D DAY 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 promise. 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 Dracula. 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.
Back to the Text Archives
VHD Archives Home