Vampire manga are usually very angsty and gothically stylized, much like vampire fiction. But Judal tries a different tack in the entertaining, offbeat "Vampire Game," in which a legendary vampire king is reborn in a very, uh, unusual form. Humorous dialogue and amusing characters keep the plot moving, and promise more fun to come.
Long ago, the vampire king Duzell was destroyed by St. Phelios, by a spell that killed them both instantly -- and before Duzell died, he told Phelios that in a hundred years they would both be reborn, and then he would take his revenge.
Now, a hundred years have passed, and Phelios' reigning descendent is the irreverent, bratty Princess Ishtar. When news of vampiric attacks reach the castle, she disguises herself as a man and goes out to slay it, leaving her bodyguard Darres to chase after her. They find that a kyawl has been attacking people, seeking revenge for the death of her children -- and she can shapeshift.
Just before the kyawl dies, she gives birth to a single kitten, which Ishtar adopts and names Duzell -- not realizing that this is the reincarnated, shapeshifting vampire king, who is on the hunt for Phelios's reincarnation. What Duzell never expected was that Ishtar is not just a spoiled brat -- or that she would help him in his revenge.
The idea of a powerful vampire being reborn as a cuddly little kitten is hysterical enough, but Judal keeps the entertaining story going on more than one theme. Don't expect lots of sexy vampires gnawing on throats -- this is fantasy comedy, with mythical kingdoms, feuding royals, and a shapeshifting kitten in the middle of it all. No wonder Duzell's a bit confused.
Judal also knows how to keep things funny without making them slapstick, such as Duzell shapeshifting into a "perfect copy" of Ishtar and realizing that he can't change gender, or Ishtar's constant attempts to evade her tutor. Fans of action will get some taut swordplay scenes, and romantics will be rooting for Ishtar's chances with her handsome, long-suffering bodyguard Darres.
But Judal is also adept at making these characters likable. Ishtar seems annoying at first, until Judal reveals the treatment that has made her that way -- her relatives want her dead, and everyone else just sees her as a descendent of Phelios, not as her own person. Duzell is theoretically evil, but in this volume he seems more perplexed by Ishtar's odd behavior, as is the likable Darres.
An unusually solid start to a series, the first volme of "Vampire Game" introduces the characters and sets the stage for more strange, fantastical action to come.