Author: Saiko Takaki
Manga-ka: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: May 2009
Synopsis: “The vampire hunter know only as D is now on a race against time—this time, to hunt down a vampire lord who’s kidnapped a daughter of a wealthy village elder. D must also contend with a notorious band of bounty hunters also hired to track down the abductor, and hell-bent on eliminating anyone or anything in their way of their bounty. D is faced with obstacles every corner he turns…can he reach the damsel in distress before she becomes one of the undead?”
Many old-school anime fans have had numerous exposures to Hideyuki Kikuchi, whose works have often been adapted into anime and manga, from Darkside Blues to Demon City Shinjuku. Curiously, one of his most well known works only received a manga adaptation recently, with this work created in part for the domestic market from Digital Manga.
With no chapter breaks, this volume serves as a stand-alone graphic novel, adapting the 3rd novel, which also served as the basis for the second Vampire Hunter D anime, Bloodlust. A young woman is seemingly abducted by a Vampire noble, so D and an opposing family of bounty hunters are hired by her father to bring her back. But, D soon discovers that there’s more to this than a simple kidnapping.
Due to the lack of chapter breaks present, it creates a format more in line with domestic definition of a graphic novel, used in the past for self-contained works released direct to trade paperback. Checking previous volumes descriptions, it appears each volume will adapt one of the novels. This makes any volume of the manga a good introduction for readers, given most of the novels are self-contained. Aside from making this a satisfying read, it makes for a good value. This is further complimented by DMP’s exceptional design job- one will find the French flaps, interior cover art, thick paper and colour insert, all a welcome change from other publishers.
My previous exposures to D were the original movie and a few of the novels. Takaki captures the svelte aesthetic of Yoshitaka Amano’s design for D well, while also keeping a firm grip on her own style. The character art is more in line with domestic superhero comics and seinen manga with slight stylization, a great contrast to the saccharine majority of manga fare. Takaki’s anatomy is solid, with curvy women, heroic men, and action packed panels, complimented by a decent amount of vehicular design and backgrounds that vary from haunted western towns to a run down, futuristic space port. Facial expressions are also vivid with varied designs such as the vampish Caroline and the apelike Mashira, though D’s remains fittingly stoic throughout most of the volume.
Though the art is more in line with action comics then horror comics, it’s still full of great gory details like rotting corpses, monstrous villagers, and other welcome forms of the un-dead. It captures the series setting well, a nuclear wasteland of monsters where shockingly violent death is an everyday occurrence. All these elements make a work I’d easily recommend to superhero comics fans, who will also appreciate the inventive powers of the Marcus siblings, D and other assorted characters, along with the quick pace, and the post-apocalyptic setting. More adventurous manga fans looking for something beyond teenybopper manga will also appreciate this work. While it doesn’t stray far from most fantasy fiction, Kikuchi’s world remains fairly distinct and manages to subvert the initial roles of the cast. The reasons behind the girl and the noble’s escape are revealed to the reader, and create a more sympathetic view of them, while the human Marcus family shows a more monstrous side that exposes the brutal nature of D’s world.
One particular element I always enjoy in Vampire Hunter D is the black humour added by D’s hand. D rarely speaks, yet it seems his possessed hand never shuts up, something fans of the anime will be familiar with. D’s hand appears normal at first, but his palm has a face of it’s own, and an attitude to suit it’s ugliness. A sinisterly cheerful support character, one can forgive the deus-ex-machina nature of his powers due to the sheer oddity including the delightful way Takaki draws his grin, and the sketchy, shattered word balloons used for his speech.
The mature rating is warranted between assorted mature elements and the horror aspects, which aren’t overly visual compared to works like Berserk, but still not for everyone. Takaki caps off the volume with an adorable SD portrait of the Marcus sister’s fate, and a fascinating comic strip account of her and Kikuchi’s trip to Anime Expo 2008. Chubby Americans, a cute SD Kikuchi and the travel manga aspect make this a great bonus piece that offers a little dessert after the often-grim events of the primary manga. In addition to this, DMP included an excerpt of Kikuchi‘s novel “Yashakaiden: The Demon Princess”, adding extra value to the package. The standalone nature of the work and the overall packaging make for a good buy.