Yoshitaka Amano Art Book Vampire Hunter "D"

Review by Cathy Krusberg, site maintainer and Certifiable Vampire Hunter D Fanatic.

[Note: This review was written in 2001, before this book was published in English as Yoshitaka Amano: The Collected Art of Vampire Hunter D by Dark Horse.]

Yoshitaka Amano Art Book Vampire Hunter "D". Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 2000. ISBN 4-257-03606-0. 392 pp.; 5-3/4" x 8-1/2" / 15 x 22.5 cm. Softcover; slipcased. 3800 yen. (Cost me $59.00.)

Have you ever arrived at a juncture that called for a whole new cussword vocabulary? I just have -- the latest D production from Yoshitaka Amano. Pushed as the sequel to Kan'oke, Amano's magnum VHD opus, Vampire Hunter D by rights should contain VHD works created subsequent to the publication of Kan'oke, as well as older works omitted from the earlier book.

There's of course a limit to how prolific even as prolific an artist as Mr. Amano can be. I hadn't taken for granted that there would be no overlap in the content of Kan'oke and VHD. But I was stunned by the familiarity of the vast amount of material in VHD's 380 (more or less) pages of art.

This is, I admit, the result of an impression rather than a systematic study. And I'm not an ideal source of impressions; I have seen so much VHD artwork in so many sources over so many years that I do well to know whether I've seen a work before, much less where. So maybe a few of these look familiar to me from post-Kan'oke sources and I'm confusing them with material in Kan'oke. But I don't think that's the case for many. I'm pretty sure an awful lot of these are in Kan'oke. And that's the good part. The bad part is that many of the works reproduced in Kan'oke are done so much better there.

To begin with, Kan'oke was a much larger book; so big there was no need to spread works over more than one page. VHD, being a more normal-sized volume, presents many works as two-page spreads. Even in a big, sewn-in-signatures coffee table book, two-page spreads are annoying; even if the facing pages line up perfectly (do they ever?), there's going to be a visible disturbance at the gutter. But in this perfect-bound book it's worse. The book doesn't -- can't -- open perfectly flat; the closer you come to that display desideratum, the more you'll damage the spine, and the greater the risk of pulling apart the binding or even causing centers of signatures to fall out. (Several signature-centers in my copy did just that with very little urging.)

So you can't get a good look at a lot of the images because of the way the book is designed. In many cases, not all of the image is there anyway. A lot of the pictures have been severely cropped. Page 190, for example, consists of close-up portrait details of two larger works: "Wanderer," which you may know as the cover of the VHD1985 soundtrack CD -- a bust of D with his hair outspread -- and "Glory," a nearly full-length rendition of D with his trademark sword hilt and an almost painfully black-and-white scarf. The version in VHD is cropped down to D's face and the scarf, giving those two elements more or less equal exposure. And no, more complete versions of these two works do not appear elsewhere in VHD.

(You can fetch larger images by clicking on linked words or on the thumbnail images below each description.)

Left, "Wanderer" and "Glory" on p. 190 of VHD; right, the two works as they appear on separate pages in Kan'oke.

Many images have been zoomed in on so they bleed off the page, D's cape, hat, legs or more lopped off in the interest of a close-up or carved away to make the image a circle hammered like a round peg onto a square page.

Left, "Twilight Castle" all in pieces, pp. 130-131; right, "Twilight Castle" from Kan'oke. (The Kan'oke image looks a bit rough because I had to scan it in two passes.)

Left, "Love" in VHD looks lovely -- until a look at the Kan'oke version (right) shows what you're missing.

Both monochrome and color images have suffered this sort of amputation, as in this after (left, from VHD) and before (right, from Kan'oke) illustration from D--Hokkai-Makou (D--North Seas Navigator).

Amano's pen-and-inks, however, have been subjected to worse insults: Coloring. I don't mean colorizing, but two-color-style printing: a black-and-white spider on a red background; a neon-salmon sky behind a close-up of D in his floating cape; D's eyes a highlighter yellow. Here are two more samples:

Left, D and an opponent with yellow reflections; right, the curse of the yellow hand.

This is art?

Actually, given what passes for art nowadays, I suppose it is.

So, to briefly summarize: in VHD, it's often not possible to see all of the picture that's there because the book won't open all the way; in many cases the picture isn't all there to begin with; and whatever of the picture is there has been used like a coloring book by a kid whose folks didn't have the decency to give him a box of real crayons, so he had to make do with highlighters snitched from his mom's study supplies. (At least our hypothetical kid has done a good job of staying inside the lines, when he didn't just color the whole picture in shades I associate with take-out pizza fliers. I guess I should be grateful for small favors.)

So, uhm, what happened? Here is what Mr. Amano himself says, in one of the book's few English-language pages:

"For this D collection, I gave designer Hideaki Shimada and Yuki Someya, one of my staff, all the freedom they wanted. It's turned out quite punkish, hasn't it. Nicely finished, I think."

I can't agree with Mr. Amano's conclusion. "Punkish" is D with a few nose and eyebrow piercings. Mr. Amano, if you want to do that, fine -- but let a layout man of the old school share the reproductions of your work with the rest of the world. Please.

On the up side, VHD has a few items I definitely haven't seen before. There are illustrations for Mr. Kikuchi's latest book, the title of which is here translated "The Star Cluster of A Evil King." There are also pictures of the VHD phone cards Mr. Amano's work appears on, some VHD T-shirts (these may be one-of-a-kind for the New York show; I don't know), a VHD bronze portrait, and some tiny, tiny superdeformed portrayals of D. At the front of the book is a new short story by VHD creator Hideyuki Kikuchi, "D -- A Village in Fog" -- but no English translation.

If you haven't seen Kan'oke; if you haven't seen much of Mr. Amano's VHD oeuvre; this will at least have works you haven't seen. Lots of them, albeit often mangled one way or another. If you're an Amano fan, and particularly if you're an Amano fan who wants to see more of his VHD works, that's praise in itself. Unfortunately, I can't find much more praise for the book. Seeing Mr. Amano's work degraded this way is like seeing a stained-glass window busted apart and funneled into a kaleidoscope. It's an insult to the original works and a sheer ripoff to folks who bought this book to enjoy Mr. Amano's art -- not the slice-n-dice of a book designer who really shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects.

Kan'oke's lack of a few images is more than compensated for by the purity of its presentation. No gutters, no cropping, no highlighters gone insane. Despite its high cost (about $200), I consider Kan'oke one of the best VHD investments I've ever made. Especially after seeing this latest VHD "art" book.

Despite three printings in 1997-1998 and a reprinting in December 2000, Kan'oke remains very out of print. Although demand continues on both sides of the Pacific, publisher Sonorama currently has no plans for a reprint. Kan'oke is reviewed here.

[Note: Kan'oke was reprinted by DH Press in 2006 as Coffin, cover price $39.95.]

Illustration from "A Village in Fog."

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