FANGS is, in some ways, like a more explicitly BL version of The Vampire and His Pleasant Companions. It’s an imperfect comparison, but both series zero in on the tragedies of vampirism, although they also touch on the lighter aspects as well. In the case of Billy Balibally‘s story, protagonist En is actively working to reconcile those two elements as they pertain to his own life now that he’s been turned. He can see where there are some definite benefits to being among the long-lived blood-drinkers, but he’s also getting a first-hand glimpse of the more difficult parts of a life that has no determined end.
En is brought into the vampiric fold by accident. He and a friend were at a club when a vampire overdid the drugs and went berserk, killing everyone except En. He only survived because by some quirk of fate he was turned instead, and when he opens his eyes, it’s to be told that he’s now a vampire. The entire “turning” process isn’t really gone into, so we don’t know why En is the only survivor; we do learn later that one of the vampires in his new social circle was turned by another one in a bid to save his life, so En may have been turned more deliberately than we’re led to believe. In any event, he’s not prepared for anything about his new reality, and that’s what most of this first volume really focuses on.
Fortunately for En, the person he initially encounters is Ichii, an older vampire who for the last thirty-odd years has worked for FANGS, an organization that functions more or less like vampire social services. Ichii’s meant to guide En through his first months as a vampire, although it quickly becomes clear that he may be going above and beyond for his new charge. In part this could be due to the fact that En is one of, if not the only humans to be turned in recent memory; judging from the human family of the other vampire who was “recently” turned, that event had to be at least fifty years prior to En’s turning. This makes En both an oddity and a rare commodity on the vampire dating market, and that’s really not something he’s comfortable with. According to Ichii, most vampires pair off at “pairing parties” (think 19th century balls, which were often organized for matchmaking), where they find someone to become their blood-spouse. This relationship is similar to human marriage with one key difference: the spouses also share blood with one another in order to prevent humans from being preyed upon and (accidentally) turned. The relationships are also intended to last a lot longer than a human marriage, simply by virtue of vampires’ much longer lifespans, but that’s barely acknowledged in this book. We do know that Sugi is mourning the death of his husband, who, either accidentally or on purpose, fell asleep under a skylight and was killed by the morning sun, and there is an implication that Ichii may also have lost a spouse. But beyond Sugi’s case, the question of blood-marriages’ duration and whether or not the partners actually love each other is mostly left to our own interpretation.
In the case of En and Ichii, we can see that if they go through with registering their burgeoning relationship with FANGS, there may very well be a true love component. Ichii is clearly attracted to En from the start; while he’s grousing about having a baby vampire on his hands, he’s also not that upset, and when En uses him to fend off too many excited vampires at a pairing party – they’re delighted by the prospect of being “virgin” En’s first drink – he makes it clear that he’s in no way opposed to becoming En’s husband in fact. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, and not just because the book is technically a paranormal romance; Ichii never babies En or forces him to do or think anything before he’s really ready to. He gives En information, answers his questions, and lets him come to terms with everything in his own time. He’s concerned with En’s comfort when they have sex, and when En later asks him not to use his vampiric “charm” power on him again, he agrees, after explaining that it wasn’t meant as a form of coercion, but instead to try to make the experience better. In almost any other BL title, that might be a suspect statement, but Balibally goes out of their way to make it clear that their attraction to one another is mutual.
The vampire lore Balibally is working with isn’t hugely clear, seemingly pieced together out of a variety of movie tropes and romance novels, and it can be frustrating not to have a lot of clear answers as to how vampires really work in the story’s world. There are also apparently many more male vampires than female, which seems a little odd; we meet one female vampire and see maybe two others in the background at the pairing party, but all of the couples are strictly m/m. (And a comment is made that the female vampire prefers women.) This is also a vampire story where vampires can apparently feed from each other with no problems, which is great for establishing that humans and vampires can coexist, but a little odd with the other more traditional vampire story elements.
FANGS is a story that is most likely going to have the most appeal for readers who enjoy both vampires and BL, and it will probably still have decent appeal for plain old BL fans. It doesn’t develop its lore enough to be recommended solely as a vampire manga, although that could change going forward. It’s not a bad story, and it does have some interesting elements. But it also doesn’t do quite enough to elevate it out of its genre niche.