Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi

Translated by Kevin Leahy

Published in 1983 in Japan by Asahi Sonorama Co.

Published in 2005 in English by Dark Horse Books and Digital Manga Publishing

Character

Crow character_001We certainly got an interesting introduction to Doris and D. We meet the pair of them as Doris engages D in a fight to gauge his skills and we see she’d not averse to using dirty tactics when she uses full frontal nudity as a distraction. I’d like to say their characters stayed interesting but they don’t. Most of the interest is taken by what’s happening around them rather than their internal reactions. Out of the two, I would definitely say that D is the more interesting but only because of his abilities, his history and that weird left hand. He is powerful but he does have weaknesses e.g. Time-Bewitching Incense and a vampire side that can flare up at awkward moments. However, he can appear to be a bit overpowered at times and the time he takes to defeat Count Lee seems rather excessive.

Doris, on the other hand, is a classic heroine – an ordinary girl with extraordinary abilities in charge of providing for her family (the absent parents cliche is ever present) but with little more to endear herself than that. She does have her limits and does break down a few times. She also develops somewhat over the book but in a negative way as her feelings for D start getting in the way of her tough, self-sufficient attitude. Still, I’m grateful for any kind of development.

Which is what the author attempts with Dan, D’s eight-year-old brother. At the end, he takes charge of Doris and tells her to pull herself together (though he also mentions finding her a husband, which rubs me up the wrong way). If he had been weaker at the start, that would have been an excellent turning point but, unhappily, he wasn’t. He is soon shown to be able to shoot monsters with a laser rifle, is unafraid to stand up for his sister even in front of a gang of grown men and deals with unwanted advances from village men excellently. He really didn’t need D’s advice not to cry in front of his sister (which is terrible advice to give an eight-year-old).

Speaking of unwanted advances, Greco is the only other human male character in Doris’ age-group and, with that knowledge, it’s easy to see why she’s a virgin. He is a very typical selfish self-entitled *insert foul word of your choice here*. It’s very easy to dislike him and, despite numerous opportunities, doesn’t redeem himself. He may have saved Doris but for all the wrong reasons and I was very glad when Larmica finally put him down.

Now, onto the vampire characters. Larmica, sadly, falls straight into the trope of jealous vampire bitch who develops a desire for D that goes nowhere and she ends up just as hammily evil as her father. Yes, she gets some last minute character development when she tries to save Doris but it’s all for nothing when she’d bested and allows herself to die at the end. Count Magnus Lee is no better. He is almost a carbon copy of Dracula and is completely one-dimensional, driven only by carnal desire for Doris. Utterly boring.

One last character deserves a mention: Rei-Ginsei. Our first impression of him is a scary but good-hearted man who saves Doris from Greco’s persistent attempts to make her his, introducing a nice shade of grey into the character roster. That quickly changes in the next scene where we see him and his cronies cruelly dispatch a group of law enforcers. Before our eyes, he turns into a force even more frightening than Count Lee. From then on, he might as well be the real villain as there were no lengths he would not go to in order to gain Doris and he is almost a match for D. He’s what Greco could have been had he possessed strength, talent and wits.

So, overall, the characters had potential but, in nearly all cases, it wasn’t realised. There was some development over the course of the book, which is always a good point, but it isn’t the priority in the writing.

5 out of 10 drops.

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Research

Crow character research_001It’s clear that Hideyuki Kikuchi has done his research on classic vampire literature, especially Dracula. The origin story of vampires follows the story of Dracula’s relationship with Mina Harker, though it adds a lot more romance to it. It’s also clear he knows Carmilla, hence Larmica’s name. Names from Dracula and the Dracula films are dotted all over the book e.g. Count Lee, Harker Lane, Pops Cushing and they always brought a smile to my face.

He also knows all the myths around vampire powers, though acknowledges that some cannot be explained. For instance, the vampire’s fear of the cross cannot even be explained by the vampires themselves. However, he neatly gets around that by introducing a hypnotic block on human minds placed by vampires as a defence mechanism to stop them realising and remembering what is effective against them. It’s an interesting idea but I’m not sure that’s possible scientifically. Still, vampires don’t adhere to science in this book so we can give this the benefit of the doubt.

The large chunk of world history can also be given the benefit of the doubt as it’s an alternate universe and the seven continents were definitely not unified by incredible technology by 1999. One thing that is certainly not accurate is the effects of nuclear fallout. Radiation actually doesn’t create the barren wasteland in the long term that we all associate with a nuclear bombsite and, left alone, plantlife would return as normal. A lot of franchises are guilty of this mistake too – I’m looking at you, Fallout series – but it doesn’t distract too much from the story. I also think some of the fighting is a little unrealistic, such as Doris being able to whip out a man’s cigar and shove it up another’s nose with only her whip. But, then again, this is far in the future and several fighting techniques in the story are wildly unrealistic so, again, benefit of the doubt.

So, the writer has done his research on vampires but doesn’t really add any new ideas to the mythos. There’s too little science in the story to really warrant a lot of research so the author can get away with a few inaccuracies without distracting from the story.

5 out of 10 drops.

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Originality

Crow character originality_001In some ways, Vampire Hunter D is very original with its vampires e.g. putting them in a futuristic setting rather than the present or a history setting but, in many others, they are very cliched. The vampires have all the same powers and weaknesses as the classic ones though, sometimes, they are used creatively e.g. the creation of Time-Bewitching Incense to create an area of night in the daytime and using hypnosis on a town’s most vulnerable to turn the town against Doris. Nevertheless, Magnus Lee is pretty much a carbon copy of Dracula right down to his dress sense. Larmica is the classic vampire wench too consumed by jealousy and childish longing for attention to be anything interesting. However, their history is much more intriguing. They were once rulers of a civilisation in ruins, taking advantage of the destruction of civilisation to assume dominion. However, their fall wasn’t just humans getting better at fighting them but the vampires simply getting sick of living and giving up their long lives and powers. This, I feel, is an allusion to the dwindling power of the nobility and gentry in modern society. Yes, the rich and the famous can hold a lot of power if they wish but not nearly as much as they did in the past and such absolute power, like the vampires in Vampire Hunter D, is dying away.

Other aspects are much more original. The setting, though similar to a lot of post-apocalyptic sceneries, still maintains enough originality to keep interest. The higher authority, the Capital – no points for originality on that name -, is alluded to but not fleshed out enough. We do see some authority in Ransylva (a word taken from Transylvania) in the form of FDF groups but, from the brief glimpse we have of them, they seem scattered and rather badly equipped. I would have liked to hear more about the Capital and the laws governing the lands.

I’m afraid to say that it does not show any originality with the female characters. There are only three: Doris, Larmica and the barely-mentioned witch (I’m not counting the Midwich Medusas), and they all fall right into the standard architypes: virgin, whore and crone. Yes, Doris tries to be capable of handling herself but not enough and she always needs to be saved by D, a storyline that is all too familiar. Just as D is the standard cold hero, Dan is the usual victim and Count Lee is a cut-out villain.

So, the setting is original but scratch the surface and you find a writhing nest of cliches.

5 out of 10 drops.

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World-Building

Crow world building_001My God, is there buckets of this in this book! In the second chapter, we’re treated to a brief history of how the world got into this state told a wistful way that you can believe came from an old sage sitting by the fire. It covers a lot of ground, such as how humans destroyed themselves through atomic war, the rise of vampires after years of hiding and their eventual destruction. The only criticism I have against it is that it is pretty much dumped on us in a break between scenes and it can feel a bit clumsy.

That said, the less clumsy parts are well done. The books covers things that most other fantasy worlds don’t bother with, such as creation of resources through technology, including some of the processes needed to do it and the hardships of such labour. Though the novel’s events are restricted to one small isolated village and the vampire castle that looms over it, it still manages to set the scene very well, getting the balance right between the familiar (such as jeans and t-shirts) with the futuristic (laser rifles and robots) and the supernatural. It even hints at higher authorities (such as the Capital) where richer resources and better law enforcement can be found. I suppose this will be better explored in later books.

Though the characters aren’t well-fleshed out, the world around them looks very promising and it’s not just vampires that infest it either. Hunters and the Fiend Corps, including Rei-Ginsei, prowl the landscapes, along with other creatures such as lesser (and presumably greater) dragons, moth monsters, werewolves, fairies and just about any other creature you can think of. The creepiest of them is easily the Midwich Medusas, a monster lurking in Count Lee’s cellar acting as a protector/garbage disposal. Hideyuko Kikuchi really shows off his horror prowess in their scene and their powers of seduction and destructions are incredible disturbing. So much so that I was a little disappointed when D turned the tables on them so easily.

I think this is the book’s strongest point: it has a rich, colourful setting pulsing with history and monsters without forgetting the more mundane elements.

8 out of 10 drops

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Story

Crow story_001The story, when you get down to it, is a classic damsel-in-distress tale. Yes, Doris shows some autonomy by selecting a Hunter through a trial of combat but that slowly dwindles as the plot goes on. The plot adopts a bit of a back and forth routine. Doris gets in trouble with Count Lee/Greco/the town/Rei-Ginsei/Larmica and D gets her out of it with not too much difficulty. Something of a romance peeps through but it’s never fully focused on (which is a good point in my book).

What really refreshed the narrative was Rei-Ginsei. He started off as a seemingly good character that turned out to be even creepier than the vampires themselves. However, the story fell back into the same pattern until the last few scenes. Then, the plot accelerates towards the showdown at an almost dizzying pace compared to the rest of the book.

As for the writing, it has some good moments (I loved the phrase ‘castrating voice’) but could really do with being cut down and it certainly does a lot more showing than telling. It doesn’t help that the actions scenes are sprinkled with rhetorical questions such as ‘but how could he have survived such an attack’ and unnecessary sentences with an exclamation mark at the end to add a bit more drama. There’s also way too much purple prose around and, if you took a shot every time the word ‘gorgeous’ was used to describe D, you’d never make it to the end of the book. I would like to say that this book is story-driven but the story itself really isn’t its strongest point. Really, this isn’t a story that’s supposed to be told through words but the author is trying anyway. The descriptions of the world are great but the dialogue is cliched and there are some parts that really drag on.

5 out of 10 drops

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Overall

Vampire Hunter D is an original vampire book as in it doesn’t follow the dark romance traits to the letter that we’ve come to expect of it. It is there but it’s not in the forefront, thank goodness. What is in the forefront is some excellent world-building. It’s an intriguing landscape filled with various monsters and struggling humans, a crumbling Nobility whose dregs still hanging onto power and outdated beliefs that should have been relinquished long ago. Despite the rich world it’s in, the story is a classic damsel-in-distress one and Doris arguably worse off than she was at the beginning.

Would I go on to read the rest of the series? Yes. Do I think some aspects are a little dated? Yep. Do I think this is probably better as an anime or manga? Probably. Either way, don’t let my review put you off. It’s still worth a read for those who prefer the classic vampires and want to see a bit more fight in them.

Final Verdict: 27 drops – O Negative

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