While Cirque du Freak is a major motion picture at this point, it all started with a series of novels by Darren Shan. In 2006 a twelve volume manga was released in Japan with artwork by Takahiro Arai, and today we're looking at the fifth volume translated into English by Yen Press.
The manga follows the exploits of a young boy named Darren, who is turned into a half-vampire one fateful night. He struggles with the loss of his humanity and attempts to find acceptance in the world of vampires. Having left most anything from his former life behind, this installment of the book sees young Darren taking the necessary steps to moving to the next level. You see, typically it's unheard of for a vampire to be made at such a young age, and as such he isn't really accepted anywhere.
This installment sees Darren undertaking some trials that basically make or break a vampire. If you survive, you are revered in the vampire society and everyone pretty much has instant respect for you, however, if you fail you die. Yup, there's no do-overs with these tests. He doesn't necessarily know full-well what he's getting himself into at the outset, but Darren eventually steals his resolve to soldier forth.
The first trial he faces is a fascinating maze where he's blindfolded, tied to a boulder, and dropped somewhere in the center. From this point he must use his senses to find his way to the door in order to be released. Adding pressure to this event is the fact that water continuously pours into the entire maze, leaving him with roughly fifteen minutes before there's no room to breathe anywhere. Naturally he feels the pressure here, but he actually makes it through in the nick of time.
The next trial involves a lengthy crawl along a cavern riddled with needle-like stalagmites and stalactites. It's pretty brutal to read through as he's cut up badly, and even tougher once he realizes the slightest tremor or noise causes the deadly stalactites above him to fall. Yet again he makes it through alive, but he's quite injured without a lot of time before the next trial is to begin. That's where some mysticism comes in and we get to see Darren's bond with spiders play a beneficial role.
From this point forward the book goes on to take Darren through two more trials, and things take a rather surprising twist towards the conclusion of the second. It sets things in motion for the sixth installment, and quite frankly I won't divulge what transpires. It was out of nowhere and something fans of the book will want to experience for themselves.
The story here is quite good and the artwork by Takahiro Arai keeps in step. The characters are richly detailed with unique features and great expressions, and the backgrounds are just as detailed and dynamic. Some moments seem a little exaggerated, but these were done more for effect than anything else. The translation of this volume is good as well.
Cirque du Freak is a fascinating vampire story in its own right, and this manga is just as entertaining. The character development is top notch, the world is imaginative, and Arai's artwork suits the material. If you've been reading the series then you'll be pleased to know that the fifth volume lives up to expectations. However, if you're new to the franchise you'll definitely want to take the time to go through the first four installments. In the end you should consider this book recommended.
Review material provided by Yen Press. Cirque du Freak Volume 5 is rated Teen for Language and Violence.