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 here. 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. More reviews!
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