DRAWN & QUARTERED
The series combines futuristic visions with mythic monsters
Super-speed highways with automated vehicles joining every part of the globe. Weather controllers that keep Earth's climate pleasant year-round, aside from the occasional storm programmed by humor-loving controllers.
Bustling spaceports that expand the reaches beyond our own solar system.
Foreboding, European-style castles rising darkly into the sky, protected by computerized defense systems.
Legendary monsters and new ones brought to life -- werewolves, Medusas, mist creatures and more, all hungry for human flesh.
And a fear, rooted deep in the human psyche, of sharp fangs that pierce the neck and suck the lifeblood away in a brief bonding of fatal ecstasy.
This is the world of D, the Vampire Hunter.
The "Vampire Hunter D" series comprises 17 novels as of 2004, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. So far, six have been translated into English and published in the United States by DMP. Book 7, "Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part One," is scheduled to be released in late April.
What introduced most of the U.S. audience to the vampire hunter known only as D was the feature-length anime of the same name, based on the first novel and released in dubbed form in 1985, then re-released on DVD in 2000.
Some 15 years later came the movie sequel "Bloodlust," based loosely on the third novel, "Demon Deathchase," and screened at the Hawaii International Film Festival in 2001. A 56-page hardcover book, "The Art of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust," published by IDW late last year, includes full-color -- though small and poor-quality -- screen-shots from the movie.
While the original anime gave us our first look at the mysterious hunter and hinted at his powers, its sequel injected not only a dose of humanity, but also explored his personal demons stemming from his half-vampire heritage.
Both anime show only the smallest glimpse of the post-apocalyptic world that D inhabits. Great nuclear wars destroyed civilization in 1999, and in this darkness the vampires rose. Surprisingly, these demons of the night are not merely predators of the human race. Here, they are actually pioneers -- scholars, architects, engineers, artists.
THE VAMPIRES had existed for thousands of years and had secretly cultivated both advanced technology and their own psychic abilities. Calling themselves the Nobility as the new masters of the world, the vampires took over, rebuilding cities back to their glorious heights and even further, the fruits of their years-long research underground.
But these scientific wonders were tinged with horror. The vampires used their knowledge of psychology to subjugate humans in ways that the populace would never understand. Mutants that came about from the nuclear radiation were embraced and even enhanced by the vampires, who also created other monsters of myth and unleashed them into the world to keep humans in check.
By the time the novels take place, circa A.D. 12,090, the vampires' great civilization is all but a memory, having been in decline since the end of the fourth millennium. Humans are once again in control, although they live in the ruins of vampiric society, whose mechanical creations are now in disrepair or just barely running. Many people can work or build laser and electrical weapons, but the know-how to operate and construct more advanced items such as computers or highly destructive missiles has been lost along with the Nobility.
The few remaining vampires live away from the large cities and mostly in the Frontier areas, where pockets of human villages eke out an existence. Their terror still holds powerful sway in these remote regions, so Vampire Hunters are in high demand.
D is one of those hunters, and one of those who is also a dhampir -- half human, half vampire -- although we are constantly reminded that he is no ordinary dhampir. His abilities are much greater, and his endurance for water and sunlight lasts far beyond others of his kind.
But the novels are not so much about D himself. Although they touch on his emotions, the same things are always referenced: his cold lack of emotion, his exquisite beauty that gives even men pause, the struggle to keep his bloodthirsty half in check.
AND SO D remains a shadow, simply passing through each place and keeping to the job at hand. We learn much more about the Frontier people, hear about their torments and their raging against the Nobility and D. Whether he's affected by these events, we'll never know.
D also seems to have his own quest, and we get the sense that his line of work is simply a means to whatever end he seeks. His much-feared half-vampire heritage makes emotion a thing he cannot spare, his impassivitiy needed to fight both those who would hate him and those who would love him.
"Vampire Hunter D" looks at the dhampir through the effects wrought upon humans. We never see D through his own words -- only through the thoughts and analyses of others which never garner a response from the hunter.
At the end of each book, we feel like we're no closer to penetrating D's inherent darkness. And yet it is not an unsatisfying feeling.
What we do get from the novels that is completely cut out of the anime is hints of a mysterious personage aiming to join the cultures of vampire and human. D is held as a symbol of a dying race's last-ditch attempt to desperately battle its fate -- the fate that, ironically, vampire researchers discovered through advanced science.
In "Vampire Hunter D," Kikuchi weaves tales that, although splattered with gruesome deaths, retain a measure of elegance. They are not so much horror as they are tragedy, sad longings for a life long lost mixed with the severe reality of present days. There are no happy endings for anyone, only brief times of peace. "Vampire Hunter D" is not D's story, at least not yet; it is the story of the tenacity of a brutal humanity and of the few who manage to rise above it to offer a glint of the beauty that our race once held.