Around the time the first VHD novel was being released in English, 
author Hideyuki Kikuchi promised the "talk live" audience that if 
the reaction overseas was good, he'd hold a special event devoted 
to D in Tokyo. Well, on November 25, 2005, he delivered on that 

For the first time in ages, there was a talk live event starting 
before midnight, so I brought my wife and kids along to Loft Plus 
One in Tokyo to see where I always go. Just inside the doors to 
the bar, someone had set up a table selling both the Vampire Hunter D 
"dokuhon" and the huge book of Yoshiaki Kawajiri's continuity 
sketches for VHD:B. They were certainly ideal choices for this event, 
and the table ended up doing a very brisk trade. I even ended up 
being asked to sign a dokuhon for the first time in years. Around 
7:30, Mr. Kikuchi arrived and donned the same Vampire Hunter D 
costume he wore at the first year end event six years ago. Only 
twenty minutes before leaving for Tokyo I'd found out they wanted 
people to wear old VHD-related costumes, so I threw on the black 
cape and poet shirt I'd brought along and did a hastily improvised 

The first part of the program was a panel with Mr. Kikuchi, his 
usual cohost author Fumihiko Iino, Asahi Sonorama editor Susumu 
Ishii, and yours truly. Mr. Kikuchi began by explaining the genesis 
of the Vampire Hunter D concept. He wanted to do a vampire hunter 
story, but thought that even the most skilled and powerful human 
hunter would diminish the threat of the vampires if he could kill 
immortals. At the same time, he didn't want to make a vampire 
hero, either. So, drawing on his knowledge of vampire lore, he 
decided to make his protagonist a dhampir. The D we know and love 
is a rather taciturn individual, but the author had inititally 
intended to not have him speak at all. However, that wouldn't 
have been quite as interesting. The face in his left hand was 
added to draw a little more conversation out of D. Originally, 
the hand was going to have really wild powers, such as spitting 
acid or poison, but that got toned down. 

After the publication of "Demon City ", Mr. Kikuchi had 
two story concepts he liked, so he asked Susumu Ishii which he 
should write next. One of the ideas was for Vampire Hunter D, and 
the other was for "Western Bureicho." The editor was impressed that 
this fledgling author had two solid ideas, and it was Mr. Ishii 
that later paired the VHD novel with artist Yoshitaka Amano. The 
completed artwork was quite different from what Mr. Kikuchi had in 
mind. While the author envisioned his hero in a long coat and 
carrying a katana in a gritty spaghetti western setting, what the 
artist delivered was a caped man with a curved longsword done in a 
romantic fantasy style. Despite Mr. Kikuchi's reservations, the 
look proved very popular. 

At this point, the floor opened up to questions. Someone who'd 
seen Mr. Kikuchi's handwriting on a short story given away last 
year asked Mr. Ishii if the author's manuscripts had always been 
so difficult to read. The editor replied that he believed 
Mr. Kikuchi's writing had been more legible back when he started. 
The editor also reminisced about a time when they were running 
behind schedule and he had to send copies of the handwritten 
pages to Mr. Amano instead of typed ones. One of the artist's 
friends called to give Mr. Ishii condolences on what he always 
had to deal with. Another question concerned the Capital, which 
the VHD novels mention frequently--would there ever be a story 
set in the futuristic city? Mr. Kikuchi replied that it's 
something that's always on his mind, but he's still waiting for 
the right story concept. 

From the translation standpoint, I fielded a few questions. The 
first concerned what I did when I ran into a difficult passage 
in the books. After explaining that I didn't adhere to the old 
translator adage "when in doubt, take it out," I said I usually 
asked my wife or, in extreme cases, went to the source. When 
I added that I was fortunate that the author was still healthy, 
it drew a lot of laughs, but I explained that my first translation 
project had involved the work of a recently deceased poet, and 
that it was much less frustrating when you could ask the author 
for clarifications. And when I then turned to Mr. Kikuchi and asked 
him to hold on at least another decade while I catch up on the 
VHD books, he laughed and replied that he intended to live much 
longer than that. Another question was about my own personal 
preferences in the series--if we weren't doing the books in order, 
which ones would I skip to next? I confessed that I was somewhat 
daunted by the thought of translating some of the multi-volume 
tales, as they could represent a year or more of work on my part. 
But the two books I said I'd most like to translate were "Rose 
Princess" and "Highway of the Enchanted Troops" (these titles are 
subject to change over the next 8-9 years, and I'm currently 
favoring "Mercenary Road" for the latter). 

Mr. Kikuchi also shared a bit of background information on the 
scene at the end of the second VHD novel where Lina shows the 
villagers an image of the cosmos. The scene was inspired by 
something the author's favorite singer had done in when he went 
to see her in concert--she had raised her hand, and then 
constellations were projected all over the place. 

During the discussions about the novels, Mr. Kikuchi and 
Mr. Ishii often consulted me as to the order the books were 
published, or the year the first anime was released. Mr. Kikuchi 
explained that the first two or three VHD novels were the ones 
he remembered the best, rather than more recent books. That much 
was clear when I had to explain how "Highway of the Enchanted 
Troops" ended, and he only wrote that a few years ago. 

At this point, "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" director Yoshiaki 
Kawajiri and lead character designer Yutaka Minowa arrived. With 
the Japanese dub of their movie showing behind them, they spent 
the next hour talking about how the anime came to be made. 
Mr. Minowa said he spent about six months trying to get a look 
for D that was close to Yoshitaka Amano's version but would work 
in Mr. Kawajiri's story. What he came up with was a little too 
hard, and they felt it had to be softened a little for the ladies, 
in particular. He even did a version closer to the author's 
original vision--in a long coat and carrying a katana (and more 
than a few people there that night would've loved to see those 
designs). Apparently, they started work on the character designs 
before they even had a contract--Mr. Minowa said it's sort of a 
hobby for them. Though the lead character designer position hadn't 
been set at that point, Mr. Kawajiri said that Mr. Minowa was the 
only choice to draw D after all his hard work. 

Initially, there were several different stories under consideration
--a remake of the first novel and the massive "Hokkai Makou" were 
also in the running. Mr. Minowa wanted to do "Rose Princess." "Demon 
Deathchase" was finally selected because it was a "road novel" and 
the pace of action was well-suited to a movie. Some of what the 
writer/director added--like the crosses at the beginning or Leila's 
granddaughter at the end--was put in to make the story more 
entertaining for those not familiar with the novels. Mr. Kikuchi 
left the entire project in the director's hands, not interfering 
in any way. The author was glad to see that all the scene's he'd 
wanted to see were included--he'd been afraid the village of the 
Barbarois would be left out, but it was in there. The topic of 
Mashira's swift death came up. Although it looked like the director 
could've used more time, Mr. Kawajiri said that wasn't the case. 
In a film like this, the audience could get burned out from too 
much action, and a lengthy battle with Mashira there would've 
detracted from the action at the castle. 

Having Mr. Kawajiri, Mr. Minowa, and Mr. Kikuchi sitting there 
talking about the film while images danced across the screen was 
like watching a DVD and listening to the commentary track--only 
this was live! In particular, they talked about some of the 
technical aspects of animation process, and how changing technology 
had solved some woes and created new ones at the same time. In the 
days of all hand-painted cels, you might have five layers or more 
stacked in a given shot. But the cel material isn't completely 
translucent, so white areas in the lowest layer or background 
might wind up looking yellowish through the remaining layers. 
That was why colors sometimes appeared to flicker in anime--even 
in the same shot, the number of cel layers could vary in different 
frames, making colors lighter or darker from frame to frame. Digital 
painting and compositing have eliminated that problem. However, the 
clarity of the digital process has created new complications. While 
artists had always put more detail in their backgrounds than could 
be seen through the cel layers, the clarity of the digital method 
not only revealed all that detail, but even things like the texture 
and flaws in the paper the background is painted on. It also makes 
creating areas of complete darkness almost impossible--you wind up, 
instead, with what Mr. Kawajiri called a "thin darkness." And one 
limitation of film remains--usually, it's balanced so that to show 
a color like red at its best, it means other colors like blue or 
green are going to suffer in the same shot. 

While we're on the subject of cels, this might be a good place to 
mention one of the questions put to Mr. Kawajiri and Mr. Minowa. 
During VHD:B's theatrical run in Japan, there was a promotion that 
involved sending in three ticket stubs for a chance at winning a 
cel. One of the talk live regulars had won a cel that way, and he 
wanted to confirm his suspicions that the cels were mock-ups made 
especially for promotional purposes, not actual production cels. 
Mr. Minowa replied that they didn't have time to do anything like 
that--the people in charge of promoting the film had just taken a 
bunch of cels without consulting anyone, and what people had 
received were, in fact, genuine production cels. 

One question that should be quite interesting for anime fans was 
something Mr. Kikuchi asked Mr. Kawajiri: How long would it take 
to do another animated feature? The director replied that if they 
had a contract, financial backing, and a script, it would still 
take them a year and a half to two years to complete another 
animated film. He added that it was actually faster to make a live 
action film. Mr. Minowa commented that he wanted to draw D again, 
but that he would also love to see a live action version of VHD. 

Mr. Kawajiri also shared some information about his first 
collaboration with Mr. Kikuchi--"Youjuu Toshi" or "Wicked City." 
Mr. Kawajiri revealed that his original version was about 45 minutes 
long ... and then he learned it was supposed to be nearly twice that 
length to be released as a full-length feature! He ended up padding 
it out with a lot of shots of the characters driving around. 
Admittedly, the original novel contains a lot of scenes in taxis, 
buses, and trains, so it probably didn't really hurt the adaption. 

At this point, about an hour into the film, there was a short 
breather for Mr. Kikuchi and a bathroom break for the faithful as 
the gents from Madhouse settled down by the door for some super fan 
service. Not only were they signing autographs, they were doing 
some beautiful illustrations, too. The ease with which they could 
render these characters made it clear that drawing came as naturally 
to them as breathing does to the rest of us. While that might not be 
surprising for the lead character designer, I hadn't realized that 
anime directors did their fair share of drawing as well. During the 
film, Mr. Kawajiri had mentioned that he drew about half the bats 
in VHD:B, but now we had a chance to see him render D on his cyborg 
horse. Mr. Minowa's talents were in particular demand--he spent the 
next two hours sipping beer and doing some great marker illustrations. 
The character designer was incredibly friendly, giving me a hearty 
handshake and greeting me in English. I thanked both Mr. Kawajiri 
and Mr. Minowa for their part in drumming up interest in VHD in 
general and the third novel in particular. I also told the director 
I hope to one day translate the novel that inspired his first 
collaboration with Mr. Kikuchi. 

Next up on the program was Toyoo Ashida, director of not only the 
first VHD anime, but the "Hokuto no Ken" [Fist of the North Star]
movie and series. Just as that anime fueled the breakthrough 
overseas in the 1980's, his work on series like "Space Cruiser 
Yamato" helped create the very first generation of anime otaku in 
Japan. Mr. Kikuchi began by explaining that Vampire Hunter D was 
not initially his best selling series. That distinction belonged 
to the "Alien" series he wrote for Asahi Sonorama. But within a 
week of the anime's release, the VHD novels went through multiple 
reprints, pushing them to the top--and they remain the author's 
best-selling series to this day. 

Just as he'd done with the previous director, Mr. Kikuchi sat and 
discussed the first VHD film with Mr. Ashida while the anime was 
projected on a screen behind them and on numerous monitors around 
the bar. Not only did the director look much younger than I expected, 
but he had a very good recollection of this feature he'd done some 
twenty years earlier. While watching some scenes, he commented 
that the animator who'd drawn it had gone on to do "Sailor Moon" 
(which may explain the rumors I've heard of a VHD appearance there).
He also acknowledged the VHD cameo in the "Hokuto no Ken" theatrical 
feature. When his flying rendition of Chulla came on the screen, 
Mr. Ashida commented on how wild it looked--which prompted 
Mr. Kikuchi to laugh and remind the director that it was his own 
work. Mr. Ashida also reminisced about D's sword. He'd had trouble 
coming up with a good design for the blade and hilt, but ended up 
being inspired by a funky green coat hanger--one he says he still 
has around. Rei-Ginsei's folding blade was also based on a cheap 
hanger, and when D parried Rei-Ginsei's weapon with his own, 
Mr. Kikuchi commented on the intense hanger-on-hanger action. 
Another thing Mr. Ashida commented on was the use of colorful but 
simple moving backgrounds in may scenes. This technique was often 
used in series like "Hokuto no Ken" or "Dragonball" when they were 
hard up for backgrounds, but this practice has become less common 
as it looks chintzy. 

Mr. Ashida was kind enough to answer a number of questions. 
Mr. Kikuchi specifically asked why the ladies looked so young. 
Actually, in the jocular mood of the evening, the author asked the 
director if he had a thing for young girls. Mr. Ashida replied that 
at that time, anime fandom was still relatively new--you didn't have 
fifty-year-old anime fans with a fetish for married women. If he 
were to do it now, he said he'd also make the shower scene a little 
shorter. Someone in the audience asked why D was dressed in blue 
instead of black. The director replied that if D was dressed in 
black, they could only add highlights to the cels, but no shadows. 
So several other colors were considered. Brown seemed too 
commonplace, and green would've made him look like a farmer. And 
if they'd used purple for D, they really wouldn't have been able to 
use it on any other characters. They settled on blue as seeming the 
most "heroic." Mr. Kikuchi also wanted to check a long-standing 
rumor that the bespectacled doctor was supposed to be based on him. 
After a moment's consideration, Mr. Ashida admitted it was possible 
that a man who goes nuts and tries to pounce on a pretty young 
thing was based on the author. 

Other information Mr. Ashida shared with the crowd concerned how 
Tetsuya Komoro of TM Network had become involved with the 
soundtrack. Apparently, Sony arranged the whole thing, much to 
the director's surprise--Mr. Komoro was already recognized as a 
rising star and many thought he would be the next Ryuichi Sakamoto. 
Mr. Ashida reminded everyone that Mr. Komoro went on to be the 
preeminent record producer in Japan for a number of years, and 
the director hoped to see him become more active once again. The 
only voice actor Mr. Ashida selected was Kaneto Shiozawa as D--the 
rest of the parts were cast by someone else. And, as the film was 
ending, Mr. Ashida had an interesting anecdote about the landscapes 
we see as D heads off to wander the wide world. The director had 
shown the person doing backgrounds a book of scenic photos and said 
he wanted something like that. To his horror, the backgrounds he 
later received were copied exactly from the photos. And shortly 
after the movie ended, Mr. Kikuchi announced that showing a 
full-length feature from beginning to end was a first for Loft 
Plus One. 

Mr. Ashida then settled over in the area where Mr. Kawajiri and 
Mr. Minowa were still doing illustrations. The two VHD directors 
started chatting like old friends (which they may well be, given 
they both worked at Tezuka's Mushi Pro studios at one point). 
Given Mr. Ashida's long history in animation, it wasn't surprising 
that fans asked him to draw a wide variety of characters from 
different series. I was overwhelmed by how energetic and friendly 
he was. When I asked if I could take his picture, he suggested 
that I have one taken with him instead. I thanked him for his part 
in introducing me to the world of VHD, as well as for making the 
entertaining "Hokuto no Ken" movie that I often show my students. 
And while I realized two decades had passed, I simply had to ask 
the director to try and draw D for me. Thanks, perhaps, to the 
screening that had just finished, Mr. Ashida certainly delivered 
the goods. And once the other fans in line saw that the director 
was up to the task, I'm sure he got more than a few requests for 
our favorite Vampire Hunter. 

Now it was well past midnight. Although there was still another 
four-hour block of fantasy film-related fun to go and prizes to be 
won, I had to call it a night and get back to my family at the 
hotel (my wife and children had left during the panel discussion). 
But before I left, I had to thank Mr. Kikuchi for giving me a 
chance to meet the two directors that helped guide me to my present 
position translating the VHD novels. I was left feeling that 
Mr. Kikuchi and Mr. Ishii, Mr. Ashida and Mr. Kawajiri had all 
done their part to bring Vampire Hunter D to the world, and now 
it was my turn. Time to hit those books again. 

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