Vampire Hunter D Book Two: Raiser of Gales
Once again, Dark Horse Press has graced science fiction aficionados with a top-notch English-language edition of one of Hideyuki Kikuchi's genre-bending Vampire Hunter D novels. It took twenty years for this book to arrive in America, and it was completely worth the wait.
This novel stands as one of the most imaginative, thrilling and just plain creepy stories that I've ever read. Knowing that there are more books in the queue, I can hardly contain my excitement. I'm not sure how much I can express my respect for this series, though it may provide some insight to say that I read this before picking up Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. As fans of Gaiman know all too well, it takes a story of monumental significance to convince me to delay getting one of his books.
The juxtaposition of two diametrically opposed forces is one of the most prominent motifs within the Vampire Hunter D universe. For example, Raiser of Gales is set more than 10,000 years in the future, in the year 12,090 A.D. Mankind's zenith came and went long ago. While there are isolated population centers that exhibit elements of "modern" society, there is a clear difference between the dangerous frontier and city life. Unlike the borderlands of the 1700ís and 1800ís, however, it is fraught with nightmarish creatures that once existed only in horror stories.
Sentient carnivorous miasmas, dimension-shifting beasts, werewolves, demonic spiders and far worse stalk lands once occupied by human society, preying upon those unlucky enough to encounter them.
Humankind ruled the Earth until a cataclysmic war wiped out a large portion of the population. At that moment, the vampires took the planet from humans, bestowing upon themselves the title of "The Nobility," and taking a position at the top of the global food chain. The society of Nobles, perhaps due to their godlike longevity and heightened physical attributes, solved practically every mystery in the realm of science.
Nanotechnology, cyberbionics, genetic engineering, space travel, multi-dimensional physics -- any question posed in the scientific arena or brought up in today's works of science fiction was answered by the Nobility. The various monsters roaming the lands were all created by the Nobility, the results of advanced and perverse genetic manipulation. The vampires even enabled humans to mate with blood relatives and avoid the genetic defects that usually arise in the children of such unions, eliminating physical problems related to incest. However, such relationships remain socially unacceptable in most parts of the civilized world.
At this point in the future history of the world, the power of the vampires is waning. Although the Nobility conquered every scientific dilemma known to man (and many that weren't), they could not succeed in solving the most restrictive biological trait common to their race. Despite their vast knowledge of the natural world, they have never able to find a way for them to survive exposure to daylight.
In this, the second novel in the Vampire Hunter D series, the laconic D arrives in a typical frontier town harboring a not-so-typical secret. After the loss of one vampire hunter and many townsfolk, the village of Tepes has decided to hire D. He has an impeccable reputation as a hunter of the Nobility, but it takes a dire situation indeed for someone to call upon him.
Aside from Kikuchi's retro-futurist portrayal of mankind's destiny, there is also the conflict between light and darkness that comes bundled with any tale featuring vampires. In Raiser of Gales, this is the primary focus of the story.
When D arrives, he is informed that the suspected culprit in the recent slayings in Tepes is a vampire. This is somewhat obvious news, seeing as he is a vampire hunter by trade. Far more shocking, however, is the revelation that many victims have been attacked during the day, in full sunlight. The town exists at the bottom of a hill upon which a massive castle under the control of the Nobility once stood. Although only ruins of the castle are left now, the foreboding place may contain the secret of day-walking for vampires. If that is the case, the future of humanity is about to get significantly bleaker.
Although he has the appearance of a supernaturally beautiful young man in his early twenties, a ghastly and powerful aura envelops D more completely than his pitch-black cape and wide-brimmed hat ever could. D emits a force so strong that it paralyzes the bravest men with fear. He moves with the grace of a flowing stream; in battle, sometimes faster than the eye can see. D speaks with a voice devoid of emotion, but it is as hard as the toughest Nobility-developed alloys.
D's superhuman physical attributes are to be expected for a being of his race. Sired by a vampiric father and a human mother, D is what is known as a dhampir. Boasting abilities far beyond that of mankind, but below those of his Noble patriarch, D is neither human nor demon. He can walk in the daylight (although his powers are diminished somewhat), but he has the same craving for blood, stemming from his father's contribution to his genetic makeup.
The text of the novel is broken up every so often with black and white illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano, the character designer of D. Amano is well known for his work on many of the Final Fantasy games, as well as some high profile collaborations with American comic book writers. He illustrated the beautiful Wolverine and Elektra, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman: The Dream Hunters. Amano's style is perfect for Kikuchi's world, and it's doubtful that any other artist could so perfectly capture the essence of D.
Often the one weak link in any great Japanese work, the translation of the novel is actually one of the most impressive accomplishments that I've experienced in the industry. The adaptation is particularly satisfying because it maintains the cadence and sophistication of the Japanese language, while simultaneously serving as a clear English translation. The novel is made all the more exotic by its origin, knowing that it came from Japan. This is one of the earliest works to combine Gothic horror, science fiction, Western adventure, Eastern mysticism and martial arts. While genre-bending stories are rather common nowadays, this book was in a category of its own when it first came out. In any case, even the stoic D would be pleased with Kevin Leahy's handling of this book in English.
Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales is an outstanding translation of a series that convinced a legion of fans and creators that Japanese media was something worth looking into. It's nice to see that it has finally earned a proper release in English. It's even better to discover how well it has withstood the passage of two decades before its arrival. The book is still timely, thought provoking and too scary to read alone on a dark night. The next release, due in January, will cover the events that occurred in the animated sequel, so fans of the animated movies have something to look forward to just past Christmas. Luckily for me, that gives me plenty of time to get cracking on the latest Gaiman book.