The fourth volume of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D saga, Tale of the Dead Town, sees a return to a mystery formula of the second volume. This time around D is hired onto a massive, self contained, mobile town to investigate a vampire attack upon the mayors daughter.
D’s always a bit of a cipher in these stories. We’re almost never privy to his thoughts. He talks about himself and his past rarely, maintaining an appealing mysterious air about him the entire time. Because of this Kikuchi often spends more time fleshing out the supporting characters in the book, or at the very least he gives them more dialogue. In Tale of The Dead Town he unveils three of the series more interesting and entertaining supporting characters to date. John M. Braselli Pluto VIII, Lori Knight and Doctor Tsurugi. Pluto VIII is a very entertaining, very talkative foil to the silent and stoic D. His mouth almost never stops and there’s a certain charm to his character that I found hard to resist. Tsurugi, for his part, almost feels like a proto D and manages to interact with D on a level that few characters have before him. Much the same can be said for Lori, a character who begins in the book as a fairly typical damsel in distress but evolves into a surprisingly strong and capable figure in her own right. I can only hope that some of these characters make an appearance later in the series. The tale itself doesn’t quite hold up well under scrutiny. There are several major mysteries left unresolved, or at least are resolved in an unsatisfactory manner. That said Kikuchi does do a good job at crafting a tale about the dangers of living apart from the world and the potential stagnation and death of insular communities.
I’m not really sure what I can say about Amano’s artwork that millions of others haven’t already said, or that I haven’t already said in earlier reviews. It’s a treat, lovely to look at and does a fantastic job at conveying mood, atmosphere and the odd moment of action. The pieces are also few and far between, making each one a welcome surprise when you stumble across it. Leahy’s translation continues to be easy and smooth to read. This time around he doesn’t stop at the novel but also translates a Postcript from Kikuchi, an exclusive to the English language edition of this novel. Hearing Kikuchi talk a bit about his inspiration and influences is a pleasant treat and something I hope he continues to do in the later volumes.
While the story itself was a little tangled in places it was still a pretty enjoyable read in places. Pluto VIII often steals the show, though Tsurugi and Lori get some wonderful moments as well. In fact I think I’d be willing to read a short story about these two and can only hope they turn up again at some point in the future. All in all Tale of the Dead Town was another decent addition to the D saga.
In the spirit of Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarium comes Street Fighter Gaiden, vol. 1, a collection of short stories featuring your favorite characters from the Street Fighter franchise courtesy of Mami Itou! The first volumes focuses on some of the more well known figures, featuring tales involving Ryu, Ken, Guile and Chun Li among others.
The stories are mostly of the stand alone and done in one variety, often attempting to illuminate the back stories of some of the characters or attempting to take a look into their psychology and motivations. A look back at the life of Ken and Ryu is told in a flashback framed by Eliza, Ken’s wife, explaining the idea of fighters brotherhood and how it’s a special world that women may never enter. Another touches upon the rivalry between Ryu and Akuma, but focuses on Ryu running across a local karate master and their ensuing duel. Likewise the Chun Li tale, the longest story in the book, features her taking down a drug ring with nary another Street Fighter to be seen. The decision to use more original characters to populate the existing characters stories threw me for a loop at first but I got used to it as the story went on. For long time, hardcore Street Fighter fans the weird continuity of the tales and the introduction of original characters may stick in their craw, particular the bizarre Fei Long story.
Mami Itou’s art in this volume is quite lovely and incredibly dynamic. It also seems a bit cleaner and easier to follow then it was in Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarium. While that’s generally a good thing I found myself longing for the thatch heavy style Itou used for the Red Earth stories. We get a little of it in Fei Long’s tale, but not nearly enough. Still, it’s engaging, true to the original character designs and the action sequences are engaging and fun and easy to follow while maintaing a nice flow and energy throughout the book.
Street Fighter Gaiden, vol. 1 is a weird little book. Unlike the other Street Fighter manga I’ve read, this one is a bit harder to place within the world of the Street Fighter franchise due to so many tales being only tangentially connected to the franchises main story. While bits of the series lore are touched upon, it’s really a volume of side stories that have only minimal plots that don’t do much else but entertain.
Street Fighter Gaiden, vol. 1 is available now from Udon Entertainment.
The third volume of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s epic series, Vampire Hunter D: Demon Deatchase, gives us what is quite possibly the most well known Vampire Hunter D tale of all thanks to a fantastic anime adaption in the form of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. D and rival group of hunters known as the Marcus clan find themselves at odds as they both take the same job, retrieve a kidnapped human from her vampiric abductor and return her to her family. The three groups clash as they speed across a wasteland inhabited by rusting robots, flesh eating insects, towns of supernatural threats and more.
If the introduction didn’t make it clear, this is essentially a chase story. There’s little mystery to be solved and virtually no webs of intrigue to unravel. That’s not to say the story is without it’s twists or turns. Revelations of the Marcus clan, some tantalizing hints as to the true nature of D’s left hand and more abound. It’s just that plot itself is as straight forward as can be rather than hinging on things such as the grand, labyrinthine mysteries as with the previous volume. In addition to this the race like nature of the story lends itself more to Kikuchi’s insane action scenes and random bits of world building rather than focusing on fleshing out a single area and it’s environs. As with all of Kikuchi’s novels this maintains a certain weird fiction feel to it. This is represented in certain turns of purple prose which echoes some of the weird fiction writers from 20th century America, and in it’s handling of sex and gender. Namely, men are men and women, even tough women, are generally weak and in need of rescuing and protection. Leila, the youngest of the Marcus siblings, bears the brunt of this theme though she’s strangely able to maintain a certain sense of independence and strength that previous female characters, particularly Doris, lost in the face of D’s incredible manliness.
Amano’s artwork is pretty sparse in this volume, with a only handful of his illustrations appearing. Oddly enough they’re not used to depict or introduce the various cast members either, instead focusing on D and brief moments of action. They’re still lovely though, but that’s to be expected, I just would have liked to have seen his rendition of all of the Marcus clan and the rest of the supporting cast. Meanwhile Leahy’s translation reads pretty well and the prose generally feels light and simple making it a quick and easy read which fits the novels content.
While Vampire Hunter D, vol. 3: Demon Deathchase is pretty straight forward and surprisingly short, it’s no less enjoyable than either of the preceding novels. It’s a solid addition to the franchise and, after reading the novel, I can see why it would be chosen for an anime adaption. Quite a fun little read.
Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarum is one the latest manga releases from Udon Entertainment. It’s a compilation of short stories created by Mami Itou featuring characters from the two Capcom franchises named in the title. The Darkstalkers material consists mainly of short, barely connected tales while the Red Earth material is a single, multi chapter story.
It pains me to admit that the writing is nothing fantastic or terribly memorable. The Darkstalkers material are odd one offs featuring some of the key players from the franchise, Jedah, Talbain and of course everyone’s favorite succubus, Morrigan. While there are hints of the greater story and tales that make up the back story for the Darkstalkers game franchise, for the most part they’re forgettable one off’s giving us some basic information of the characters and the world while containing ominous tones and speeches that don’t actually go anywhere in the stories themselves. The Red Earth section fares a little better as it’s a complete story. Unfortunately it’s pretty short and feels awfully rushed in places. Additionally the characters have no chance to develop beyond their names. Apparently this is partly due to Itou not having access to any information to the Red Earth world beyond a few rounds at a game expo in Japan prior to it’s release. That really makes me wonder why Capcom would even bother producing these stories in the first place. If they were hoping to use them to generate interest in the game at the time, then wouldn’t it have been helpful to have let the creator in on the game’s story and character histories? Another thing that truly shocked me is that in a few panels words are cut off and letters are missing. I honestly can’t recall ever seeing this before in any Udon manga to date, so encountering it here was pretty shocking and took me right out of the story.
While I’m really harsh and underwhelmed by the writing, the artwork is actually quite lovely. The Red Earth section in particular look absolutely gorgeous as Itou employs a wonderfully detailed thatch heavy style. The result is beautifully, rough and gritty artwork that does a terrific job at conveying the fantasy setting of the world and which give the action scenes that extra little oomph that makes them explode off the page. While Darkstalkers features a slightly cleaner style with toning here and there, the action sequences still stand out as being incredibly kinetic and bursting with energy. Sadly for both stories this energy comes with a price and on more than one occasion the sequences seemingly devolve into a mess of lines and blobs of ink making what’s happening in said panels virtually undecipherable.
This book is a real mixed bag. People unfamiliar with either franchise will probably find themselves lost and confused, attempting to figure out whether to two tales are meant to connect and if they’re not why it starts off with a chapter of Darkstalkers before sliding into the Red Earth story. As such it feels like a truly niche title, something that will most likely only appeal to fans of the original video games. But aside from some lovely artwork I’m not sure what this book has to offer even those hardcore fans.
Darkstalkers/Red Earth: Maleficarum is available now from Udon Entertainment.