A popular 20-plus volume horror novel series that has spawned its share of spin-offs over the years, Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D is a natural for manga adaptation. A decaying post-Apocalyptic Earth, a lone hero with a sword, vampires and other demonic figures terrorizing the last remnants of humanity, improbably breasted women — yeah, it’s a comics natural. The question, of course, is whether a book-by-book series of manga adaptations will be any good or not.
Recently received copies of the first four manga paperbacks (fifth in the series is currently scheduled for this summer) by Saiko Takaki, and on the basis of volume one, I can see why this series has had such an extended life. Not having read any of the original novels — or seen the earlier anime inspired by ‘em — I can’t say just how faithful the manga is to its source, though from the way the first volume tries to cram so much incident into its pages, I suspect it’s fairly close.
Set in 12,000 AD, the books take place in a post-war land ruled by the Nobility, a race of vampires who have held the planet under its aristocratic thrall for 5,000 years. Into this wasteland — half Wild West, half medieval — rides D, who hires himself out to victims of the decadent Nobility. D (we’re not given a full name, but there’s a hint it’s connected to a more infamous vampire) is a “dhampir,” a mix of human and bloodsucker. To make things even more outré, he also possesses a living face in the palm of his left hand. The nature of this chatty creature isn’t explained in the first book, but it clearly possesses some sorcerous power.
D’s first rescue proves to be Doris Lang, an ultra-buxom cowgirl with deeeep-set eyes and a whip, who has been bitten by Noble Count Magnus Lee. Doris runs her ranch with the aid of her spunky l’il brother Dan, fending off not just vamps but also the unwanted attentions of the village mayor’s son Greco, who’s not above whipping up the inevitable mob of frightened yokels to push her into his arms. Once she meets D, who has the lanky boy toy face of an Ann Rice rock star vampire, it’s clear no normal guy has a chance. Too bad for her that we know D’ll ride off into the sunset by the end of the story.
Still, the guy comes in handy when it comes to fending off the aforementioned panicked villagers, not to mention a crew of the Count’s supernaturally powerful evil minions who call themselves the Fiend Corps because you can’t be truly menacing unless you have a cool name, right? Our hero takes the Corps on one at a time, along with a trio of snaky demonesses called the Midwitch Medusas, before his big showdown with Lee himself. Observing it all is the Count’s provocative vamp daughter Lamirca, who disappears when the Count’s castle collapses but hopefully returns in a later novel.
As for the character of our mysterious hero, we don’t get a whole lot about him, though a scene where he dialogs with his hand is amusing, while an earlier moment where he instructs young Dan on how to be a man for his sister plays like something you might have seen in an old family western — with Kevin Corcoran playing the role of Dan, perhaps.
Takaki’s art captures VHD’s blend of cowboy gothic. Though, in general, it is stronger on the action than it is on the moody horror, there are a few sequences that effectively capture a Hammer Films vibe (a village doctor, who falls to Count Lee, even resembles Hammer mainstay Peter Cushing). The first volume contains a smattering of gore plus some bits of nudity (whip-wielding Doris uses it to distract an enemy), and DMP has suitably given the book an age 16+ rating. While not without its occasionally clunky expository moments, as a whole the first volume moves along snappily. In the end, this piece of manga mind candy proves capable of standing up on its own.