Vampire Hunter D Vol. 1
Many people count on Dark Horse to produce some of the best domestic editions of manga available today. From their high quality, larger than average paper stock, to their excellent translations, Dark Horse treats each release with the utmost care. I was expecting quite a bit from the company's first foray into the novel adaptation business, but what I received surpassed even my highest hopes. If this is the level of quality to be expected within future adaptations of Japanese novels from DH Press, then I can barely contain my excitement for what they'll produce next.
Kevin Leahy's masterful translation of Hideyuki Kikuchi's original novel has vaulted this novel up to must-own status alongside Viz's Battle Royal and Vertical's Ring and Sprial English-language editions. It doesn't merely read well, it somehow maintains a very Japanese flavor without sounding unnatural. Imagine a translation that is as true to the original source as a fansub, only with the spell-checking and grammar-fixing powers of a professional DVD authoring house. This is quite possibly the best English translation of any Japanese work I've ever encountered -- whether in manga, anime, or novel format.
The only way the physical quality of this novel could be improved would be if it were released in a hardback edition. For now, I'm content with the more marketable and wallet-friendly trade paperback version, sitting proudly on one of my bookshelves. After all, the book has a beautiful Yoshitaka Amano illustration on the cover (and eight additional black and white works by the acclaimed Final Fantasy artist within the novel itself), boasts the same printing quality that Dark Horse is known for in their graphic novels, and features excellent graphic design -- from the title to the interior font choices.
Perhaps even more impressive than the book's tasteful style, it should be noted that I did not notice a single typographical error inside the book. This doesn't mean there weren't any, but considering the number of mistakes I find in any given domestic publication (yes, I am a picky reader), this is a feat on its own. Given the technical quality of this edition of Vampire Hunter D, it's clear that Dark Horse is aiming to be a serious contender in the novel-publishing business. I'll be satisfied if they can keep producing the D series, but if they manage to branch out to novelize some of their bigger properties (and maybe license a little Twelve Kingdoms), then I'll be immeasurably content.
It takes more than a pretty cover and a seamless translation to make me happy. Luckily, Kikuchi's story is easily one deserving of the care that's obviously been taken to deliver it into our hands. I never thought I'd find an author whose writing brought back fond memories of the best works of Fritz Leiber (if you've never read his Lankhmar books, you should), Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft, but Hideyuki Kikuchi is the spiritual successor to all of these supreme writers. Combining the gothic terror of Poe and Lovecraft with the organic characterizations of King and the breathtakingly superhuman action of Leiber, Kikuchi adds even more layers to the stylistic fiber of the tale by making the story one of the far-off future.
It is acceptable to think of Vampire Hunter D as a fantasy, an action title, a sci-fi yarn, a thriller, a romance, a horror novel, or any blend thereof. The book is pleasantly tough to pigeonhole into a clearly-defined genre. In fact, it may be tough to find the book in a bookstore -- its in-store location will vary depending on the staff stocking the title. I'd say browse the manga section first, sci-fi or fantasy next, and then ask for help if those areas don't yield the desirable results.
While I'm certain that there's a larger group of our readers who are familiar with D than those who are not, perhaps not everyone is familiar with the plot. Much of the book's enjoyment will be derived from figuring out exactly what's going on, but there are a few key (and obvious) details that I can comfortably divulge. First of all, as I said, this is a tale of the future, and when Kikuchi wanted to set a book in the future, he wasn't kidding around - it's set in the year 12,090 A.D.
Just as with so many other science fiction stories, humanity almost wiped itself out with a cataclysmic war. Without modern methods of communication, the civilization of man was culturally blasted back millennia almost as fast as the bombs that exterminated so much of the Earth's life. The survivors knew that they had a long way to go to get society back up to the level that it had reached prior to the apocalyptic event. What they didn't know was that supernatural creatures, spoken of in the legends of yore, did in fact exist. The smartest and most powerful of them all, the vampires, quickly asserted their status as the most formidable beings on Earth. Shortly thereafter, vampires ruled the planet, and humanity was enslaved.
10,000 years later, the world is filled with creatures that have evolved from the mutated monstrosities produced by the ancient war, as well as the foul creations of the vampires' (now known as the Nobility) advanced science. Vampires are practically immortal, and they used their longevity and newfound dominance over the planet to conquer all of the scientific frontiers that humans had only dreamed of. Interstellar travel is now commonplace, advanced nanotechnology is a day-to-day fact, and incredible strides in medicine, far surpassing the final efforts of the human doctors, were made by the fell scientists. Sadly, they used their intellectual prowess to engineer biological creations, such as fairies, giants, werewolves, and other terrors out of human nightmares to terrorize the human race.
Yet the stronger the oppression, the more likely it becomes that humans will eventually lash out against it. Hunters are people who specialize in slaying specific supernatural beasts. They differ in motivation widely -- some operate for fame, some for weath, others for love of killing -- but the most talented of them all are Vampire Hunters. It takes a powerful, intelligent person to stand up to the Nobility and survive, and few humans can do it.
Luckily, D, the title character, isn't quite human. The story begins when he decides to take a job to kill the Noble coming after Doris Lang. The beautiful 17-year-old woman lives on the frontier with her spunky young brother, Dan. She's the daughter of a Hunter, though her fighting skills are meaningless when compared to the might of a vampire. Naturally, most of the book's fun comes from discovering D's origins, how he can possibly deal with the Nobility, and what happens when a buxom young woman falls in love with a seemingly emotionless Vampire Hunter.
I'll leave that to the readers. However, if you have any love for the classic OVA, you absolutely have to read the novel that inspired it. It's a simple fact that a book is always better than the movie based upon it, and that rule undoubtedly applies here. What's even better than being able to discover the full story behind D's first (recorded) adventure is the knowledge that true sequels are already being adapted into English for further travels into the D mythos. For nine dollars, it's hard to pass up this classic novel.
With this novel, Dark Horse has not only set a new standard for quality and authenticity -- they've provided the English-speaking world with one of the most entertaining works of fiction written in the last twenty-five years. I'm glad to report that the rest of Kikuchi's works are in good hands. This isn't merely a book for fans of Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton; this is a book for all fans of literature -- regardless of genre.