Saiko Takaki’s adaption of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D novel saga continues with the sixth and latest installment. D finds himself accompanying a group of hunters across a mysterious desert. With the revelation of the desert being a living creature, will D and company survive the deadly crossing?
Well, D will obviously since the novel series is up to volume 20 or so, so that was never really in question. Then again Vampire Hunter D is less about D himself and more about his supporting cast for that particular story. Discovering who they are, uncovering tidbits about the post apocalyptic world they inhabit and the sheer weirdness are really the driving points for the series and here they’re in fine display. A massive, sentient desert? A girl who was the prisoner of the Nobles (vampires) for years? A mysterious old lady who’s also a bounty hunter? Plenty of interesting hooks in this volume and it is rather interesting to see how they all play out. Unfortunately certain elements of Kikuchi’s formula are starting to show through and become incredibly predictable at times. Hopefully in future volumes he’ll vary it up a bit more, but about three pages into this book and two of the characters practically have “will be dead by the end” written on their faces.
Takaki’s art is getting more and more polished with each volume. Her layouts are becoming easier to follow and her action sequences are getting clearer with each new release. It’s fascinating to watch her grow and develop as an artist. Her use of heavy black to contrast the stark white pages does a fantastic job at conveying the bleakness of the desert and the weird, threatening nature of the forests or stone formations that pop up. Her characters are expressive and interesting to look at, particularly the older woman. She does a fantastic job at rendering some of the more bizarre and weird powers and abilities I’ve seen in a Kikuchi novel too. I mean, deadly bubbles that snare you into a dream state? And on top of that the man using them looks like Alan Moore in a duster!
The Vampire Hunter D are rarely life changing reads that challenge or change the way we view things. No, they’re pure entertainment and Vampire Hunter D, Vol. 6 is no exception. Kikuchi’s plot is light and enjoyable, despite not being as fast paced as some of the previous volumes, and Takaki’s artwork is the best I’ve seen from her so far. It’s definitely a fun, enjoyable romp in the weird hell scape that is the world of D.
From the fine folks at Vertical comes another classic courtesy of Osamu Tezuka, Princess Knight! Often credited as the first ever shojuo manga, it tells the tale of Sapphire, a young princess born with two hearts, one male the other female. Forced to hide her true gender in an effort to stave off the attempts of an evil Duke Duralumin from inheriting her fathers throne, Princess Knight shows her trials and tribulations.
I’ve generally enjoyed all of the Tezuka releases I’ve read so far but I was a little hesitant about this going into it. The basic premise of two hearts and how each one instills a different set of gender specific attributes seems problematic to my slightly liberal and open sensibilities and, quite frankly, it is. There are moments in the volume where I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and groan out loud as Sapphire’s story played up the roll of the hearts to reinforce concepts of traditional gender roles and traits. There are moments in the story were certain characters knock the idea of traditional gender roles, including a moment where some people complain about the idea that only a male can rule a kingdom, but these brief moments of lip service are overwhelmed and quashed by such moments as Sapphire losing her male heart and becoming a scared, simpering, helpless “woman”. There is a whole raft of questions that the idea of the hearts brings to mind as well. For example, if a “female” heart is weak and helpless while the “male” heart is brave and strong, then what about the cowardly villains? Which heart do they have? In fairness to Tezuka this was written in the 50s and 60s so you shouldn’t exactly be looking for progressive and challenging ideas that smash the traditional concept of gender roles, but it’s still a bit disheartening at times nonetheless. Thankfully most of the story ignores the concepts of the hearts and simply plays Sapphire as a bit of a tomboy forced to hide her true gender due to the pressures of her kingdoms traditions and society. With that in mind the book reads pretty well and is surprisingly charming, whimsical and fun. Sapphire rolls from one bizarre situation and challenge to another, ranging from Duke Duralumin’s conspiracies to unseat her, to the machinations of a demon intent on gaining her “female” heart for her daughter, to a clash with pirates and more. At times the idea of the two hearts seems to play a minimal part in things while at other times it’s hugely important and crucial. Throughout the book there’s also a second underlying theme of a generational clash. The demons daughter wants nothing to do with the “female” heart and would be quite happy to continue being her tomboyish self and Sapphire’s love interest, a prince from a neighboring kingdom, clashes with his father over his interest in Saphhire’s wig wearing “female” alter ego. It’s something I’d like to see played up in the second volume.
Tezuka’s art is charming in it’s cartoonish ways and is incredibly easy to follow. On occasion he plays with the idea of movement and borders, featuring characters literally smashing through panel borders and more. Still, there’s something about the art that feels a bit more simplistic then what I remember in Black Jack or Dororo but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It just feels a bit more stripped down and streamlined than usual I guess. That said it’s still fun and interesting to look at and it fits the light hearted tone of the story perfectly. In addition the characters are all instantly recognizable from one another through both their looks and mannerisms and while that’s something that’s to expected with Tezuka it’s still something I enjoy and appreciate about the artwork and is something that both American and Japanese contemporary comic artists could stand to use more often.
In the end Princess Knight is surprisingly charming despite some incredibly uncomfortable and questionable moments with regards to traditional gender roles and the traits one usually associates with them. Since it’s so short, only two volumes, I’m pretty interested in getting my hands on the second volume and seeing where Tezuka takes the whole story and how it all resolves itself.
Princess Knight, Vol. 1 is available now from Vertical.
The fourth volume of Dorohedoro the beautifully weird series from Q Hayashida sees Caiman and Nikaido continuing their search for the mage that made Caiman into the lizard man he is today. As per usual it gets a bit sidetracked by the general weirdness of the world they inhabit. This time around they find themselves recruited for a baseball game which ends up dominating a large portion of the volume.
The volume’s a bit of a mixed bag with a little bit of plot development and a fair amount of silliness. The silliness actually outweighs any forward momentum the plot makes. Hayashida also dedicates a fair amount of this volume to the antagonists, primarily Shinji and Ebisu and their attempt at rescuing one of Shinji’s old comrades. That in turn leads into the baseball game which is the centerpiece of this volume and chalk full of weird, off beat silliness. While some of the events of the volume are indeed funny and entertaining to read, not to mention that they’re probably laying down foundations for something further on, at the moment they just seem to kill any forward momentum the story develops. I’m not expecting everything to be wrapped up by now, but I just wish it didn’t feel so directionless at times.
While the story is a bit hit or miss with me Q Hayashida’s artwork is anything but. Every page of this manga is a visual treat. Her dense, detailed style lends everything an aged, gritty and run down look to it that I absolutely adore. The grimy buildings, the dirty streets, filthy hall ways and more do a great job at conveying the decaying state of the Hole’s society. What’s perhaps most interesting is the way the grim and oppressive atmosphere of the world doesn’t clash horribly with the odd ball visual humor that’s also present in the book. The baseball game, Fujita’s ridiculous mask and hat combo and more all fit in perfectly with the visual feel of the book but are clearly on the silly and goofy side of things rather than the grim and gritty side. It’s a bit of a testament to her skill as a story teller that she can insert such visual humor and goofiness as a giant cockroach wearing sneakers and a baseball uniform and and have it mesh so perfectly with the rest of the oddball and post apocalyptic looking urban sprawl that you don’t even bat an eye.
Despite my minor complaints I do still enjoy reading this, but a combination of the meandering story and the lengthy wait between volumes keeps it from becoming an absolutely must read for me. Still, in a manga scene that’s still dominated by Shonen Jump titles Dorohedoro is an undeniable breath of fresh air and a rather fun little read to boot.
Dorohedoro, Vol. 4 is available now from Viz.
After a year long absence the twisted tale of serial killers, international conspiracies and multiple personalities returns. The tenth volume in Eiji Otsuka and Shou-U Tajima’s MPD Psycho sees Detective Sasayama investigating a series of knife attacks which ultimately leads him once more into the tangled web weaved by the enigmatic Gakuso group.
While this volume was engaging and surprisingly easy to get into, I do have to wonder if it’s a bit too late to do the series any good. The plot stumbled a bit over the past several volumes and when you add in the fact that it’s taken Dark Horse over a year to get this volume out I’m left wondering how many people are still interested enough to care about the massive revelations promised for volume eleven. I’m also left wondering if It’ll come out before 2013. That said one of the good things about the past few volumes and something that continues wonderfully in this one is the growth and development of Sasayama. While he’s still far from a super genius or brilliant investigator he’s clearly grown and moved beyond the hapless, comedy relief he started out as. In fact, in this volume he shows a certain amount of investigative and tactical cunning at several points. It’s nice to see the character being allowed to grow and change.
Shou-U Tajima’s art is as lovely as always. I think I had forgotten how slick it could be and how his use of heavy blacks against the white pages could be so striking. Everyone and everything in the book is slick and stylish, ranging from the club kids to the politicians and the police and detectives. Even the incredibly nerdy Aoshima ends up looking rather slick and cool despite her bottle thick glasses. Tajima’s story telling is smooth and easy to follow, though after such a long break I did have a small problem telling some of the more minor characters apart.
It was nice to see this volume on the shelf as I do really enjoy this series. It’s just that like I said above, it’s been such a long time that I had forgotten much of what happened in the more recent volumes. I can only hope that there are enough fans kicking around to keep the series alive and allow Dark Horse to publish it to it’s conclusion, even if doing so means changing the stock and removing the raised and textured aspects from it’s cover.
MPD Psycho, Vol. 10 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.