Reviews are copyright ©Kevin Leahy. All other material is copyright ©Catherine B. Krusberg. This material may not be reproduced without permission of the creator. Vampire Hunter D novel reviews by Kevin Leahy Reviews of vols. 1-7 originally published in THE ROSE (Anime Hasshin) nos. 43 and 46. Corrections approved by the author. BOOK REVIEW THIRSTY FOR MORE D? THE VAMPIRE HUNTER D NOVELS by Kevin Leahy What do you get when you slam a Hammer Horror film with a Lovecraftian twist head-on into an ultra-violent spaghetti western? No survivors, that's for sure. If you're lucky, you might wind up with one of Kikuchi Hideyuki's Vampire Hunter D novels. Mr. Kikuchi has combined his love of films, horror, and science fiction in a number of action-packed tales which have earned him quite a following. Anime fans should be familiar with such works of his as THE NAME OF THE WIND IS AMNESIA, WICKED CITY, DEMON CITY (SHINJUKU), and of course, VAMPIRE HUNTER D. First published in 1983 by Sonorama Bunko, VAMPIRE HUNTER D has spawned numerous sequels, going through countless reprints and even earning special hardcover editions of the series on its tenth anniversary. The books are further graced by the beautiful illustrations of Amano Yoshitaka, Japan's own Frazetta cum Gustav Klimt. Before I launch into short summaries of the first four volumes, let me take a moment to set the scene. Here's the future history of the world, so take notes, it might be on the test. In the year 1999, the world is predictably devastated by nuclear war, forcing the few surviving humans to live underground for years. When they come to the surface again and spread out to reclaim the Earth, they find the place crawling with fearsome mutants. Hundreds of years pass, and humans, while fruitful and multiplying, grow ever more barbarous. When they've degenerated to a medieval level, the vampires appear, declare themselves "the Nobility," and take over. The humans seem to go along with it. For 7000 or 8000 years, the vampire Nobility rule the world, constructing an automated city called the Capital and regulating the global climate through weather controllers. Finally, the Great Rebellion overthrows the vampires, and the remaining fiends scatter in the wilderness of the Frontier, where their genetically-engineered monstrosities are already terrorizing the humans. These sporadic vampire and monster attacks prompt a number of humans to form the Hunter class, which in turn gradually specializes into subclasses such as Werewolf Hunter, Lesser Dragon Hunter, etc. The greatest of these, of course, are the Vampire Hunters. Volume 1: Kyuuketsuki Hantaa "D" (Vampire Hunter "D") 1983. ISBN 4-257-76225-X Almost anyone who has seen a movie and read a book of the same story is bound to say that they liked the book better, if only because the book tends to contain a wealth of material which would take any director six hours to convey on film. Such is the case with this work, which has a far more involved tale than the anime depicts. Doris Lang, orphaned daughter of a Werewolf Hunter, hires the dhampir Vampire Hunter D to take care of Count Magnus Lee. But the vampiric ruler of that Frontier sector is only one of her problems. The Count's daughter Larmica and the werewolf retainer Garou are determined to see Doris dead before she can be drawn into their "family." Greco Rohman, son of the chief of Ransylva village, has his lecherous eye on Doris. And dashing, deadly Rei-Ginsei and his Fiend Corps are also closing in. From what I recall of the anime, the characters of the lackey Garou and the blade-hurling Rei-Ginsei have been combined. The hair colors of Doris and Larmica have also, strangely, been swapped. In the book, Doris is described as raven- haired, while Larmica has locks of gold. All in all, the novel is a pretty good read, and the scenario Kikuchi sets up would certainly be a dynamite world to role-play in. Volume 2: Kaze Tachite "D" ("D" -- Raiser of Gales) 1984. ISBN 4-257-76274-8 A long, hard winter, due perhaps to problems with the weather controllers, has isolated the village of Tepes. Near the village stands a strange hill, a one-time stronghold of the Nobility which still contains beautiful paintings and experimental equipment. Ten years earlier, four children disappeared while playing, only to reappear a month later. Now in 12090 A.D., a new terror grips the village as the victims of vampires moving in daylight begin to appear. The village turns of course to D, who finds that all suspicion has already fallen on those missing children, three of whom have now grown into excellent adults. The girl Lina in particular is fascinated by vampire art, even though it may cost her a scholarship to the Capital -- her only chance of leaving the hick village. There's a fair amount of action in this tale, and it exhibits a few more of the kinks that Kikuchi's work is famous for. Perhaps the biggest selling point of it is the additional world-building that takes place -- filling in more all- important data about the strengths and weaknesses of dhampir and vampires and giving added details about human-monster interaction. Volume 3: D -- Yousatsukou (D -- Demon Deathchase) 1985. ISBN 4-257-76310-8 With his dying breath, an old man begs that his daughter and the Noble who made off with her be pursued and, if necessary, slain. Their destination is a spaceport in the Claybourne States and their ultimate goal -- a world where their love might be safe. The vampire Mayerling is perhaps the only one humans ever spoke well of, and the girl, who remains strangely nameless throughout the book, goes with him of her own free will. Still, the old man puts a hefty price on their heads, and that sort of blood in the water draws Hunters -- the notorious Marcus clan and D. The four Marcus brothers Borgoff, Nolt, Groveck, and Kyle, along with their sister Leila, are as famous for their Vampire Hunting as they are for their predilection toward killing off the competition, and they hide a dark secret about their sister as well. As if all this warfare wasn't lively enough, Mayerling pulls through the hamlet of Barbaroi and enlists a trio of powerful bodyguards from the local population -- all of which are human/monster half-breeds. For those fans who didn't get their recommended daily allowance of kinks from the second volume, this tale serves up a few more. On top of that, it lays bare one of the dhampir's greatest weaknesses. And for anyone who hadn't already guessed from the above description, it's got ACTION, ACTION, ACTION! Volume 4: D -- Shigaitan (D -- Tale of the Dead Town) 1986. ISBN 4-257-76321-3 Pausing long enough to rescue a young lady and make an apparent ally, D rendezvous with his next place of employment, a city of 500 which floats a meter above the ground and cruises at 20 KPH (that's 12.5 MPH to my fellow Americans). "The Town," long thought safe from marauding monsters, has suffered a rash of vampire attacks. But the introduction of D, the young lady and former tenant of said city Lori Knight, and the brash John M. Brasselli Pluto VIII does little to alleviate their woes. The last of these three wants to be called by his full name at all times -- something the author fortunately does not indulge him in. There's plenty of juicy monster-slaying to be done as the Town makes a sudden change toward an unknown but certainly unwelcome goal. While short on vampire lore, this tale has some mystery and the beast-busting action D fans have come to love. Curiosity about the vampire-ravaged future of Kikuchi Hideyuki's Vampire Hunter D universe led me to plow through the final volumes faster than I had expected. Since Vampire Hunter D Volume #1, Kikuchi's works have become steadily less descriptive and more action-driven. His terse style, I suspect, is as much a result of his habit of writing several novels a year, as it is of his love of motion pictures. As a result, now more than ever, his books read like detailed movie scripts, with movements carefully choreographed and the delivery of lines painstakingly explained. Which really makes me wonder why all of his novels haven't been animated by now. Volume 5: Yume Narishi D (D -- The Stuff of Dreams) 1986. ISBN 4-257-76361-2 D goes to a thriving town where, in the past ages, mortals and Nobility (vampires) lived together peacefully. The 17-year- old beauty Sybille Schmitz has slept there for 30 years since being bitten, neither waking nor aging. It is dreams of her dancing in a ghostly chateau bathed in blue light that lure D there, where the entire village has already dreamt of the handsome dhampir. There are a number of folks who feel that by awakening the sleeping woman, the Vampire Hunter will destroy their peaceful world, and they would gladly kill D to prevent that. After all, their village produces 20 times as much food as they need, and the exporting of that bounty has made them quite comfortable. And the murderous Bio Brothers, Harold and Duncan, are called in to see to the disposal of the cursed half-breed D. While the action is only average, the book describes one example of a forgotten technology the philanthropic vampires shared with their human neighbors -- the lost art of baking apple pie (I kid you not!). Volume 6: D -- Seima Henreki (D -- Pilgrimage of the Sacred and the Profane) 1988. ISBN 4-257-76400-7 A supposedly impassable desert lies between the Inner and Outer Frontier. To cross it, the centenarian Granny Viper is looking for some powerful backup. Granny is a "people finder" and she must ferry her latest find, a young woman named Tae, across to the town of Barnabas in the next four days. As an "abductee" who lived 8 years in the vampire castle of Gradinia, Tae is the object of suspicion. Her only hope for future happiness is pinned on arriving in Barnabas before the last of her blood relations move on. Hoping to play on the sympathies of frosty D and enlist his aid, Granny offends her other potential escorts -- those renowned warriors of the Frontier, Bingo and Clay Bullow. The following arrangement is reached: D is traveling to Barnabas on business of his own, Granny and Tae are free to follow him, and the Bullow Brothers tag along as well to settle the score with D when the journey is over. But it won't be easy going, as the desert has a mind of its own. One of the more engrossing facets of this action-packed story is how one of the two residents of Gradinia castle is someone D wants to find very badly. What's more, the relation of dhampirs to human society and other dhampirs is also explored with interesting results. Volume 7: D -- Hokkai-Makou (D -- Mysterious Journey to the North Sea) 1988 Part 1 ISBN 4-257-76433-3 Part 2 ISBN 4-257-76438-4 The 17-year-old Wu-Lin is traveling from the fishing village of Florence to Cronenberg to have a strange jewel appraised. No less than three people try to steal it from her: the young commoner Toto, an old artist named Professor Krolock, and the grotesque Gilligan, an obscenely overweight gangland boss in a custom exo-skeleton. He has Wu-Lin killed, but her dying request of D is that he bring the gem back to her older sister Su-In in their village on the north sea. Gilligan is determined to have the gem. He dispatches five mysterious individuals with the promise that the one who brings it to him will get all he possesses. This group consists of such colorful characters as Shin the Puppetman, King Egbert, Undiscernible Twin, and Reminiscence Samon. Also tailing D from Cronenberg is handsome Glen, a warrior and "seeker of knowledge" who wants to kill the Vampire Hunter because he's the only thing he has ever feared. Everyone arrives in Florence just as its short, week-long summer is about to begin. Millennia ago, the area had been a resort for the Nobility until the day, about 1000 years ago, when a traveler in black arrived and punished the cruel vampire residents. Only Baron Meinster refused to leave, and the traveler threw him into the sea. Now, for the past few years, the village's summer has been marred by vampire attacks -- "Meinster's Revenge." Su-In hired D because something particularly distressing is going on here. Though the whole world knows that the Nobility have difficulty with rain or flowing water, the vampire in Florence seems to be coming from the sea. As you can probably guess, the action is fast and furious in this 2-volume tale. At a combined length of nearly 600 pages, it is almost 2-1/2 times as long as the average D novel. But the larger cast and broader action of HOKKAI-MAKOU truly give it the familiar flavor of western horror/sci-fi/adventure novels. The structure is also more entertaining than the average Vampire Hunter D story where everyone crosses D's path exactly twice -- escaping with a grudge the first time and getting chopped into fish bait the second. D -- Kurai Nokutaan (D -- Dark Nocturne) 1992. ISBN 4-257-76586-0 A collection of three short stories. Although Dark Nocturne exists out of the numbering system of the D series, it was published in 1992, some 3 years after completion of the 2-volume tale D -- Hokkai-Makou (D -- Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, 1988). Accustomed to the telephone book-thick tomes on vampires published in the U.S, I had always thought the Vampire Hunter D books too short until the 2-parter, so it was with some reservation that I began reading this collection of 3 short stories. Averaging 100 pages each, in English they would probably take a little over 50 pages each. Nevertheless, what greeted me was some of the best D action yet. We see more of D's facets, both human and vampire, than in considerably longer works. The first tale, strangely enough titled "Dark Nocturne," concerns Ry, a young man who goes to Anise village seeking the haunting song he'd heard from his father on his deathbed. Many vampires had been entertained at a chateau there until about 200 years earlier, and they lured young men and women in their twenties there with a song no one else could duplicate. That same song had been heard again 20 years before our story begins. On his way to Anise, Ry encounters Price and his cohorts Bijima and Kurt. Price heard the ghostly tune while in his mother's womb, and can imitate it. But he and his lackeys seem to be up to no good. D appears in time to save the boy. The female mayor of the village has hired the Vampire Hunter, among others, to find out what's going on at the chateau, and to see if the vampires have returned. And as no VHD tale would be complete without a fetching lass, this time D sees his life complicated by Amne, the headstrong daughter of the innkeeper where D is lodging and just the sort of cat curiosity so often kills. The second story, "D -- An Ode to Imagined Fall," takes place in a village called "Shirley's Door," which is famous for its beauty in fall. A centenarian known as "Helga of the Red Basket" hires D when she foresees trouble in the swamp near her home -- a place where the vampiric Nobility once dwelled. This particular village long made it a practice to offer up one of extraordinary beauty so that everyone else might be spared, and Mayor Murtock is willing to continue the tradition to preserve the peace. The real problem there is that his son, Lyle, happens to be in love with the intended sacrifice -- a girl named Cecile. D has met the pair on his way into town, so you can imagine he's not about to sit back and do nothing while humans turn on humans. The final section, "D -- Legend of the War Fiends ," begins in a massive castle carved from a mountain in the center of an "Armageddon Zone" -- an area with a radius of 2000 KM left barren by a battle between two vampire clans that lasted 5000 years. The castle has a nuclear generator that produces 50 million megawatts of power per hour, but where that power has gone for the last 2000 years is a mystery. Okay, so it's not a mystery to me, because I kept reading. The power went into creating Dynus, a ten-foot-tall man with a somewhat childish demeanor. He is one clan's "last strike," and apparently they weren't the only ones with that foresight. A girl named Raya who has been sold into the entertainment business in the Capital is the other side's sleeper agent. Her witch-like powers come from genetic encoding done centuries earlier by other vampires to stage this one last battle. D is on the scene to protect Raya until she leaves for her new job, but the strange visitors to the area are apparently there to watch the fireworks and see which of the extinct clans triumphs in the end. In good dramatic form, the two ill-fated individuals not only befriend D, but they also grow quite fond of each other. But their fate was decided millennia earlier. In light of the amount of material that was cut from the first VHD book in order to make an animated feature of manageable length, I think these episodes would be much better suited to the screen than the novel-length tales. This wasn't an easy read at first -- I had to read it a second time after forgetting everything from the first read, and other fans have had similar experiences. Still, the last story alone was worth the price of admission, and I'm glad this was the book I had Hideyuki Kikuchi sign the first time I met him. More reviews!
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