Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: VAMPIRE HUNTER D

Let us get away from the distastefulness of lolis to something far more recognizable and classic, something like Vampire Hunter D!  Unfortunately this is not the original novels nor the animated movies.  It's certainly...something, I guess.

VAMPIRE HUNTER D (Bampaia Hanta Di), adapted from the novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi & drawn by Saiko Takaki.  First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2007.



PLOT:
In the far distant future, where mutants, werewolves, and vampires coexist with humanity in a wrecked, dissolute world, there is a mythical vampire hunter.  He roams the world, and is known only as D.  His travels take him to a remote farm where a young woman named Doris is being targeted by the local vampire lord.  D offers his help, but there is far more than just a vampire to fight.  Roving mutants, werewolf minions, and deceitful townfolk all become involved in Doris's plight, and D may be her only hope of survival.

STORY:
I can't lie - this manga has some problems.  The good news is that most of it can't be pinned on the story.  The bad news is that the mangaka can't take any credit for it. 

As noted above, this is an adaptation of Kikuchi's popular novel, a coproduction between him and Digital Manga Press themselves.  Having never read the original, I can't speak as to how it works as an adaptation.  As supernatural fantasy goes, it's not bad.  It's rather pulpy, though, and it seems like the story throws every supernatural being it can at the story to see what sticks.  It also gets kind of ponderous midway through as plotlines start crashing into one another.  We have:

1.  The plotline with the vampire pursuing Doris, along with his daughter's own plans to stop him.
2.  The mayor's son's attempts to woo Doris, who then turns the town against her when she rejects him.
3.  The battle between D and Rei-Ginsei, a dimension warping mutant.
4.  D's own attempts to bond with Doris and her little brother

That's a lot of threads to keep straight, and I can't say that it entirely succeeds.  It ends up rushing through most as it tumbles towards the conclusion.  It's not a feminist work by any means, considering how often Doris finds herself in someone's clutches and/or getting unwillingly fondled.  D's not exactly a fount of personality either.  I get that he's supposed to be the strong, silent type, so I guess I can't hold it against him, but then that type of hero has never really spoken to me personally.  The villains are all one-note cackling monsters, evil simple for the sake of being evil.  It's kind of a shame that the most dynamic character in this whole manga is the unnamed, unexplained creature...demon...THING that lives in D's hand, who spends his screen time mocking D and laying his innermost thoughts bare.  I guess if D isn't going to talk about himself, somebody has to. 

The story for Vampire Hunter D isn't bad per se, but isn't particularly good either.  It's mostly a crazy quilt of pulp and horror clichés stitched together into something that's not quite cohesive but still can be entertaining in its own right.

ART:
Now THIS is the section that lost something in translation from novel to book.  The novels are illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, who known not only for his artwork for the Vampire Hunter D series, but also for the Final Fantasy franchise.  Amano's artwork is delicate and beautiful, with obvious Art Nouveau influences and lots of light watercolor work.  Unfortunately he does not do the artwork here.  Instead we have a doujinshi artist handpicked by the author, and I fear that Kikuchi does not have very good taste in manga artists.

Takaki's art is dark, sloppy, and trashy.  The character designs are odd, as if everyone's head is too small for their bodies.  This is only enhanced by the big hair and (on the women) the ridiculous boobage.  Seriously, Doris shouldn't be able to stand up straight with the cannonballs she's got on her chest, and Takaki takes every opportunity he can to let them loose, with lovingly detailed nipples and everything.  Everyone's eyes are dark and sunken, with lots of excess pen lines around them, like a drunk trying to apply 10 layers of eyeliner.  Indeed, just about everything is inked in a dark, rushed, and rough manner, and at best it looks amateur; at worst, it looks off-model. 

Takaki also tends to abuse dark, obscuring screentones and speed lines, which tends to turn the already busy, overly inked panels and make them even worse.  He's rather hopeless with action scenes, drawing them in an positively disjointed matter.  Panels tend to be small, although he does break out larger splashier panels for fancier settings and the more blatant instances of fanservice.

Vampire Hunter D's story might have been saved by quality artwork like Amano's.  Instead it is singularly AWFUL, drowning the story in piles of sloppy ink and tig ol' bitties.  If this was the best Kikuchi could find, I hate to see the ones he rejected.

PRESENTATION:
Typical of DMP releases, there's a color dust jacket on this volume, even if it's mostly just shades of purple.  There's a sepia-colored copy of the same image on the actual cover.  There's a page of color art in the front, and a brief and goofy omake in the back.

RATING:
Vampire Hunter D is an entertainingly pulpy story with a lot of faults, most of which stem from the terrible artwork.  If you want to experience this story, stick with either the novels or Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

This series is released by Digital Manga Press.  This series is ongoing, with 7 volumes available, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!

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