Review by Cathy Krusberg, site maintainer and Certifiable Vampire Hunter D Fanatic.
[Note: This review was written in 2001; in 2006 Kan-oke was reprinted as Coffin by DH Press.]
Yoshitaka Amano. Vampire Hunter D: Kan-oke (The Amano Yoshitaka Collection). Tokyo, Japan: Asahi Sonorama, 1997. 199 pp. ISBN 4-257-03500-5. 15,000 yen.
This book is expensive; furthermore, despite four printings, the publisher's supply is exhausted, and there are no plans for a reprint. Nonetheless, for the VHD and Amano fan, it may well be worth the hassle and expense of tracking down a copy. And here's why:
This is a book devoted entirely to Amano's Vampire Hunter D art. It is big -- 15-1/4" x 12" (40 x 30.5 cm) -- and of course printed on the kind of nice heavy somewhat slick paper one expects in quality artbooks. About 1/3 of the works are in color. If you have seen Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D novels, many of the pictures will be familiar to you -- both pen-and-ink interior art and color cover paintings are reproduced here. Many works, however, have been produced independently of the novels. Some I've seen on the web; others were new to me. If you are familiar with D only from the 1985 anime, this D will be quite a shock to you: a graceful, even effeminate, white-faced figure, wearing light armor and many-colored scarves, all surmounted by a black cape and a broad-brimmed hat. One thing of course hasn't changed: the great, curved sword that he is never without.
Although published in Japan, the book is written in both Japanese and English and paginated left-to-right, instead of right-to-left (Japanese style). It begins with a new story by Mr. Kikuchi: "Vampire Hunter D -- Portrait of Ixobel." This story tells how D arrives at a village where, according to prophecy, a cruel vampire's lover will soon be reborn to rule the region once more. But in whose body will the reincarnation occur? D must learn the answer and destroy that person before the reign of the aristocrats resumes. General Ixobel's sorcery has not died, and it presents a foe that can resist D's blade.
The story is a bit choppy -- in places it reads more like an outline. But it has those D trademarks of action, violence ... and darkness.
Things I don't like about the book:
The spelling "danpeal." You can read my rant about this on the transliterations page.
The aspect ratio. How in the world did they decide to make this wider than it is high? The vast majority of works reproduced are portrait rather than landscape format and consequently have lots of white space on both sides.
The inadequcy of captions. All the works have captions in English and Japanese, but for book illustrations, only the book title is given, with no distinction between different works from any novel -- you've just got to know what's a Kikuchi book title and what isn't. I suppose I got spoiled by another Amano book, Mono, in which illustrations from books were given individual titles. For example, the same pen-and-ink drawing appears on p. 117 of Kan'oke and pp. 16-17 of Mono. In Kan'oke it is simply "Nocturne," the book in which it first appeared. In Mono it is: "He become the wind and the beautiful death." Kan'oke could use a little more of that, even with the grammatical error. (Now, how often do you see me defending grammatical errors?)
A few pages at the end tell when the works were created and give their media and dimensions. Also at the end is a sad but poetic untitled afterword by artist Amano, in which he expresses doubts that he will produce another such collection of D art. (He has been drawing D for 14 years now.) The title, Kan-oke (pronounced "kahn-oh-kay"), means "coffin." Amano explains:
Kan-oke is a symbol of the final moments of human life. It is
then, however, that vampires are reborn.
One might say that the coffin is like a bed.
Because "D" is a blood-sucking vampire who lives forever,
it's a title that only "D" could use.
"D" will still be alive, five hundred years, or a thousand
years, into the future.
Oh, yeah, that's another thing I don't like about the book. It calls D a vampire. Say it isn't so, Mr. Kikuchi!
Kan'oke of course did not close the coffin on Vampire Hunter D art or even books of VHD art: Mr. Amano's Art Book Vampire Hunter "D" was published in 2000; my review of it is here. There is every indication that Mr. Kikuchi will continue to write Vampire Hunter D novels, and that Mr. Amano will continue to illustrate them and include D artwork in collections of his works. But if you want a large dose of D visuals -- large in terms of picture count and wide-by-wide -- Kan'oke is definitely the book to look for. Alas, it will probably be hard to find.
A footnote for those of you who like consistency as much as I do: I don't have a good reason for not consistently spelling Kanoke (or Kan-oke, or Kan'oke). Because both "n" and "no" are Japanese characters, "kanoke" can be parsed as ka-n-o-ke or ka-no-ke. The forms kan-oke and kan'oke remove the ambiguity; I believe kan'oke is actually preferred, but kan-oke appears on the book's title page.
Kan'oke occasionally shows up on Yahoo Japan auctions. Most Japanese will not sell to buyers outside their country, for a variety of good reasons. However, bidding services will act as middleman for such transactions; see the merchandise page for contact information.
This search will fetch Yahoo Japan auctions with the word kanoke ("coffin"). These may or may not include Mr. Amano's book.