Hideyuki Kikuchi, Vampire Hunter D (DH Press, 2005)
I was under a bit of a misapprehension when I picked up the first Vampire Hunter D novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, lately translated by Kevin Leahy — I thought that what I was about to embark upon reading was a graphic novel. That is not the case; however, I shouldn’t have been disappointed when I first realized my mistake, for the writing of this novel is highly visual.
For those of you who have seen the anime by the same name, the story will be very familiar. Although there were some detail and narration changes in the animated film (e.g., the term change of dhampir to dunpeal), the 1985 version of Vampire Hunter D was simply the adaptation of this 1983 novel.
The setting of the novel is this: it’s ten thousand years in the future and the world has been ravaged by nuclear holocaust. Although the world’s fertility and the human race have (somewhat) recovered from the effects of nuclear radiation, nothing is the same. Humanity was restored by vampires, who took the opportunity to rebuild society to their liking. They saved the human race, enslaved the world to their science, genetically engineered a host of horrors, and set forth to rule as Nobility.
Unfortunately, it is in the nature of humans to rebel. And so we enter into the story well after those initial rebellions, when humans are once more trying to reclaim their place in the world. It is a twilight age for vampires, where the fear of them and the obeisance toward them is fading, just as they are. So we find ourselves on the frontier, near the village of Ransylva that still exists in the shadow of Count Lee’s castle and fangs. We settle in for the tale of Doris Lang, a feisty and capable 17-year-old girl who’s captured the Count’s fancy and so desperately searches for a Hunter to save her from a fate worse than death. She contracts D’s services, a wandering Vampire Hunter who is himself a half-vampire and highly mysterious. Adventure, gory death, multiple plot twists, and expository posing ensue.
This is a rollicking good tale, and the highly visual style of the narrative gives the reader incredibly clear mental pictures. At times, I felt like I was reading the script of a comic that had been expanded and united into prose. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing, it did make for some awkward or needlessly expository dialogue at certain points. Still, the writing moves along at a good pace and this book is an entertaining one- or two-afternoon read. Also, the discerning fan will find the interior illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano a real treat.
However, here’s a caveat for the reader: make sure you understand what you are signing up for when you pick up this novel. This is pulp horror from the early ’80s. Here you will find no sophisticated narrative or delicate turns of phrase. This novel was written with a heavy hand, and it is filled with blunt metaphors and simple language. That isn’t a function of the translation, but rather a characteristic of the book itself. This book is certainly entertaining, but you’ll want to put your inner literary critic on hold until you’ve finished it and moved on to something else.
This review was originally published at Green Man Review on August 28th, 2005.