I found the first novel of Bizenghast to be a high-quality read, overall; the art had a unique feel to it (the costumes and backgrounds were gorgeous), the plot was well-executed (excluding a necessary chunk of exposition at the end), and the premise is intriguing. The tone varies from disturbingly eerie to darkly humorous, and often falls somewhere in between.
The town of Bizenghast (from which the book gets its title) is a mysterious, dilapidated ghost-town, where the two main characters, Dinah and Vincent, reside. While some might feel Bizenghast's rather mystifying beginning to be frustrating, I appreciated the immersive feel of being on the same level the characters, understanding-wise. Also, the small newspaper clippings preceding each chapter offer small insights to the town's history that has leaves one trying to fit the pieces together. Even the somewhat cumbersome chunk of exposition at the book's end did not grate on my nerves too badly, largely due to the comical delivery and sporadic behavior of the character relating the information.
The storyline of this book is what appeals greatest to me, personally. The premise is original, and by the end of the second chapter, I was hooked in earnest. At first, I feared that the excursions into the mausoleum would be repetitive, but as I read through each section my fears were assuaged. Each piece of the plot has a different feel to it, and the suspense was always fresh in my mind. Speaking of which, the horror and suspense in Bizenghast are omnipresent and wonderfully immersive.
Bizenghast's art is, in my humble opinion, breathtaking. The sheer amount of detail in the various settings and in Vincent's and Dinah's outfits is staggering. Even though the two main characters were wearing Gothic, old-fashioned clothes the majority of the time, I hardly noticed due to how well they matched the plot. Also, the characters are drawn in a distinctive style, and thankfully without that overdone `Oh-I-Wish-I-Was-Japanese' vibe that often plagues American manga artists. LeGrow's art doesn't try to be anything but what it is, and it is remarkable. The one complaint I have with it is that occasionally Dinah and Vincent appear to be drawn a bit carelessly.
Despite my general enjoyment of this manga, I did have a few problems with it. The main character Dinah seems weak and vacillating, but I can forgive this as it's only the first novel and there's plenty of room left for further character development. I have a harder time forgiving her foil Vincent's action-hero dynamic; it seems like he was just waiting around for some huge adventure to happen. The interaction between these two characters confused me as well; are they dating, or just friends? Also, the unhealthiness of the relationship troubled me some; Vincent is both Dinah's dependant and enabler, and might be keeping her from further development as a character. I hope to have these concerns alleviated in the next two novels. Another problem, described in brief above, is that in some panels Dinah and Vincent are drawn rather sloppily. Also, as the art and much of the humor are geared towards Americans, it may not appeal to hardcore Otakus seeking a more authentic style. As previously mentioned, there is a piece of exposition at the end that might annoy some nitpicky readers.
On the whole, I greatly enjoyed the first volume of Bizenghast. It suffers from problems in characterization and pacing, but they were made forgivable by the book's gripping plot and originality. I would recommend it to anyone looking to break out of the usual, cookie-cutter fantasy plots with an innovative new read.