Saturday, February 15, 2020

Vampire Hunter D

You may have seen the anime feature film VAMPIRE HUNTER D (1985), a sort of post-apocalyptic Western horror movie. It's based on the first book in a long-running series by Japanese author Hideyuki Kikuchi, a self-professed devoted fan of Hammer horror productions such as the Christoper Lee Dracula movies. A more visually artistic second anime, VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, came out in 2000. The English translation of the original VAMPIRE HUNTER D novel was released in 2005, and Volume 28 (THE TIGER IN WINTER) was just published in the U.S. last year. (The Japanese and English volume numbering don't always match, however.) In Japanese, the series comprises at least thirty-six novels so far, and there's also a spinoff series, as well as a handful of short stories.

The novels take place thousands of years in the future, after the vampire lords have mostly been overthrown following centuries of tyrannical rule. Some of the Nobility (as they're called) survive, as do remnants of their advanced technology and magic. Small, isolated human settlements, plus a few large cities, are scattered across the devastated world. Grotesque monsters haunt the wastelands, with bounty hunters and vampire slayers therefore much in demand. In the first book, D, the famed but enigmatic vampire slayer, arrives in a small frontier town to protect Doris, an orphaned ranch owner courted—or persecuted—by the local vampire lord, Count Lee. (The homage to Christopher Lee in this Dracula-like character is obvious.) D, of course, defeats the villain after a harrowing expedition into the vampire's castle, where he confronts, among other dangers, a bevy of bloodthirsty females. Meanwhile, Doris's younger brother hero-worships D, who treats the boy with kindness, and Doris begins to fall in love with the hunter. At the end of the story, however, like most wandering loner heroes, D rides off into the wilderness, leaving all potential attachments behind.

D is a dhampir, a human-vampire hybrid with strength, speed, and abilities beyond those of ordinary mortals. He's described as a pale, dark-haired young man, repeatedly characterized as so "beautiful" and "gorgeous" that people are stunned at the sight of him. Frequent references to "the Sacred Ancestor" imply that he derives his single-initial title from his father, Dracula, an assumption he never explicitly confirms. In the palm of his left hand, D bears a symbiotic organism in the form of a miniature face, whose powers augment his own. The symbiont, which can detach itself and move independently, has no name other than Left Hand, and so far we haven't been told its nature and origin. D rides a cyborg horse that must be fairly tough in itself, since it survives through D's life-threatening adventures. In every novel he interacts with a new group of admirers, allies, and foes, as well as an assortment of unique monsters. One reviewer describes him as a tragic figure "dedicated to fighting darkness but unable to express love." Since D conforms to the strong, silent archetype of a "Clint Eastwood" persona, of whose inner life we get only superficial glimpses, we have to infer those "tragic" traits from external observation.

While the overall level of characterization in this series seldom rises above workmanlike, the worldbuilding, plotting, action scenes, and unusual creatures exert their own fascination. The books and the two animated films are worth checking out.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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