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Review: Vampire Hunter D (Vol. 04)

Reviewer: Andre

Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Manga-ka: Saiko Takaki
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2009

Synopsis: “The City, a tiny metropolis of a few hundred sheltered citizens floating serenely on a seemingly random course a few feet above the ground, has long been thought safe from the predation of marauding monsters. It seems like a paradise – a paradise shattered when an invasion of an apparent vampire threatens the small haven! While the Vampire Hunter known only as “D” struggles to exterminate the scourge, a former denizen of the city, the attractive Lori Knight, and the brash John M. Brasselli Pluto VIII seize control of the city, lurching it onto a new and deadly course. D’s travails are just the beginning…”

In this fourth volume of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D, D finds himself under the employ of the mayor of a floating city, with a mystery to solve amidst the usual doomed atmosphere of his post-apocalyptic realm. Taking an approach similar to OEL projects, this is a work Digital Manga commissioned themselves, and it presents a complete adaptation of the fourth Vampire Hunter D novel without the usual chapter breaks and cliff hangers of serialized manga. Allowing for a natural yet efficient pace, the story reveals it secrets while also creating questions like a good mystery should. Takaki continues to provide a stunning interpretation of Kikuchi’s work that comes close to the ethereal nature of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations, while also providing her own touches to the comic.

D’s world is one of grey morality, with the reader having to base a lot of D’s personality off his actions due to his primarily silent nature. He often acts nobly, but is aware of the darker aspects of humanity and not entirely fooled by Pluto’s jovial manner. D’s hand continues to be the comic foil, a horrific take on the mascot concept with his gruesome burned visage and crackly word balloons. Pluto himself is a strange creature, and Kikuchi manages to make him very likeable while also letting us know there’s something not quite human about him.

The fates of other characters are seemingly random as some D chooses to save meet horrible fates later on. It’s the result of the nature of their world, as well as choices others make, which makes for a fascinating read compared to the usual shonen manga route of constantly repeating the rewards of hard work, friendship and studying. In D’s world, fate is more cruel, although kindness is still important, as people find ways to make lives in this horrific future. Fate is also the result of choices , which may have been for noble reasons, but often succumb to the corruption of the true horror of their motives.

The town‘s Mayor becomes an integral figure as D investigates into the truth behind the death of Lori’s family and the secrets held in their home. D sees through many lies, yet also relies on Pluto to clue him in on other aspects, operating as less of a loner as allies come to his side (even if not for entirely pure motives). Even sweet Lori surprises the reader on occasion, but all these actions pale in comparison to the final chapters of the book. Those who love epic destruction and mayhem might even be surprised where the Mayor’s past has lead him. He proves to be a fascinating character who tries to look over the consequences of his actions, strict in his beliefs, as Kikuchi provides a captivating portrait of someone making all the wrong choices for what he is sure are the best reasons possible.

Takaki’s artwork continues it’s decadent flare. Unlike many modern manga, this is a work that harkens back to Kikuchi’s heyday of gritty OVA and film adaptations in the 80s with diverse character designs. Takaki’s artwork remains attractive with strong anatomical skills and beautiful inks. It depicts a world that has collapsed, and the somewhat inhuman looks of some of the cast contributes to the otherworldly feeling. Her line work is rough yet polished, relying on scratchy, natural line work that gives a simultaneous sense of great energy in the action and a worn down society, while also providing some delicate aspects in D’s complicated costume design and Lori’s initially silent characterization. From towering brutes and busty women, to average families and townsfolk, to zombies and vampires, Takaki covers a lot of ground in this volume with numerous crowd scenes sporting distinct design work and architecture, giving a rounded feel to the setting of Mobile Town and it’s ruin as the truth about the invading vampire comes to light. The floating town itself is like a grim paradise where people live in peace, yet are quickly torn apart by their own machinations.

Being a self contained work, it’s easy to recommend this volume to any reader intrigued by what Kikuchi’s output has to offer. He continues to be a fairly prolific author, inspiring many anime that lined the shelves of video stores in the 90’s such as a Wind Named Amnesia, Wicked City, the two D anime films and Darkside Blues. DMP and Dark Horse have translated many of these novels into English, but it’s a treat to get yet more comic adaptations of his work. It’s clear he has a dedicated following among domestic fans despite not being as well known among some fan circles, and this work makes for a good introduction to the tone of his works.

Digital Manga’s presentation offers a lovely colour insert of Lori, French flaps, another inner cover detail of cast members introduced in this volumes similar to volume three, and offers yet more bonus manga as Takaki recounts attending a fan event for Kikuchi before she got the chance to work with him. A moment of adorableness comes as she reveals she met her husband at another fan event, so these make for a good breather after the dramatic tone of the rest of the work.

Those looking for dark, gothic fantasy away from the usual gimmicks and trends in their manga will be well served, as Vampire Hunter D is a series with a strong focus on world building, characters and atmosphere, while Takaki‘s artwork does a great job at bringing it all to undead life.

Review written April 15, 2009 by Andre
Book provided by Digital Manga

Andre Paploo

About the Author:

André is a long time comics and animation fan who draws assorted webcomics like Jeepers, and designed the mascots for the Maritime provinces' anime convention, Animaritime. He has a scary anime collection including about 900 dvd’s and tapes, and has been reading comics for 15 years. Somewhere in there he got an English degree, but spend most of my time now reading comics and fantasy novels. He's a fan of cheesy anime, Disney, X-men stuff, Transformers, and CLAMP.

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