Willing to sell your soul for a beautiful manga? Before you sign anything, check out Alichino.
In 1998, Kouyu Shurei created a fantasy manga centered around attractive supernatural predators. The creatures look like gorgeous humans, but they can also shapehift into animals. They are immortal, but must prey on living humans to survive.
Vampires? Not quite. The titular Alichino are definitely based off of the blood-sucking creatures of the night, but with a few variations. Alichino do not need blood as much as the life force, or souls, of their human prey. In return, they offer people whatever they most long for and give it to them. Even at the cost of their life, people seek out Alichino to get their heartís desire.
Tsugiri isnít one of those people. Tsugiri is a seemingly normal teenage boy who lives with Enju, a kind human who took the orphaned boy in, and Myobi, a goth-loli Alichino who also takes the form of an owl. The three live under the same roof in harmony, with the occasional fight that comes with living with family, even if itís a surrogate one. Their existence is threatened when more and more Alichino start to gather in their area and attack people. The Alichino seem to be drawn to Tsugiri, but only Myobi and Enju know why.
When the Alichino start targeting Tsugiri directly, Myobi decides to tell him the truth. He is the Kusabi, a human born with incredible power and the only force that can fully kill an Alichino. The Alichino are drawn to the Kusabiís power despite the fact that it could kill them, akin to moths drawn to fire. Anyone around Tsugiri is put in danger, as they are between Tsugiri and the Alichino. In order to protect the people that he cares about, Tsugiri decides to learn how to use his powers as a Kusabi.
The storyís heart is the relationship between the Alichino, the Kusabi and humanity, which is mirrored in the bond between Myobi, Tsugiri and Enju. In a bizarre food chain, humans are willing to sacrifice their only protection against the Alichino, someone with the powers of the Kusabi, so that the Alichino will leave them alone. At the same time, Alichino are dependant on granting peopleís wishes in order to survive. Tsugiri hates the fact that they prey on peopleís weakness, but Myobi points out that humans are at fault too. After all, if people werenít so weak of heart, it would be much harder for the Alichino to take advantage of them. Itís this dynamic that keeps the story from being just another entry into the vampire genre.
Alichino does fall into one of the pitfalls of the vampire genre in that it sometimes takes itself too seriously. Aside from looking like super models, the characters also wear sexy frowns that would look perfect on a Paris catwalk. The only time someone smiles is if itís an evil, malicious smile or a half-hearted angsty smile. This isnít a big deterrent to the series, just something that plagues it and many stories similar to it.
Though it features the usual tales of evil beings and deals-gone-wrong, Alichino is more of a fantasy than horror story. The setting is a world thatís part Ancient China, part Feudal Japan and a bit of Victorian England. The clothes and elegant outfits of the characters reflect this, pilfering styles from all corners of the globe.
The setting and costumes arenít the only things that are beautiful in this series. Nearly every panel is a work of art, up there with CLAMP and Kaori Yuki. The detail in the hair alone is astounding, but when the same detail is applied to practically every facet of the manga, it really is a feast for the eyes.
An interesting feature of Alichino is the layout of the panels. The creative placement of the panels is done to empathize the mangaís atmosphere, similar to CLAMPís Clover. However, in contrast to CLAMPís stack use of blank pages and black ink, Kouyu Shurei fills the space between panels with intricate designs and screen tones. The effect gives the manga a mysterious edge. Itís hard to tell if the symbols and patterns have any significance to the story or if they are just there to look good.
Just like a deal with an Alichino, the manga comes with a catch. The magazine that Alichino was being printed in, Eyes, went out of business before the manga-ka could complete the story. Luckily, Kouyu Shurei is working on a fourth graphic novel that will tie up any loose ends. However, it will be a while before it is finished and translated by TOKYOPOP. This is one manga where itís important to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.
At present, the first two volumes of Alichino are out from TOKYOPOP. The third volume comes out in October with no set date for the fourth and final volume, so thereís plenty of time to catch up on this series if you havenít started reading it already.