Vampire Hunter D (1983) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrations By: Yoshitaka Amano
A woman stands alone in a field and challenges a lone rider to a duel. After discovering his skill, she hires him to help her defeat the Vampire Lord Magnus Lee who wants her as his bride. Doris, the girl, wants to protect her little brother, but must fend off the advances, not only of the count but of the Mayor's son: Greco and Behemoth Hunter Rei-Ginsei. D, the eponymous hunter, must contend with them all before dealing with count.
This novel is a great anime in written form. Part of a Japanese genre known as light novels, which are similar to novellas, Vampire Hunter D is essentially Kikuchi's effort to blend Western and Japanese horror. This series also has some well described action, though it does fall into some classic anime 'badass tropes' with all the gawking and pausing and 'ultimate techniques.' These are Amano's go tos, and if you dislike them here, they only get worse later. The fan translation by Kevin Leahy is rough, often requiring a few reads to get through a section. However, he gets better as he continues with the series. In this one, though, there is awkward phrasing and a lot of places where the narration questions who D is is talking to or how something happens. It tends to pull a reader out of the story, but it doesn't quite ruin it.
|Male gaze, anime enough for ya?|
Doris is the gorgeous daughter of a werewolf hunter, and she'll do anyting to protect her brother as well as her father's legacy. She's willing to do just about anything, even sell herself, to keep up her way of life. While I don't like the fact that she feels it's necessary, she at least treats it like a seventeen year old girl would: being unsure and afraid about the experience. That said, she is a boss. She takes on Rei-Ginsei, a Sorceress, and is even willing to face her fear of Count Lee in the end.
'D' is the beautiful badass hunter who is hired to kill the mighty Count Lee. We're told of his beauty about as often as Edward from the Twilight series, which is a shame as D is a far higher caliber of character. His portrayal as an action badass is actually effective. He's show to be incredibly good through skill and tricks; however, not unbeatably so. That is something the later books fall into. His characterization is shown almost entirely through defying the expectations of others. This is something that should be a more common writing technique as it means that his actions speak for him. Sometimes, the novel spells it out, but for the most part it's easy to see he could be the hero of over thirty tales.
Dan is Doris' little brother. He has a deep love for his sister and develops a hero worship of D. He falls into some of the pitfalls of the little kid character: hero worship, naivete, and being captured. However, I'd rather have him being captured than Doris.
Larmica is the count's daughter. Her fervent opposition to having a younger mother strikes a very human chord. She has an arc over her own and is the best used of the supporting cast. Everything she does affects the main cast; plus, it forces them to alter their plans. She is also one of the few powerful females in the series who cuts out her own path. The next closest is Leila in Demon Deathchase.
Garou is the Count's werewolf henchmen. He's a bit underutilized, but he gets a great creepy bit at the end that justifies his skulking presence throughout.
Greco is the Mayor's son and Doris' greasy little suitor. He goes to any length to try to sleep with Doris. Greco is the man the audience loves to hate.
Count Magnus Lee does things like a boss. He delegates his minions to take out D, and only when they have all failed him, does he decide to fight D. He is even willing to use Rei-Ginsei's hired help as so not lower himself to D's level. It is not until D's full powers are revealed that he knows he must confront D.
This novel is a true testament to world building. Set in 12000AD in a post-nuclear holocaust world where Vampires once ruled, it combines the horror aesthetic with science fiction elements. The ruling vampires, known as 'the Nobility,' have a love of Medieval castles while using science to create all the classic horror monsters. Amano's cover illustration is gorgeous and ethereal; unfortunately, the interior illustrations are lacking. They often don't feel like they're depicting the best scenes. My personal favorite is the one on the left, and it's okay at best.
In the End
The lead up to the end involves a gauntlet of quick fights against increasingly tough foes. Sadly, the end does a bit too much explaining and ends on a hokey, obvious point.
The first D novel sets up a moody world of horrors for its adventure. It is stocked with impressive characters and builds on the action down to the final showdown with Count Lee. While it is essentially a series of fights, they are linked by character growth and motives. The story progresses and even some of the villain manage to be likeable in their own ways. I highly recommend this novel: it's light, fun, action-packed; plus, it provides a fascinating blend of horror and science fiction. Check it out!
Next Time: Drafty D