Manga-ka: Hiroki Kusumoto
Rating: Mature (18+)
Released: October 2008
Synopsis: “A starving artist, Lou sits on a street corner and draws everyday. In the age of patrons & artists, he longs for the day a noble will acknowledge his ability and support him. When a man called Sein commissions him to draw his portrait, Lou soon discovers that his patron is not only incredibly wealthy and generous, but he is also dead! Instead of being fearful, Lou realizes that he longs for the pull of Sein’s lips on his neck and doesn’t want Sein to drink anyone elses blood!”
A portrait painter on the street, Lou is commissioned by the mysterious, Sein and given a place to stay in the man’s home until he can properly capture his “true face”. At first Lous sees it as a job alone but an even more intriguing revelation is made when the real reason behind his patron’s longing for a self-portrait comes to light.
June has been loving its vampire stories lately, and who can blame them? Modern-day vampires always seem to have this natural erotica that meshes in well with a darkly romantic plot. Vampire’s Portrait takes a more sinister look at the life of a vampire, showcasing them as much more than just immortal beings with pointy teeth and a nasty thirst.
Sein isn’t a gorgeous aristocrat with years to burn, but is instead tormented by his inability to see his own reflection. It becomes understandable in this regard why he would want to see someone paint of a picture of him when he’s incapable of ever seeing himself otherwise. And yet, Sein is terrified of what he would see if he could, the face of a hideous monster with all the trimmings: claws, wings, pulsating veins and fangs that crave the sensation of blood dripping from their sharpened edges.
In contrast to Sein’s dark nature is Lou, a fairly light-hearted young man who takes quite earnestly the task of capturing Sein’s true form. His acceptance over Sein being a vampire is rather unbelievable and his mounting attraction and want for Sein all to himself even more so, which makes him feel out of place in a story that otherwise feels much more foreboding and intriguing. For this, I found myself seeing Lou as an annoying necessity to the story over much else. However, to his credit, for his lacking believability aside, I do like some of his revealed motives and have to give him credit as a character for some gutsy moves later on. And the very least, his sharp naivety at times gives the story some small breaks for humour and the two make for a cute chibi.
Other characters are introduced in this first volume include Sein’s blood source of many years, who proclaims an unavoidable rivalry now between him and Lou. Despite some apparent darker motives, he truly seems to care for Sein and takes care of Lou when need be, including explaining some important facts of his current predicament. The story’s climax brings about a violent, bloody confrontation between Sein and another vampire, one scary son-of-a-bat, who seems keen on making Sein’s life even more of a living nightmare. Throughout the entire book readers and Lou are given little glimpses into years since past involving Sein and Lou’s grandfather, Claude, leaving plenty left to learn by the book’s end.
Admittedly I was excited for this book’s release because I’m a fan of the manga-ka’s work. Hiroki Kusumoto loves her dark boys’ love stories and Vampire’s Portrait is certainly no exception. For the most part I really liked the artwork, which is detailed, kept to a pleasantly sketchy appearance while maintaining pretty clean lines and ultimately is very suiting to the story’s content. Sein’s eyes really gave me the chills at times, though perhaps not always where they were intended to. They seemed almost too life-life at times, giving me that same creeped out feeling I get when people digitally edit human eyes on a picture of their dog. Scary stuff.
Overall, my occasional annoyance at the shallow Lou as the lead isn’t enough to deter me from recommending this boys’ love tale. The man on man loving hasn’t reared itself too distinctly here in the first volume but those who like some biting would obviously benefit from taking a peek. Fans of boys’ love and vampires should definitely pick up a copy of Vampire’s Portrait though I think boys’ love fans in general looking for something with a darker edge to it could certainly enjoy this one as well. I know I for one am looking forward to the second volume.