Vampire Hunter D (Novels)

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at October 31, 2009 on 5:39 pm

Hey, it’s Halloween, and I can’t think of a more appropriate day to get this particular albatross off my neck. Funny thing about the Vampire Hunter D novels is that they seem to be the only import novel series that actually sells (at least that’s what the fact that the thirteenth volume is published next week suggests), yet no-one ever seems to actually talk about them. That’s probably down to the same reason that I’ve constantly failed to bother writing about them – it gets to the point where it’s kind of hard to come up with anything to say about them. I guess I’ll start with the background, then.

Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D series is set so on an Earth ludicrously far into the future that it may well be another planet. For many centuries, mankind has been subjugated by a Vampire race who refer to themselves as The Nobels, who led luxurious and decadent lives assisted by their crazy super-science that could seemingly achieve anything. That kind of made them bored, though, so they spent an awful lot of their time coming up with amusing ways to use it to torment the Humans – things like crazy designer monsters and sentient weather systems being just a couple. At the point when D is set, the Nobel race has long been in decline – many have fled the Earth into deep space, other’s were killed by those few humans brave enough to rebel. Those remaining either live in deep slumber or still manage to rule over their small fiefdoms thanks to the fear of Nobels that was genetically inserted into the human race.

Still, the great achievements of Nobel society are now in ruins, with Human society having regressed to something somewhere between the old west and medieval Europe, only with awesome things like motorbikes and cyborg horses. That, and their Nobels crazy genetic experiments have resulted in rather less awesome things (for the populace, not the readers), like not only all those crazy monsters running around, but also the existence of all kinds of bizarrely mutated humans. Most of these people are either bodyguards or monster hunters. The most powerful and respected hunters are the Vampire Hunters. Like D. Who’s half Nobel. What then typically happens is that D rolls into some remote part of the world on a job to investigate some kind of vaguely vampire related incident, or he is promptly hired to do so upon his arrival.

The thing with the D books, and the thing that kind of makes them hard to write about, it that characters really aren’t their strong point. D isn’t so much a character as he is a catalyst for crazy things to happen, and after twelve volumes you’ll know no more about the character than you did at the end of the first. Outside of the villains, female characters, regardless of how strong the book wants you to think they are, predominantly exist merely to swoon over D and/or be the object on unwanted sexual attention. Male characters are either well-meaning and downtrodden, bullying would-be rapists or just addicted to violence (more often than not, a combination of the latter two). Otherwise they’re children. Once a book you’ll maybe be thrown a bone with a character or perhaps two who deviate a little, but they almost always display the previously mentioned archetypes.

Which leads to the conclusion I’ve ultimately come to about the D books – their entertainment value is entirely proportional to how awesome any given volumes bad guys are, and how prominent they are in the story. There’s nothing particularly big or clever about the D books – their silly pulpy adventure novels, and they really work best when they play to that. As I’ve said, D himself isn’t particularly interesting, so on those occasions when it tries to play mystery novel, it doesn’t really work – D walking around talking to normal people is rally rather boring. D playing mystery novel isn’t really something that can ever work, to be honest – a lot of the fun of a mystery novel is trying to figure out precisely where matters are going, but the whole Super-Science the D novels runs with means that any explanation may as well come down to being “A Wizard Did It”. The books spend so much time putting across bizarre things happening without explanation that it’s hard to care when it expects you to.

The villains are often cool, though – they all tend to have powers interesting enough to make you wonder precisely how D will overcome them, and tend to have at least some personality. They’re rarely particularly deep, but they are all more entertaining that D is. The best books are, by extension, the one’s where there are lots of them, preferably from multiple factions who clash amongst themselves as well as D. Things get fun when we have a bunch of people scheming to get one up on their supposed allies.

Honestly speaking, D is never particularly great a series – there’s no real depth to them, there’s rarely anything clever in terms of narrative and there’s no continuing story lines for you to follow. At best, they’re entertaining adventure novels – like the novel version of a trashy Michael Bay movie that isn’t Transformers 2, or full of explosions. Eventually, they kind of end up just merging into one – I still read the books when they come out, but, really, they’re pretty much just comfort reading. I know pretty much exactly what to expect when I read a D novel, and I find an odd sense of contentedness in that.

The first Vampire Hunter D book is actually the archetypical “good” D book. Long time anime fans will know this as being the one that the 1980’s movie was based on – D is hired by a younger farmer/Werewolf Hunter who has been bitten by the Vampire Count Magnus Lee. She hires D to kill him before he comes back to claim her as her wife, but the Counts army of monsters and mutants, as well has his snobbish daughter, all serve to get in the way. Event’s actually unfold a little differently to they do in the anime version, so thankfully it’s still fun for those who have seen it.

Honestly, by the end of the first book, you should really know if you are going to like D as a series or not – it displays all of series strengths of insane mutant powers and even more insane world design without any of the tedious downtime. It’s got all those character archetypes that some may find repulsive. It’s also got the ludicrously flowery translation full of oft-nonsensical descriptors that typifys the series.

It’s just a shame that the second book – Raiser of Gales – is entirely the opposite. A lot of people dropped the series at that point, because, frankly, it’s just a boring book. It’s no wonder they skipped over this one when it came to making a second D movie, and I recommend doing the same.

The second D movie was actually based on the third book of the series, Demon Deathchase. Perhaps more so than the first book, this is all the high points of D – there’s more villains for D to take on in this volume, and we spend a fair amount of time with all of them. Being what’s essentially a chase story, it does mean we get to see an awful lot more of the world than we do in many of the other books in the series. Even when they are supposed to be in the hire of someone else, every ones got their own machinations going on.

That said, when they made the animated movie, they really toned down the Marcus family. Well, the male members, anyway, who are rather more, shall we say, forcibly incestuous in the book – it’s made pretty clear that their sister, Leila, is kind of kept around more because they like raping her than for her Vampire hunting skills. It’s not explicit about it (from what I can remember, at least), but it’s still kind of offputtingly squicky, really.

It’s after this point where my ability to differentiate the rest of the books in the series begins to degrade – there’s a lot of books which are neither as good as the first or third, nor as bad as the second. The other high points are probably Rose Princess and the two part Mysterious Journey to the North Sea – the former because the villainess, a playful and arrogant vampiress who comes across a lot younger than most, is fantastic, and the latter due to the sheer number opponents D goes up against, their neat powers, and their own politics and bickering. The other two parter, the recently released Pale Fallen Angels, stumbles when it kills off D’s better adversaries in the first volume without really having done enough with them, and replaces them with a number of less interesting ones in the second volume.

The only other significant volume to point out is the tenth, Dark Nocture, which is a short story collection. I can’t say it’s particularly interesting, but it’s not aggressively terrible either. It’s certainly not something to get excited about, at least.

To be entirely truthful, now that there are so many volumes of it out, it’s kind of hard to recommend going into it – it’s certainly not something that you’d be able to read without a few months between volumes. Indeed, Pale Fallen Angels proved a little too much for me, and I ended up putting the second volume down midway for a few weeks whilst I read some other novel releases. Those who have seen and enjoyed the animated pictures could probably do a lot worse than a least trying the first volume, but would be wise to pace themselves slowly afterwards.


Joel
2011-10-18
#

I found this post rather interesting since as you say, no one talks about these books even though they are indeed possibly the best selling japanese novels on the english marlet. It’s nice to finally have someone elses veiw point on them and one that seems similar to mine. I do enjoy reading the vampire hunter d books but I think that as you say they are indeed a “comfort read” because I’ve been into the series for so long. They do tend to repeat themselves a bit and often are just crammed full of bizarre plot twists and overly voilent baddies. However, Kikuchi really does know how to write in a lot of ways, he just doesn’t seem to know when to stop in terms of imagination and story. He has great moments such as interesting dialogue and wonderful descriptions of the characters and world. The world itself is an interesting setting for a series of books and its such a shame that such an interesting concept sometimes goes to waste on due to his inconsistency. There are however a few things I disagree with you on though. Although the first book is probably better, I actually like Raiser of Gales a lot more. I would even go as far to say that it is one of my favourites in the series. I found the whole idea very interesting and for most of the book the story as it progressed was much more believable than other novels in the series. The only thing that put me off was the overblown ending filled with sex and bloodlust which almost put me off the series entirely, not to mention when I read the 3rd book (which for some reason everyone seems to praise as one of the best) and was disgusted with the obsession with rape carrying on with yet another overblown ending (the ending of the movie adaption being far better). However the 4th book (which I assume you don’t like due to your comment on D walking around talking to people like a mystery novel) I have to say is one of my favourites due to there being much more to the story than usual. There’s a floating city to keep away the nobility, this alone is a great concept. I also find pluto the 3rd one of the rare exceptions when it comes to what you said about there not being much character. He’s interesting and provides comic releif. And to be honest there are a couple of suprises in the book that do actually raise the eyebrow. D also doesn’t accomplish everyhting in this novel. For example when the doctor kills the vampire and not D. I find that whole scene rather good. I also enjoy the books more when theres well written dialogue and narrative than when there’s overly descriptive battle scenes that you can’t quite get your head round.

P.S I am currently in the middle of reading Pale Fallen angel parts 3 and 4


DiGiKerot
2011-10-18
#

Unfortunately, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve read some of those early books for me to be able to actually remember what happens in them specifically…

As for Pale Fallen Angel… I’m still actually stalled at that point. I’ve got at least some of the more recent books after that one (as well as the other Kikuchi books which have been put out on the market), but I’ve been finding it hard to find the time to get back to it ever since Haikasoru started publishing stuff regularly.


Leave a Comment