Calling Manga Island: Issue #17

Thu, July 21st, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Tony Salvaggio, Columnist

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VAMPIRE HUNTER D

This week takes us to uncharted areas of Manga Island, straight into the realm of novels that have influenced anime and manga. The first exploration of its kind here on Manga Island (and hopefully not the last) brings us to the first "Vampire Hunter D" novel. Recently published by Dark Horse for the first time in English, this edition was originally published in Japan in 1983. Hideyuki Kikuchi's original story can now be enjoyed by English speaking fans everywhere, especially those who loved the original anime and want to know more about D's world and the much broader story of this dark reluctant hero. This first novel in a series of thirteen was adapted into the first "Vampire Hunter D" Original Video Animation (the "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" OVA was adapted from the third novel), a movie that ushered in the anime wave of the early '90s. This edition not only brings us the first D adventure in its entirety, but it also contains eight black and white illustrations from famed illustrator Yoshitaka Amano.

"Vampire Hunter D" is set in a time far from our own, the year 12,090 but all the trappings of our own horror movies are prevalent, with some high tech gadgets and a few new supernatural twists thrown in for good measure. Vampires, werewolves, mutants, and all forms of monsters share an age where wagons share the roads with cyborg horses and increasingly rare flying machines. After the great nuclear war of 1999, the world has suffered much and mankind seems to finally have a foothold in the world they once seemed to master. The post apocalyptic influence of the vampires appears to have given way and they are slowly dying off. The vampires that do exist sequester themselves away in foreboding fortresses and let their minions of monsters, radiation induced and bio-engineered mutants, and destructive weaponry keep the human populace at bay. In order to counter these threats, a new type of mercenary, in the form of the Hunters scours the land aching to destroy monsters and return what peace they can to lands in turmoil. These Hunters are often highly specialized, depending on what type of monster they hunt. Werewolf Hunters, Fairy Hunters, and the most powerful of all, the Vampire Hunters ply their deadly trade all over the world. The nomadic D is one of the most powerful (if not the most powerful) Hunter of all. His silent demeanor hides a deadly force ready to spring into action. His mysterious past and his status as a half vampire Dhampir make him a Hunter to be reckoned with, even against the most powerful vampires.

These twists to the story are what make D different from most brooding manga anti-heroes (even though, since he dates back to 83, he is a big influence on the "strong silent type" anti hero genre). D's lineage sets him apart from the human and vampire world; he doesn't want to be accepted by the vampire world and can never be accepted by humans. And so, he wanders the bleak earth eradicating the vampire "nobles" and trying to save the humans that would just as soon see him destroyed.

The first novel is the tale of D's encounter with the "noble" Count Magnus Lee and his daughter Lamirca. Count Lee finds himself in love with the human Doris Lang and attempts to change her into a vampire in order to share his eternal life together. Doris will have none of that and enlists D in order to help her resist Count Lee. Of course the townspeople of her village would rather have no dealings with Lee at all and are none to happy to find out that one of their own is well on her way to becoming creature of the night, of the type that have preyed on them for so long. Add to the mix the mayor's lecherous son, monsters and mutants galore and a set of creepy criminals who have their own agendas and you've got an action adventure that still holds up 22 years after its original release.

Even if you weren't a big fan of the first "Vampire Hunter D" OVA, whether it be because of the now dated look of the animation or the depth of the story, the novel is still enjoyable. The novelization has much more depth and information on the world of the vampires and vampire hunters, richer characterizations for the main characters, and even more time spent on the villains (who are charmingly evil). Many details that had to be cut from the OVA to streamline the story get much more attention in the novel. Details such as the rise and fall of mans empire, the weather controlling devices the vampires employ, and the tales of humanity's struggle in this age ten thousand years from our own time. After having seen the OVA many times since it came out in the US, it was nice to find out even more about the denizens of D's dark world. I especially enjoyed the explanations of the technology and mysticism that pervades the world of the vampires.

Although many events in OVA are directly from the novel, there are more than a few differences to get past. Some events are re-ordered while others are expanded upon. The characters are also given more depth and some are quite different from those in the anime version (often to make them more appealing to anime fans). Doris Lang was changed from a long raven haired girl who confronts hunter candidates nude to distract them, while in the anime she is sports blond hair in pony tails. Count Magnus Lee's daughter Larmica is described differently and has a much larger role in the novel as well. Perhaps the biggest change for fans of the anime is Rei-Gensei's appearance and the role his gang of criminals plays in the novel. While reading the novel, I was struck by the fact that the Rei-Gensei gang gets very little screen time and I had no clue that the were affiliated with him. They always seemed to be more like Count Lee's minions. Here their powers are truly deadly and their wickedness is even more apparent, leading to some great action sequences and a showcase of the bizarre and deadly powers the people of D's world possess.

D's dark world is represented not only in the words of Hideyuki Kikuchi but also in the illustrations of Yoshitaka Amano. Amano's D is one of the most iconic and well covered characters in his artistic career, a mean feat when you consider all the character and Dark Horse has given us a great edition complete with fantastic cover art and great black and white illustrations throughout the book. This kind of prose and art hybrid is rarely seen outside of the likes of Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series, and makes me long for an expanded edition in large print with even larger illustrations, with even more full color cover work.

Translator Kevin Leahy has also provided an excellent translation of Kikuchi's style. This is no mean task considering the flowery language that is employed throughout the novel. It tends to be as baroque as Amano's artwork and it also carries some stylistic differences that separate it from most Western novels. One point that intrigued me was the placement of character exposition. Western novels tend to place the exposition for characters motives before the action, whereas in this novel whole action sequences happen before the events leading to those actions are explained. I don't have the skills to do translations myself, but while reading the novel, I was curious if this is singular to Kikuchi's style, or if it is common to Japanese novels in general. It makes for an interesting read, regardless. Also of note in this edition are arguably the most accurate translations of the names contained in the novel. They are even more accurate than previous releases in anime form. Touches like restoring Rei-Gensei's name and giving it back the flavor of his Asian heritage are nice touches to an already great translation.

If you are in the mood for vampire action, or if you are a fan of the "Vampire Hunter D" anime, this novel is definitely for you. As a fan of the anime, this novel could not come soon enough. I am a fan of gothic horror and vampires, and Kikuchi has created an altogether original world within this genre. It will be hard to wait for the other novels in the series to come out, but luckily for us Dark Horse has included a preview of the second novel "The Raiser of Gales" in the back of this edition. I can only hope that horror and anime fans alike embrace these novels so that Dark Horse will be able to put out all thirteen of them. As of now, there are plans to release the first three (this covering both anime releases) but it will be up to the sale to determine whether more of the series is released. The Vampire Hunter D novels are worthy editions to gothic horror, and with more novels based on other popular properties being released by other manga publishers, it will be interesting to see what kind of support fans give these novelizations (previous novelizations of Gundam and the like were not huge sellers). I'm hoping that more Japanese novels are released that are both influenced by and are influences on anime and manga. I can't wait to explore this relatively uncharted territory on Manga Island.

Vampire Hunter D


Publisher Dark Horse


Volume 1 (of 3 planned, now 13 total)


Rating Teen + (my own rating based on violence and adult themes in the book)

Links of interest:

Dark Horse site:


http://www.darkhorse.com/profile/profile.php?sku=10-583

Excellent Fan site!:


http://www.altvampyres.net/vhd/

Japanese fan site:


http://homepage2.nifty.com/kikuchi-fanclub/

Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM (http://www.tokyopop.com/dbpage.php?propertycode=PCO&categorycode=BMG). He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.

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