, the end product doesn't suffer from this brief return to the soapier elements of shojo manga. There is an emotional denouement between Chiyuki and the vampire, the major plotlines between Chiyuki and Toya are effectively tied up, and the series ends on a realistic but optimistic note: our characters, walking into the unseen distance, about to tackle a long and full life as friends and, for two of them, as lovers.

Millennium Snow is a dramatically different beast from the manga-ka's better known series, Ouran High School Host Club. Tamaki and Haruhi never had to deal with vampires, werewolves and other supernatural elements. On the other hand, they are both pretty fantastic romance stories with an unusual twist, which is what Hatori does best. At four volumes, Millennium Snow seems short but encapsulates a fully developed story of two unlikely people falling into each other's lives and changing one another forever for the better. It may have taken over ten years to reach this point, but it was worth the ride to get here.