Note: you can read our review of volume one here.
Do you read vampire manga for the sexy, sexy blood-sucking? Do you find forceful immortal men alluring? Is your preferred aesthetic “Victorian Gothic Pastoral?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, Rosen Blood‘s second volume may be just the book you’ve been looking for. The romance elements have been ramped up from the first book, the trip into Levi’s memories allows for more detailed environments, and the story is rapidly escalating in its Gothic melodrama, all of which is either going to solidify the series’ hold on readers or make them run screaming in the other direction – it feels as if there’s very little middle ground here.
With the boys established as vampire (or at least vampirish) creatures in the first volume, the second is free to jump in with both feet, and by that I mean “establish the tortured romance of Levi and Stella while also letting Friedrich get in on the action in the worst way possible.” As we know from the first volume, the young (looking) men inhabiting the mansion heroine Stella finds herself living in aren’t necessarily vampires in the traditional sense – they crystalize the bodies of their exclusively female victims and ingest them that way. They can suck blood, but as is mentioned almost in passing, that runs the risk of eventually turning their meal into a similar creature. This is something that Friedrich appears set on weaponizing against Levi, whose attachment to Stella he sees as something he can exploit. To this end he finds a way to induce Stella to drink some of his blood, by telling her that it will allow her to enter Levi’s mind in order to bring him out of his comatose state, a state he entered into because he couldn’t Bring himself to feed from Stella due to his romantic feelings for her. The entire situation has Stella so upset that she doesn’t stop to think that there’s technically no reason why she needs Friedrich’s blood to enter Levi’s dreams; the point that any bodily fluid will work has been mentioned several times to her, so giving Levi her own saliva or blood would have worked just as well.
It is tempting to blame Stella for this very silly mistake, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair – she’s only getting used to the way things work for the men of the mansion, and her burgeoning feelings for Levi have very much eclipsed her other thoughts. Her primary goal is to wake him up, and that makes her more willing to take Friedrich’s words at face value, and after all, he’s not Gilbert, who has actively tried to harm her. Friedrich clearly knows this, which makes his actions throughout the book all the more nefarious; He’s very obviously using the situation to his advantage more because of his dislike of Levi (or twisted love for him, depending on your interpretation) than because he actually likes or wants Stella. This also isn’t the first time he’s tried to do such a thing, as the journey into Levi’s past reveals. Whether Friedrich is full-on evil or just bored and warped by centuries of life isn’t clear; establishing that won’t exactly redeem the character, but it would shed some light on what their lifestyle can do to a person.
It also serves to highlight the differences between Levi and Friedrich as characters. When we see into Levi’s past, we learn about Luchia, the sole woman he’s painted among all of his landscapes. Luchia was a nun who attempted to humanize Levi and the others when they were boys before ultimately realizing that, no matter what her calling, not everyone can be “saved” in the same way. This caused Luchia to lose some of her faith and to do something she regrets even in death, and a piece of her lives on in Levi’s mind at least in part because of that. Luchia represents the guilt Levi harbors about himself and what he is; she’s his lost chance at redemption and a reason for him never to wake back up, not because he loves her more than Stella, but because she represents to him the reasons why he doesn’t deserve love. Friedrich knows this, and in fact seems to be counting on it, planning to use Levi’s memories of Luchia against Stella so that he can steal her away.
His method of doing this is where all of the content warnings for the volume come into play. While nothing is outside the norm for the darker sort of paranormal romance, it is a pretty dramatic escalation from the previous volume, with clear overtones of drugging someone so as to rob them of their ability to give consent. Creator Ishizue tries to make this as sexy as possible, but if this isn’t your favorite flavor of romance, this volume can be very uncomfortable, especially since on one level Ishizue knows exactly what she’s doing and is actively establishing Friedrich as the villain to Levi’s hero. Stella herself has very little agency outside of Levi’s dreams, and that Friedrich both knows this and is working to take that agency away in order to use her against his “brother” is easily the most disturbing piece of the story.
This causes the melodrama and angst to reach truly astounding heights, and the emotional payoff isn’t quite strong enough to make it all work. What really makes this earn its grade are two specific things: the glimpse into Levi’s past and how it shaped him and the lush, elaborate art, which is filled with ornate details, proper late 19th century underthings (albeit not always in the right place) , and pastoral glory. In all honesty, the art is at least half the reason to read this…and if the melodrama can’t manage to tone things down a bit so that it no longer eclipses the interesting mythology and world building, it could easily become the only reason to read the series if your taste doesn’t run to hot boys who prey – quite literally – on their romantic interests.