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Danielle Leigh’s Reading Diary — Vampire Hunter D volumes 1 and 2

The first two volumes of Vampire Hunter D mix elements of science-fiction dystopia, horror and Western, although the comic seems most successful when it emphasizes its traditional horror-roots.

vampire hunter d 1Vampire Hunter D, based on the Japanese novels of the same name by Hideyuki Kikuchi and adapted into comic book form by Saiko Takaki, takes place in one those “futures” that looks more like a social and technological regression to the frontier past.  In the very distant future (we’re talking thousands of years here) there are two species fighting for domination of the earth — the “nobles,” or vampires who once had superior scientific knowledge and human beings who are currently making a comeback, although these two volumes don’t make it clear yet why humans are apparently triumphing over the nobles.  The “hero” of the title is a half-human half-noble hunter for hire who goes only by the initial “D.”  Thanks to his mixed heritage he’s powerful, attractive in an Byronic-hero kind of way, and only has mild versions of the  weaknesses that plague the nobles, i.e. weakness to sunlight and water.  However, very little information is revealed about him and the comic’s tone is generally determined by the type of people who inhabit the different towns he visits in each volume.

The first volume of  reads like a traditional Western with more than a little bit of campy exaggeration thrown in for good measure.  A bad man, i.e. a vampire, is terrorizing a buxom young woman, and the cool and monosyllabic D rides into town to her and her brother.  In other words, in this volume men are men and women are women.  Meaning, men are either dangerous sexual predators or cold heroes and women are vampire-bait or betrayers.  Doris, the damsel in question, spends a ridiculous amount of time in the first volume undressed in a variety of compromising situations and as a result it is a little hard to take this rescue mission very seriously.

The second volume, in contrast, offers a genuinely creepy mystery at the vampire hunter d 2heart of the story, and therefore, shucks off some of the unintentionally humorous aspects of the first volume.  While this volume mines some familiar horror territory — D visits a town where four children disappeared for a month and only three were returned — the reveal of what happened to them manages to make much better use of the vampire-theme.  Unlike the previous volume, the central female figure isn’t just standing around waiting to be rescued, although she is sexualized to a similar degree.  The usual subtextual implication of a vampire’s bite as equivalent to a sexual assault is further emphasized since in this world vampires can reproduce sexually with humans.  It also helped that this character’s status as sexual object wasn’t quite as off-putting, probably thanks to the fact her crafty wit was often even more frequently than her body.

In general, the art looks incredibly Western with its frontier-like settings and cowboy-hero culture.  The Western-ness of the art also seems rather appropriate considering the heavy use of horror and Western tropes situate the book more firmly in Western myths and legends than Japanese ones (there are also hints that D himself has a famous vampire lineage that will probably be more fully explored in future volumes).  There’s a heaviness to the line work that completely overwhelms panels in the actions scenes, which made it difficult for me to parse what exactly was happening there.  However, as a whole the second volume was much better constructed — in both its art and its story — than the first.

Returning to D, the mysterious figure who doesn’t quite hold the book together, his role as the strong silent type can be rather frustrating.  He comes to town, sizes things up, eventually fights with some decrepit looking “noble” and leaves once the threat to the town is neutralized.  Without a strong central character my enjoyment of each volume depended upon whether the plight of the townspeople could interest or move me in any way.  While the first volume’s emphasis on the damsel-in-distress model was frustrating, the second volume actually managed to complicate the formula in much more enjoyable ways.  Although the title really isn’t to my taste, the primary reason I might pick up the next volume in the series is because I am curious about D’s origins and the vampire dynasty that he sprung from.

Review copies provided by DMP.

5 Comments

I have such a hard time enjoying vampires in fiction.

Danielle Leigh

March 6, 2010 at 6:45 am

Mario — it depends for me. I enjoyed Buffy (the show) but that was about a *vampire slayer* (although I grew to enjoy the vampire characters). I don’t seek out vampire fiction but *shrug* I’ll give it a chance if I come across it.

Oh I didn’t mean to make it look like I dislike it or that i’m completely biased. I’m a fan of the 30 Days of Night comics, even the ones that are practicaly self-parody and making fun of the vampire genre, really? Vampires in space? I can’t helpt but chuckle. But vampire manga? I’ve got (what I like to believe is) better manga to read. Like volume one of Nana which i’m currently reading.

My brother’s a big D fan, bought the first volume of this for his birthday and he seemed to enjoy it enough to continue buying the series. Haven’t read it myself, as I tend to heavily associate the character with the work of Yoshitaka Amano and it’s weird to see other interpretations aside from the original anime film where I first encountered the character (which was a huge, eye-popping deal to me back when I first saw it 16 -17 years ago).

I think Greg Hatcher, or someone with similar tastes and interests, would really be into reading the adventures of Vampire Hunter D (though my brother would probably tell them to read the novels first). And I say such as it sort of runs along the same lines of pulp-ish adventure that Solomon Kane covers, but with less Calvinistic undertones.

[...] vol. 1 of Reading Club (Manga Bookshelf) Todd Douglass on Remember (Anime Maki) Danielle Leigh on vols. 1 and 2 of Vampire Hunter D (Comics Should Be Good) Connie on vol. 9 of Wild Act (Slightly Biased Manga) Grant Goodman on The [...]

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