The first manga volume of this classic title is an almost shot-for-shot comic version of the original movie. I’m okay with that.
Story: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Art: Saiko Takaki
Adaptation: Saiko Takaki
Translation: Earl Gertwagen
What They Say
The year is 12,090 A.D., and what little is left of humanity has finally crawled out from the ashes of war and destruction. From the darkness of fallout, mutants and a race of vampires known as the Nobility have spawned. They rule the weak with no remorse. Once bitten by a Nobility, one is cursed to become a member of the undead. Villagers cower in fear, hoping and praying for a savior to rid them of their undying nightmare. All they have to battle this danger is a different kind danger: a Vampire Hunter.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I first came across Vampire Hunter D the same way most people in the US did: from the original 1985 anime. As one of the first titles to be commercially available in the US, it was almost impossible to avoid for those of us who were intrigued by these fancy, foreign cartoons. In Japan, Vampire Hunter D started as (and continues to be) a series of illustrated novels. Interestingly, despite the longevity of the series, it wasn’t until 2007 that a manga adaptation was started. Since its release, Digital Manga Publishing has been releasing each volume simultaneously in Japan and the US, and it continues to be their flagship series.
It is the distant future. A nuclear holocaust in the late 20th century devastated the human race and all but wiped out civilization, giving rise to mutants and the reemergence of the old monsters. In particular, the nobility—vampires—have come forth and taken their place as the new class of aristocracy, and have ruled the planet by whim for over ten thousand years. In general, society has been stable, but fear of oppression and the appetites of their ruling lords keep the humans in line. Only a few—the vampire hunters—are willing to stand up to their masters and try to protect humanity from the more egregious nobility.
One such hunter is the man known only as D. D is a dhampir: the offspring of the unholy union of a human and vampire. Shunned by the nobility for being impure, he is also rejected by humans for being a half-breed and possibly untrustworthy. Still, he feels that using his powers to protect the oppressed from their overbearing masters is a better use of his time than anything else.
In this volume, D meets a young woman named Doris who has recently been bitten by her lord, Count Magnus Lee, who sees Doris as his future bride. Knowing that the death of the count will heal her wounds and stop her transformation, Doris hires D to confront and kill the count. D is more than willing to accept. In his way is the count’s daughter, Larmica, who is offended both by the fact that her father is looking to take a human bride and that a mere dhampir would have the nerve to rise against the true race, as well as a group of mercenary mutants working for the count but have a motive all of their own. Little do they know that D carries blood far more noble than any could imagine and does not fear anything they might be able to throw at him.
If this story summary sounds familiar at all, then it’s likely you have seen the original anime feature, as this is just a comic representation of that movie (which itself was an adaptation of one of the early novels). The artist has changed the appearance of some characters (most notably Doris, who has gone from a cute, blonde farmgirl to a rather voluptuous, red-headed vixen), and some of the settings look a little different, but this is otherwise a shot-for-shot remake of that movie. While I was surprised at first, in general I am fine with it because for one, it’s a really good story, but it is also a good introduction to the material. By the end of the volume, we have a good handle on D, his situation, and his motives, and for a first volume that’s what you want.
As you might expect from the story, this is a fairly dark series. There’s a lot of violence in it, and it tends to explore some of the shadier sides of the human condition. In a world where it has been survival of the fittest for as long as history can remember, people have essentially been divided into haves and have-nots. Doris is a have-not, and because of this, she is constantly set upon by the arrogant son of the town mayor, who also sees Doris as his future wife. Though she frequently, and emphatically, rejects his advances, he thinks nothing of continuing to press his claim because he has power, and she cannot say no forever.
Doris’s status is further confirmed when it is discovered that she has been bitten by the count. Rather than attempt to assist her, or even accept D’s claim that he will save her, the town instead turns on Doris and attempts to imprison her in order to make sure that she can never be dangerous to them. The fact that this will leave her little brother with nobody to care for him doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is now outcast, and they have no use for her.
There’s a real sense of frontier justice and mentality to the people of this town, and it gives Vampire Hunter D a bit of a Western feel. At this point, the only other title in this property I have seen is the follow-up film from 2000 called Bloodlust, and I think this is something that will maintain through the whole series. D is Sanjuro or the Man with No Name: he travels the countryside righting wrongs where he feels it necessary, and he answers to nobody for what he does.
The last thing I want to mention is the production quality of this release, which is pretty fantastic. It is printed on a good, heavy-weight paper that feels like it could withstand a lot of beating. And while the comic itself is black-and-white, there is a full color, glossy picture of Doris and Larmica at the front of the book (which, incidentally, is how I knew Doris was a red-head here). But the most interesting part of the package is that it has a dust cover, just like a hard cover book. The dust cover is a full color, textured, synthetic paper. The texturing are some areas of embossing with the title and D’s pendent. The cover underneath is monochrome rather than full color, but the dust jacket is a really nice addition. It’s the perfect touch to an impressive publication.
The first volume of DMP’s flagship series does a really nice job introducing us to the world, D, and his reason for existence. The print quality behind it shows that DMP has a lot of faith in the title as their attention to detail in it is obvious. And their faith is warranted: the storytelling is strong and the art is great. D himself is a pretty iconic character, and I’m glad that he’s being given another chance to shine. As an adaptation of a novel series, it doesn’t have a regular release schedule the way other manga series do, but with each volume appearing to have a self-contained story, a new release every year or so is perfectly fine. At the time of this writing, seven volumes are out, and I can’t wait to read the rest. Highly recommended.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Release Date: November 25, 2007