With last month's debut of Asuka Katura's "Blood+" manga and the vaulting success of Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8," Dark Horse is now publishing two powerful vampire-slaying epics, series which harbor some important similarities yet are each very distinct. Both feature a young woman who has been specially chosen to fight the undead, but the monster-vamps of "Blood+" are a far cry from the charismatic Angel and Spike. The stylistic differences and the unique personalities of the heroines ensure there is enough separating these stories that each will offer readers something new, yet the kindred spirits of Buffy and Saya and the shared emphasis on humor, drama, and action means fans of one may well enjoy the other. CBR News spoke with "Buffy" editor Scott Allie and "Blood+" editor Philip Simon about their respective series.
The "Blood+" manga runs concurrently with the anime series now airing on Adult Swim, but the comic is not a simple adaptation or licensed project. "The 'Blood+' producers and creators got together with the intention of telling a riveting story in several different media, taking advantage of the unique strengths found in each medium but also having an 'A to Z' storytelling structure that they would all follow," Philip Simon told CBR News. In addition to the manga and anime, the first "Blood+" prose novel is previewed in the first manga volume. "So this 'controlled experiment' was planned out in advance. The stories in each medium would eventually come to the same conclusion, but-with the novels and the manga volumes-those creators are given time to stop and peer around their own certain corners of interest or sit with and focus on a particular character whenever it feels right.
"It appears that Asuka Katsura, the 'Blood+' manga writer and artist, was allowed to condense the plot a bit and re-arrange things to a certain extent to focus on the characters and plot points that she found most interesting. In the first 'Blood+' manga volume, you're hit pretty early on with a tidbit of information that's not in the anime episode it 'mirrors,' and it diverges somewhat from the anime's path-only to come back around without missing the main plot points."
Japan publishes a lot of manga every year, and obviously not everything makes it over to the States. But Simon said the "Blood+" experience was worth translating for American audiences. "From where I stand as an editor, the manga looked strong-and that's all that mattered to me," the editor remarked. "I like how it varies in intensity-how several dense pages in a row move the plot along and give readers some character development before the art and action take total control to deliver some really brutal, bloody sequences-and the pacing slows down to let you savor the fun."
The concept behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is, of course, well known to its legion of fans, but for those who have not yet made the jump from the television finale to comics, Scott Allie brings you up to date: "Buffy's set up Slayer organizations around the world-San Francisco, Chicago, Tuscany, Scotland, Tokyo, New York, and Cleveland. They're all hi-tech military operations fueled by magic, and, we just found out, funded by stolen jewels. Buffy's made some moral compromises to get where she is. She's alienated from Giles, things are strained between her and Willow, and Dawn's a giant. And there's a guy named Twilight with unusual powers plotting something big against Buffy, something so big that with what we've seen so far, we have not the slightest glimpse of his real aims." Buffy also experienced a rather unexpected character moment in the most recent issue, #12.
Besides her romantic interests, Buffy has undergone some additionally notable changes between seasons 7 and 8. No longer alone in her role as Slayer, Buffy has had to adapt to her shifting place in the world. But that doesn't mean the burden of responsibility has been lifted. "I think she has a pretty clear view of her role-she's the leader, and she sees that there are things that she's required to do that make her completely alone at the top," Allie said. "She has a pretty emotional reaction to that sort of thing, but she tries to shut down and press on through. I think what defines her as a character is that her sense of destiny and responsibility are always at war with her very emotional nature."
Like "Buffy" at its beginnings, "Blood+" is ultimately the story of a teenage girl whose mission is to slay vampires. But here, there is a strong element of mystery from the start about who or what our heroine Saya really is, and some question about the loyalties of her supporting cast, as well. The depth of character, though, is what's at the heart of this story, and the editor hopes that's what the manga will offer as its contribution to the whole multimedia experience. "Mysteries abound throughout the series, concerning Saya herself and also her allies and the villains who are after her, but Katsura chooses to kind of press 'fast forward' on some reveals that the anime series takes more time with," Simon said. "She gets to certain places and moments quickly, only to dwell on the aspects that she, and hopefully our readers, will find fascinating. Katsura does enjoy action and gore, and she ramps it up even more in the second volume."
Will this sense of rumination combined with mystery and action involve some sort of forbidden romance, of the sort Dark Horse's other vampire slayer is famous for? Possibly, but there are other complex relationships at play. "From the start, I was watching her relationship with her adoptive brother, Kai, closely," Simon said. "Hagi shows up, who Kai mistrusts and dislikes immediately, possibly out of jealousy. Saya's deceptive age also may lead readers to false predictions. However, the kind of 'forbidden romance' that most interested me, both watching the anime and getting immersed in the manga-definitely more so in the manga-was Riku's curious manners and possible homosexual orientation, even for someone so young. He's teased a bit for being quite effeminate, but he's the most compassionate and truly caring person in the whole 'Blood+' universe. This kind of works against him at one point, but the most surprising element of the 'Blood+' manga series, so far, has been his fascinating, if brief, interaction with Charles-one of the series' villains."
For Buffy's part, Ms. Summers's supporting cast has been an integral part of the show's (and now the comic's) appeal, retaining a core group of "Scoobies" that has remained remarkably consistent. It is a rare story that can take its characters through high school and on into adulthood without faltering, yet Buffy has succeeded in allowing Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles to develop and grow. "I think it's partly that Joss knows them so completely, and that the writers that he's been working with so long know them as well. But the chief thing for me is that they grow as characters," Allie said. "It's not like Superman, or James Bond. Buffy is always Buffy, she's always going to be emotional and lonely and unlucky, but surrounded by people who love her. But within all that, she's evolved a lot. All the characters have-you might say the others have evolved more."
With the Slayers' new international operation, though, the extended cast is now much bigger and spread across several countries. "The majors are still the kids from Sunnydale-really, the majors are just Buffy and Willow and Xander. So keeping track of them isn't so hard. There is an ever-expanding cast, but even characters like Giles, not to mention the new Slayers, aren't going to always be important to the main story. We'll introduce big new characters, but if they have to live in San Francisco, they're won't be part of the core." Some, though, may take eventually rise to a higher profile, much like other important characters that have had more or less prominent roles throughout the series, such as Angel, Oz, Tara, Anya, and Spike. "With a core group that changes as time goes by, you can keep the story vital. Change and consequences keep the story fresh, and the characters real," Allie said.
Inherent in Season 8's success, then, is the level of talent involved. A big draw for fans of the TV series has been Joss Whedon's direct involvement in the comic, along with other writers from the show such as Drew Goddard. Allie sees keeping the right people on board as "absolutely important. Essential. It's the whole game plan. [Artist Georges Jeanty]'s ability to do likenesses of the actors is real important, but it's his ability to deliver character that matters even more. He's a great artist, and the fill in artists will continue to be great, and the writers will continue to be the best. The point of Season Eight, the reason I think we can call it that, is that we've maintained the quality of the show, issue to issue. We're moving the story ahead, we're being utterly true to the characters, and we're working with the best people. We drop that ball, and it's just another licensed comic."
Continuing to heap praise on regular series artist Georges Jeanty, Allie said that Jeanty's ability to do likenesses-a feat many artists struggle with-was not an overriding consideration in choosing him for "Buffy." "Joss and I weren't thinking much about likenesses. We've both always been a little frustrated at the idea that because it's a licensed book, you have to choose an artist based on their ability to do likenesses, rather than other things which we find more important. So when we were discussing what we wanted for this book, likenesses were not the most important thing.
"Like with Jo Chen, for instance. She's amazing at likenesses, but I didn't know that before she did our first couple covers. We picked her because of the feel of her covers, the amazing quality. Joss came into the deal asking for her on covers.
"With interiors, we discussed a look we wanted, before talking actual names. We talked about all the things that would be important, and then we started looking at books. 'American Way' came up, and we realized that sort of epitomized what we were talking about. He had the acting, the fairly traditional superhero style, the texture and weight. And he could do cute but realistic girls. We didn't want someone who'd put D-cups on Michelle Trachtenberg [who played Dawn on television]. Georges's initial tryouts were good, and Joss and I are very happy with his likenesses-but there were so many things we didn't realize we were getting with Georges, stuff we didn't see until we were well into the first issue. He's studied the show, and given the different characters distinct gestures, postures, expressions. I didn't notice that stuff in his 'American Way' book, but it's blown me away on 'Buffy.' Buffy stands like Sarah [Michelle Gellar], and Willow stands like Alyson [Hannigan]. It's fantastic. But Georges also has these much less realistic touches that we love in his work, where things get a little cartoony, and he can play a funny beat in a way most superhero guys would never do. Add to that the fact that he has a great fashion sense for these girls, subtle and accurate to the characters, and there's a lot more going into getting the characters right than simply drawing the right noses."
Concerning the series' many big-name writers, Allie said, "When we first launched the Buffy comic in the mid to late '90s, whenever it was, retailers told us they were seeing customers they'd never seen before. That early incarnation of the comic brought in tons of new readers. I don't know that they stayed. Doing it this way brought in a lot more new readers, and our numbers suggest thatthey're staying. Frankly we wondered if issue #6, the first non-Joss issue, would lose some of those people. We had [Brian K.] Vaughan, who's one of the best in comics today-but fans of the Buffy show don't necessarily know who he is. So we wondered if we'd continue our success with comics readers, but lose some non-comics readers. And numbers didn't falter. And the praise kept right up.
"Now we've got Drew Goddard, who wrote key episodes of the seventh season, and has written for 'Lost' and 'Alias,' and wrote 'Cloverfield.' We're not going to lose people. They've figured out that the quality will remain when Joss is not writing, they've realized that this is exactly how the show was done, and so they're sticking around. They are impatient, for sure. Many of them cannot understand why we can't do it weekly, like a show. But we're hearing fewer complaints like that ... and numbers are still up, so it's not like they've stopped complaining because they ditched the book."
With the current climate of manga dominating bookstore graphic novel charts and anime capturing the imagination of fans who may have been too young to embrace the full effect of the original "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" experience, it may be possible for "Blood+" to introduce a new generation to Sunnydale's heroes. On the other side of things, Buffy fans might discover in the manga a new fix for their slayage needs. As both Saya and Buffy know well, good friends and allies can be a powerful force, and perhaps "Blood+" and "Buffy" Season 8 will provide each other with that extra bit of strength.
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