MAY 26, 2000 After a break of 3 months, it was good to see the old gang. Following February's topic of early films and in-camera tricks, the focus this time was on the heyday of German fantasy cinema following World War I. But the first order of business was a birthday party for Fumihiko Iino, author of the "Wings of Honneamise" novelizations and Mr. Kikuchi's sidekick for the talk live events. The birthday boy came out under the name "Mister X" and wearing a white mask of the kind wrestlers are so fond of. Among the gifts he received were flowers, a bust of H.P. Lovecraft, nudie playing cards, and a birthday cake loaded with trick candles. Eventually the two authors got the better of the pesky tapers and the evening could proceed as planned. Mr. Kikuchi began by explaining how Germany's persona non grata status after the first World War helped foster a great fantastic film industry. We watched portions of "A Student of Prague," "Siegfried," "The Golem," "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and "Nosferatu" of course. The video portion of the program ended with a montage of original German scenes by directors like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau and the influence they had on later Hollywood films. Particularly impressive was the dragon in "Siegfried," which was executed with a skill that equals anything modern-day animatronics can produce. Perhaps the best part of the evening was when Mr. Kikuchi treated us to some behind-the-scenes stories from the early days of his career. The hero of his first book, "Makaitoshi (Shinjuku)," was just too much of a heroic stereotype in hindsight, so the author found himself in a bind as to how to do it differently for his next book. He wanted to do something with vampires, his favorite subject, but they had the unfortunate tendency to be cast as the heavy. How about a vampire who kills vampires, then? With this thought he remembered the dhampirs of vampire mythology -- half-breeds ideally suited to vampire hunting. In addition, he wanted this hero to be the kind who gets the girl in fiction (if not in real life) -- strong, silent, handsome, and looks good in black. At this point Mr. Kikuchi went off on a little riff about how the "silent" part in particular isn't usually too conducive to real-world relationships. Returning to the genesis of D, he said that to keep the characters from being too one-dimensional, he found it useful to give them something of a split personality -- or in the case of D, his left hand. The interesting thing about D is that while he's to all appearances a quiet loner, he has this thing in his hand that never leaves him alone. And then, once the first Vampire Hunter D book was finished, he went in a completely different direction to create the hero for the Treasure Hunter series -- a rich, skirt-chasing, happy-go-lucky blabbermouth. As 4 A.M approached it was time for Mr. Kikuchi to give us an update of the many projects he had going. He was working on a new book featuring Dr. Mephisto, the popular physician of the Makaitoshi series. What's more, he had just started the latest D book that day, and he estimated it would take him two weeks to finish it (hey, about the time it takes me to READ one of them). Another book in the works concerned the half-breed child of Taki and Makie, the Dark Guard agents from the Wicked City series. Finally, there is some sort of manga deal in the works involving a MAJOR character that he wasn't at liberty to discuss yet. Now, in the Kikuchi Universe, the major players are D, Dr. Mephisto, and Setsura (also from the Makaitoshi series), so anything really big might involve one or more of them. In the category of "no news is par for the course," Mr. Kikuchi made it quite clear that he has no idea what is going on with the release of the new VHD anime, but his speculation was for it to hit Japanese theaters at the end of this year at the earliest, or the end of next year at the latest. People didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the last part of that. And that was about it for the evening. The follow-up party consisted, as usual, of a lot of good-natured ribbing of the heavily inebriated birthday boy by the assembled writers, directors, and reporters.