WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Don’t like? Read the book first.
Vampire Hunter D is a classic in some respects. The books have spawned 2 animated movies based off of them, and the series itself was running 17 books at last count (in 2007.) It’s pretty well lauded for being inventive and fantastic and well-written.
The plot follows a young woman named Doris Lang who hires a Vampire Hunter named D to kill the vampire that bit her before she turns into one of them. D aims to protect Doris and her brother Dan from not only the vampire that bit her, but his daughter, the group of supernatural bandits that have come to town, and the townspeople themselves.
There are a lot of elements in this plot. You have Doris and Dan relying on D to fight and defeat Count Magnus Lee, the vampire that attacked Doris. The Count aims to turn Doris into a vampire so he can have her as his wife. The Count’s daughter, Laramica, on the other hand, is trying to prevent this union so she doesn’t sully the blood of the Lee clan. Meanwhile, a rather unique and vicious set of bandits have come to town and aim to take out D as well, with their leader attempting to become one of the vampires himself. Plus, once someone has been bitten and their village finds out, the village turns against them.
Even though there is a lot of plot to follow, Kikuchi does a good job of working in all into the story without loosing bits of it. He does it slowly, so you can follow what’s going on, but he doesn’t draw things out unnecessarily and has no problems killing off characters to de-complicate things. He also writes in a lot of action, so it makes sense when characters get killed and plot things happen, because they usually happen during an action sequence. He doesn’t shy away from putting his characters in peril and pulling them right out again.
The whole story also takes place in a rather vicious world. It is the future, sometime after the year 12,000. Before the turn of the century (1999) the world went to nuclear war. After the dust had settle and the radiation had waned and those who had survived came out again, they found out that vampires did exist and they had the knowledge to survive and also to rebuild society. They deemed themselves the Nobility and rebuilt society with many scientific and technological advances. They ruled over humanity with fear and power for a long time until the humans eventually rose up and conquered them. Now, much of the land is called the Frontier, with the biggest main city and house of government known as the Capital. Many of the Nobility’s experiments run wild and many villages are small and poor, fighting against these creatures on a daily basis while trying to make a living. Hunters arose to fight against some of these creatures, and they all have a specialty. Since the Nobility still exist, Vampire Hunters have arisen to destroy what is left of them.
So the world is cruel and harsh and a lot like the backwater villages of Africa or the untamed old American West. Much of the world is fight or flight and many people are very skilled enough to fight. There are all sorts of weird creatures and weapons and things that exist and are made to seem quite normal in this world. It makes it a sort of sci-fi/horror post-apocalyptic world. I think the only thing missing might be zombies.
It’s got a really good mythos for the vampires too. You have your usuals: a stake through the heart kills them and sunlight is their major damage point. They do fall into the death sleep at dawn. They can’t cross running water either. But some of the other mythos hold true that no one in the book besides D knows. Stuff like the cross and garlic do affect them, but they’ve done something to human genes so that any human who figures it out immediately forgets about it. It’s an inventive little thing. Also, they mention one of the Nobility’s inventions meant to counteract the daylight weakness. Time-Bewitching Incense changes day to night and allows the Nobility to be awake and at full power during the daylight hours. However, it can also change night to day and if humans use it, it can render a Noble powerless even at night.
The characters are also fleshed out really well. Even the minor ones.
You can tell from the beginning that the mayor’s son is going to be a sleezeball, and his actions prove it but they are far from typical. The bandits all have cool powers and even Laramica develops really well and doesn’t just stay as this bitchy stuck-up Noble. Too bad her and the count aren’t really more developed than that. He wants Doris for a bride and will stop at nothing for it. She hates Doris because she’s human. Simple as that really.
Rei-Gensi makes a good villain. He’s beautiful, but his evil counteracts that beauty. He’s also got this cool power where he can rip a hole in a dimension around his body and have the attack (like a stabbing sword) affect his opponent instead. He’s pure evil and it oozes around him, which makes you love to hate him.
Doris herself is pretty awesome. Despite being only like 18, she’s had to live as a grown-up for a long time. Her dad was once a werewolf hunter, so she knows a thing or two more about fighting than most. Especially with this whip that can split into like seven pieces that she can control individually. Her and her brother are great at not only making a living for themselves, but defending that living pretty strongly. And while she’s slowly falling for D, she doesn’t really let that turn her into a weak damsel in distress. She’s got a fighting spirit she keeps up until the end.
D himself is the epitome of perfection. Not only is he the absolute best fighter, he never loses and doesn’t miss a shot either, but he’s extremely handsome to boot. He’s cold and emotionless, but by his actions you can see that he really cares about the people he’s hired to help. Part of his draw is that he’s written in a way where we’re told he’s doing things blatantly out of character and it just builds to his character. We see the human in him even when he doesn’t want it shown. D is a dhampir. That is, he’s half-vampire and half-human. (It is highly hinted at that D’s father is the Sacred Ancestor of the Nobility: Dracula himself.) He’s hated on both sides for it. (Laramica calls him a traitor and the townspeople attempt to throw him out as well.) He leads a very alone, very cold life and yet he cares about complete strangers, helping out with things he has no business helping with. Yet his façade never changes.
D has one companion that rarely makes himself known, but serves as most of the humor throughout the book. There is a sentient being (the “countenanced carbuncle”) residing in D’s left hand. Referred to only as Left Hand, the being uses the four elements to perform a variety of supernatural abilities. He can put people to sleep, place wards on them, analyze enemies and other beings, determining medical conditions of people and he has a vast knowledge of the Nobility’s former culture. He even brings D back to life after a stake through the heart kills him (he also reattaches himself when the limb is severed.) Left Hand has his own mind and his own will, often saying things to antagonize and annoy D. But he also tends to speak a truth that D just doesn’t wish to acknowledge.
Final Thoughts: The book really does deserve its praise. Despite the fact that Kikuchi writes kinda flowery, he still does a good job of pulling you into the action and he describes it really well despite the words he chooses to use. The characters are well-written and the setting is a very realistic and well-thought out world. The plot is engaging, with many factions, without being too drawn-out or convoluted. 5/5 from me all the way.