Reviews are copyright ©Kevin Leahy.
All other material is copyright ©Catherine B. Krusberg. 
This material may not be reproduced without permission of the creator.

Volume 8: D -- Baraki (D -- Rose Princess) 1994 
ISBN 4-257-76641-7 

Coming on the heels of the first multi-volume tale and then the collection 
of three mini-novels, this novel was the first single volume full-length VHD 
story in 6 years. Even more amazing, it would be another 7 years before 
another single volume tale was released. 

Now I have a lot of history with this particular volume. I was pleasantly 
surprised when it came out, because I had already started getting into the 
VHD novels, but I thought the series had ended with the publication of the 
"Dark Nocturne" collection two years earlier. In due time I read it, but 
for some reason it left me incredibly sleepy, and that, coupled with my 
short-sighted failure to write notes as I read it (as I usually do with 
these novels) meant that many years were to pass before I'd get around to 
writing a review. How many you ask? Would you believe eight? But after a 
recent re-reading--with note-taking, I might add--I'm now ready to regale 
you with the majesty that is "D: Rose Princess." 

The story opens in the village of Sacri, where a young lady is brought by 
carriage to see a Noble woman. But before the princess can finish feeding 
on this offering, a young man shows up and attempts to slay the vampire. He 
fails, but with the aid of a glider-like backpack he manages to escape from 
her and her armored bodyguards. But back in the village, things aren't 
going well. The entire populace is being held prisoner until he is 
captured. No one may leave or enter, under pain of death. Still there's 
good reason for people to try anyway--if the youth isn't found in ten days, 
ten villagers will be impaled. And five more villagers will be drawn and 
quartered for every day after that he remains missing. 

D arrives just as two of the four knights who serve the princess are 
keeping several families from fleeing. Even after a third knight arrives on 
the scene, they do nothing to stop him from entering the village. Clearly 
the Blue Knight, Red Knight, and White Knight have reservations about 
crossing blades with the dashing Hunter. Once in town, he pays a visit to 
an old witch named Mama Kipsch to give her a message from her grandson--the 
youth who attacked the princess in the first place. D informs her that the 
boy is dead now, but that he recruited the Vampire Hunter before he died. 

The village of Sacri, it seems, has made a deal with the devil. The 
princess has seen to it that their lands remained fertile and her superhuman 
knights have protected them from both bandits and monsters. But in return, 
they've had to let the princess feed on them. Not that she necessarily 
killed her prey or turned them into vampires like herself--there were a 
number of people walking around town with the wounds on their neck covered. 
Still, not everyone in town is happy with the status quo. A group of biker 
toughs led by Elena (a graduate of the Leila Marcus Finishing School) would 
be all too happy to see the Vampire Hunter dispose of the local Nobility. 

When D enters the chateau to confront the princess, what she has to say to 
him is quite shocking--she's been planning to leave Sacri and see the 
world, but knows that her four knights would never allow it. Therefore, she 
wants D to dispose of them. Well, things get ugly then, as they're wont to 
do, and the next thing you know almost everyone in town has been partially 
turned into a vampire. As Elena and her gang search for the ingredient Mama 
Kipsch needs for an antidote, D must keep the knights from killing the 
transformed villagers--who they now view as an affront to the true Nobility. 
Of course, no ordinary blade will do for dealing with his armored foes, and 
so the local blacksmith is forced to forge a new weapon for D. But the 
Vampire Hunter isn't the only one with an uncanny blade--the Black Knight 
wields a magic sword that possesses a will of its own. 

The action is pretty intense in this tale, which makes me wonder why I 
forgot so much of it after the first reading. And the imagery is 
beautiful--the vampire princess is often surrounded by roses that match the 
hues of her four knights and purple blooms for herself, and there's a fine 
tip of the hat to director Amando de Ossorio's "Blind Dead" films when 
mounted skeletons bear down on D in slow motion. Top that off with some 
very interesting human and vampire psychology, and you've got one fine novel 

Volume 9: D -- Aojiroki Datenshi (D -- Pale Fallen Angel)
  1994-1996 (in four parts)
    Part 1 1994; ISBN 4-257-76682-4
    Part 2 1995; ISBN 4-257-76710-3
    Part 3 1995; ISBN 4-257-76744-8
    Part 4 1996; ISBN 4-257-76774-X

When you want the job done right, hire a professional. That's what 
Baron Byron Balazs does in "D -- Aojiroki Datenshi" or "D -- Pale 
Fallen Angel," the first four-volume VHD tale from the pen of Hideyuki
Kikuchi. As one of the blood-drinking Nobility, the Baron is hardly 
the sort of employer you'd expect for a Vampire Hunter, but D agrees 
to act as his bodyguard in exchange for an obscene amount of money 
and the Baron's word that he won't dine on any humans during the long
trip to Krauhausen. Furthermore, on their arrival there the good Baron
wants D to dispose of Lord Vlad Balazs -- his own father. He is truly
his father's son, for at the same time Lord Vlad is retaining the 
services of a half dozen Hunters with promises of a king's ransom to 
the individual or group who does away with the young Baron. So, more 
thugs than you can shake an elegantly curved blade at and the plot's
still too simple for your tastes? Well, perhaps you should consider 
the baggage this pair accumulate along the way. First, there's the 
haughty Miska, a snobbish Noblewoman saved from the stake who also 
happens to be bound for Krauhausen. Then there's the adolescent acrobat
team of Hugh and May, raised by a circus after vampires killed their 
parents. And finally, they're joined by the lovely Taki, formerly the 
assistant to the cruel trail magician Johann and currently fleeing from
the same.

As if the teeming cast alone weren't entertainment enough, the story 
moves through a number of memorable locales -- an old arsenal of the 
Nobility where until recently an entity called the "Destroyer" had 
spent thousands of years confined by the fear-filled vampires that 
spawned it, a towering airport where the abandoned A.I. has obsessed 
on D's father for five millennia, an ancient battlefield where the 
vampires once waged war against unearthly invaders and where some of 
the weapons yet cling to life -- all these and many more show us the 
colorful background of the world that D inhabits, and any one of them
might have served as a fine setting for a book in its own right.

Even with a thousand pages to play with, the cast of thousands does 
tend to cut into D's "screen time," but the insight we get into the 
characters of Byron Balazs and Miska are well worth it. Byron seems 
to be one of the few vampires that people don't mind, at least in the
Krauhausen area where he was born. The very circumstances of his birth 
were rather strange -- the vampires' Sacred Ancestor performed an 
experiment on him before he was born, causing some bad blood between 
his father and mother. Eventually, Vlad had a human doctor named Jean 
d'Carriole operate on his wife, Cordelia, and as a result she was no 
longer affected by the vampires' usual weakness regarding running water.
Her innate fear of it, however, remained unchanged, and with that mental
state in mind Vlad had her trapped in a lake beneath their castle, where
she still remains. As for Miska, in many ways she resembles Count Lee's
daughter Larmica in the first VHD novel, except that she doesn't seem 
to be quite as fond of D. She takes great joy in belittling and
threatening the humans traveling with them, but her bark is worse than
her bite. And for those interested in such things, I did get the author
to confirm that her name is taken from horror icon H.P. Lovecraft's 
imaginary Miskatonic University.

Up to the publication of this story in July '94 through March '96, the 
longest VHD tale had been the two-volume adventure "D -- Hokkai Makou,"
and this was also originally slated for just two volumes. While the 
author's intent had been to have the first book take place on the road
and the second as a showdown in Krauhausen, things clearly snowballed.
At the rate Kikuchi-sensei was throwing in new characters and settings,
he did well to wrap it up as quickly as he did -- this review would 
have been complete enough without mentioning things like a brothel 
owner named Fischer Lagoon whose neighborhood is protected by a truce 
with the local Nobility, or a supernatural "Guide" summoned by 
sacrificing children which leads vampires to an extra-dimensional 
haven called Shangri-La. There's so much packed into these books 
there should be some kind of warning sticker on the cover to the 
effect of "Caution: contents under extreme pressure."

Given that the mini-tales in "Dark Nocturne" are some of my favorites 
and my reading speed is a mere fraction of my native-speaker 
compatriots', it's surprising that I like this story as much as I do.
However, I still have some reservations about the big honking 
multi-volume tales. First, they're not really well suited for 
transplantation to other forms of media -- the first VHD movie 
contained only about half of the incidents in the novel, so you can 
imagine how much would be trimmed from a two- or four-volume tale.
Despite that, "Pale Fallen Angel" is the story I consistently hear 
fans mentioning as one they'd like Yoshiaki Kawajiri to animate.
Second, the stories are written over the span of a year or more, with
other projects coming in between volumes, and as a result there are
occasionally problems with continuity, not to mention meeting 
deadlines. While that latter doesn't affect people like me who read 
at a gingerly pace, it can be disconcerting to get to the end of the 
series and wonder, "What the heck ever happened to what's-his-name, 
who fell into a coma a couple of volumes ago?" And finally, as a 
translator, I find the prospect of tackling a four-volume tale much 
more daunting than doing four single-volume tales. Even in Japan, 
where there is a good-sized market for translated literature,
whopping tomes by the likes of Anne Rice or Stephen King are cut 
into 2 or 3 volumes to recoup some of the costs of translating them.
But all that aside, as long as Kikuchi-sensei sees fit to keep 
writing them, I'll keep reading them regardless of the size.

Volume 10: D -- Souei no Kishi (D -- Twin-Shadowed Knight)
  1996-1997 (2 parts)
    Part 1 1996; ISBN 4-257-76792-8
    Part 2 1997; ISBN 4-257-76818-5

One unwritten rule of the Vampire Hunter series is that you never really
get to know much about D. While the narrative may delve into the 
thoughts and feelings of the people and even monsters around him, we 
never get a glimpse of what's going on under that wide-brimmed 
traveler's hat. The stories really aren't about him so much as they are
about the people who hire him and the dangers they face, but all that 
changed with the two-volume tale "D -- Souei no Kishi" or "D -- 
Twin-shadowed Knight," published in November '96 and October '97.
If we can believe Hideyuki Kikuchi's postscript, the reason why he 
suddenly decided to write a story about D will always remain a mystery,
and even Asahi Sonorama editor Susumu Ishii, who provided the impetus,
remains in the dark as to exactly what triggered this tale.

The story begins with D slaying a vampire, who leaves the triumphant 
Hunter with the cryptic words, "Find Muma." Not sure exactly if "Muma"
is a person, place, or thing, D travels to the village of Sedoc, where
a huge misty crater is attracting the dead for hundreds of miles around.
In the village he meets Mia, the lovely young daughter of a 
fortune-teller, who promptly retains his services.  It seems that her
mother has foreseen something terrible happening there, and being on 
her own deathbed, sent her daughter in her stead to try and prevent 
that catastrophe. But when they go to the newly formed crater to see 
what could prompt thousands of corpses to rise from their graves and 
throw themselves into that hole, things get really weird. The D that
emerges from the mist brutally dispatches a vigilante group formed by
the young men of the village, and begins to act quite unlike himself.

This other D, or "the false D" as he's called, has set up shop in the 
base at the bottom of the crater. While he looks and dresses just like
the Hunter we know and love, there are differences, too.  He's much 
more garrulous, has an eye for the ladies, and is certainly more 
emotional. However, the only physical difference is that he lacks the
mysterious symbiotic face in his left hand. And while he's very 
protective of the strange experimental station, eventually he joins
forces with D and Mia.

In the second volume, the trio hits the road in search of "Muma," and
that's when the fun starts. They run across two technicians who had
assisted the vampires' "Sacred Ancestor" in his experiments and had 
their lives strangely prolonged in the process. The first is a man 
named Gii, who has created a ghastly Lovecraftian creature that he 
worships as a god. His sister Shusha is a ghost now, killed as a 
witch by villagers she wanted to help and unable to move on due to
the artificial heart the Sacred Ancestor gave her. She can still 
feel pain, and a twisted monk enjoys torturing her in one of many 
scenes in the series that makes you wonder who the real monsters in
this world are. And if that weren't entertainment enough, there's the
band of mounted skeletons the vengeful monk sends after D -- all in
a day's work for the hardest working dhampir in show business.

In their travels, D, "the false D," and Mia see a mountain range 
collapse to reveal a road long concealed -- the road that they must
travel. But they aren't alone on that torturous track.  There are 
hundreds of victims of the Sacred Ancestor out there looking for him,
hovering in a strange state which is neither life nor death, longing
for him to taste their blood again. The road, it seems, is a part of 
his experiments, an unearthly form of natural selection that becomes 
more difficult with each step, ensuring that only the strongest can
continue on. And in the end there is a showdown, of course, though 
not the sort one might expect.

While I certainly like the idea of stories which involve D more
personally, in practice it seems it was much more difficult to write,
which might explain why the second volume came out almost a year after
the first -- at any rate, the author was eating out of nervousness and
gained several pounds trying to wrap up this tale. Mr. Kikuchi stated
that while the series must eventually deal more with D's past, for the
present he has gone back to penning the usual "hired gun" sort of
stories. Maybe someday we'll find out what the mysterious traveler in 
black's journey is all about, but a part of me hopes we never do.

Volume 11:  D -- Daaku Roodo (D -- Dark Road)
  1999 (3 parts)
    Part 1 1999; ISBN 4-257-76862-2
    Part 2 1999; ISBN 4-257-76877-0
    Part 3 1999; ISBN 4-257-76883-5

While it was being published from March to September of 1999, the 
thing that struck me about the three-volume tale "D -- Daaku Roodo" or
"D -- Dark Road" was the name. For starters, the all-katakana title is
basically unprecedented for Hideyuki Kikuchi, whose kanji-soup titles 
usually offer this translator hours of fun-filled hypothesizing.
Secondly, the r/l ambiguity of Japanese coupled with the long vowel 
meant the second word of the title could have been "road," "lord," 
"load," or even "roared." After reading the entire story, I was still
left unable to choose between "road" and "lord," and native-speaker 
fellow fans could do no better, so I was left with no choice but to 
take my case to the highest court in the land -- in other words, I had 
to ask the author himself. And the winner is ... road!

Running across an isolated community comprised entirely of former 
vampire victims, D rescues a woman named Rosaria from a human death 
squad that has annihilated the other pariahs, and deals with the 
killers as mercilessly as they dispatched the villagers. But before 
he can escort the woman to safety she's abducted by General Gaskell --
perhaps the fiercest vampire Noble ever, surpassed only by the Sacred
Ancestor in popularity among human researchers. An uncompromising 
warrior, the General had one side of his immortal body permanently 
burned when he remained locked in combat with a foe despite the 
rising of the sun. Gaskell knew secrets no other vampire did, and he
led rebel forces in an assault on "the Capital" for hundreds of years
before he was finally destroyed. But now he has strangely reappeared,
and he's not alone -- he commands a number of the most infamous 
vampires in history, renowned even more for the murder of their own 
kind than for that of humanity.

As a rule D is hard on cyborg horses, and it's this tendency to leave
his mounts as steaming piles of offal that really sets this story into
motion. Though he must rescue Rosaria from Gaskell's floating castle,
D finds himself once again on foot out in the middle of nowhere ...
until salvation arrives in the form of a wagon train manned by a 
transport squad from the Frontier Commerce Guild. The Commerce Guild 
uses these wagons to supply goods to the scattered villages of the 
Frontier, so it's rather surprising when these astute business men 
refuse to let D pay for a horse -- but in the end the deal they strike
is much better indeed. Gaskell's mobile castle has drifted into the 
area, making their normally dangerous job that much more perilous, 
so they hire D as their escort in exchange for the horse. Before
accepting the assignment D manages to extricate Rosaria from the 
castle, but in the process he's blinded by Madame Loransan, one of 
Gaskell's evil cohorts.

In addition to General Gaskell and Madame Loransan, there are a number
of notable adversaries waiting for their crack at D. First is Duke 
Shuma, a fop with a lethal walking stick who has responded to the 
General's call in the place of his father. Roland, Prince of Xenon,
is a heavily armored vampire who can summon spears out of thin air.
His daughter, Lady Anne, is an 800-year-old vampire trapped in a body
that looks less than 10, but she states she and her basket loaded with
deadly flowers have one more kill to their credit than her infamous
father does. Major General Gillis comes from a clan of assassins, and 
he has the ability to move in the form of a shadow. He also has his 
heart set on Lady Anne. Grand Duke Mephomett controls a giant robotic
combat suit from a safe distance. The suit not only mimics his 
movements, but it also shares the recuperative powers of its vampire
master for so long as he lives. And Doctor Great-Hen is the ruthless
Noblewoman who conducted her poisoning experiments on tens of thousands
of humans and vampires. While poison cannot kill vampires, it can leave
them in torment until the end of time, and it is said that thousands of
her undying victims are still suffering in hidden labs.

If you've ever seen Bruce Lee beat the tar out of a dozen guys 
attacking one at a time and wondered why the heck anyone would be 
stupid enough to tackle a hero like that, this story finally offers 
a valid plot device that makes it seem a little less ridiculous. 
Gaskell has at his disposal a half-dozen powerful vampires, and he's 
also been given a treatment that renders each of them impervious to 
sunlight for 3 days at a time, so it would seem almost trivial for 
them to slay the now-blind D. But these vampires are also traitors 
and murderers, and the Sacred Ancestor who has revived them for his 
own purposes doesn't want them getting together and starting mischief
of their own. For this reason, only Gaskell knows who the members are, 
and he alone decides who shall fight.

But the plethora of fanged thugs and their ill-fated attempts on D's 
life aren't the only enticing facet of this tale. The three young men
in the Frontier Commerce Guild's transport squad are also quite 
entertaining. Juke and Gordo are the kind of "Rawhide" throwbacks that
you'd expect to be riding a wagon train through the monster-plagued 
wilderness, but the turbaned intellectual Serge is a bit of a surprise.
Like Lina in "Kaze-tachite 'D,'" he has an intense interest in the 
history of the Nobility, and his little field trips to ancient 
battlefields occasionally place him in peril. Once Rosaria joins the
party, there's the kind of family atmosphere around the campfire that's
been missing since we bid farewell to Doris and Dan Lang. But the 
sparks really start to fly when Lady Anne invites herself into the 
group. She's stuck on D like some blood-sucking Lolita, but she barely
tolerates his human employers. While this dynamic has been presented 
a few times before -- with Larmica and the Langs in the first book, 
then Miska and the acrobat children in "Pale Fallen Angel" -- this 
time it really works well, conveying that the vampires might be
incapable of comprehending the love humans have for life or the 
meaning of death for them.

Despite the fact that D is blind, and that Lady Anne nearly destroys
his left hand in a misguided attempt to free him from its malignant 
influence, he manages to keep the vampires at bay. As a last resort,
Gaskell decides he must put another fearsome warrior named Lord 
Rocambole (inspired by the 19th-century French gentleman thief of the
same name) into the fray -- but Rocambole requires several sacrificial
victims from the ranks of the vampires and there is a dearth of 
volunteers. In fact, it's rather amusing to see how each tries to 
strike a deal with the General to kill the others in order that he or
she might be spared. And as the body count rises, Gaskell and his 
minions are left wondering just who exactly the Sacred Ancestor was 
trying to kill.

Like the other multi-volume tales that characterize the series after 
"Rose Princess," this would make great anime -- but it would have to 
be something like a 4- or 6-episode OVA series to do justice to the 
story. After all, you wouldn't want to miss the scene where a vampire
struts out of a hotel in silky pink pajamas to meet his fate. That
alone, my friends, is worth the price of admission.

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