Yashakiden: The Demon Princess Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Release Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2010
More vampires... but this time, Chinese.
Writer/Artist: Hideyuki Kikuchi and Jun Suemi
Translation: Eugene Woodbury
Adaptation: Eugene Woodbury
What They Say
After a devastating earthquake that left most of Japan in ruins, the district ward of Shinjuku in Tokyo has opened up a doorway into another dimension - becoming the halfway-house suspended between the mortal world and the supernatural. It has become a place where the living fight a losing battle with monsters and demons from the netherworld - a constant struggle for control on grounds which inevitably may plunge into the depths of Hell. Factory manager by day and moonlighting P.I. by night, Setsura Aki is no stranger to danger. Specializing in missing-persons cases and considered the best "man hunter" in the business, he allies himself with friend and rival, Doctor Mephisto, a wizard of physical and spiritual surgery. Together in battle, there is none that can compete with their combined wit and power - until now. Coming from the deepest and darkest parts of China, four immortal vampires, led by one of unmatched beauty who goes by the ubiquitous title "Princess," mystically sail into landlocked Shinjuku aboard an ancient ghost ship. She and her ancient undead entourage with powers never before seen of vampires, have surmounted four thousand years of space and time to seize control of Shinjuku and make it their own. It is up to Setsura and Mephisto to uncover their new formidable foes' true origins and to reveal the truth behind the Princess's dark plans for the city.
A painting of Setsura in his long black duster appears on the front, and blood splatter patterns on back form a background for the summary to rest on. An author's note leads into a three page preface, then the bulk of the graphic writing follows, accompanied throughout by a few sparse but striking black and white illustrations. The translation is expertly done, and paper and ink quality are great. Kikuchi's three page afterword is the only other "extra" to speak of.
Private investigator and rice cracker impresario Setsura collaborates with creepy doctor Mephisto to wield the powers of science and demons in their clash against new kids on the block—masochistic Chinese vampires, quite literally fresh off the boat. The stage for this potboiler showdown is set in a haunted city, Shinjuku where human and monster denizens stake out their turf, doing their best to battle through the bizarre daily events of a place constantly changing and remaking itself. Speaking of stake, that age ol' favorite of methods for dispatching vampires is still effective here overall, but apparently only Western vampires are stymied by the crucifix, making these Chinese vamps a bit more of a hassle. Other plot machinations include the unusual fighting technique of Setsura, who battles using razor sharp, microscopic titanium wires, while Mephisto is able to generate endless quantities of hurlable scalpels from his hands.
Scuffles ensue, and for the most part, the two parties seem evenly matched, but Setsura and Mephisto seek an edge over the Chinese vampires by enlisting the help of some friendlier neighborhood vampires native to Shinjuku. Ultimately, the protagonists focus their efforts on locating the daytime hideouts of their foes who abide by the typical rules for vampire day/night hours of operation. After a few more battles, the plot turns in favor of the vampires who manage to wound and hospitalize Setsura—to be continued. It's heavy on detail, with loads of well-translated features and Chinese lore woven in, but in total, not a lot of plot movement.
Furthermore, Kikuchi seems strangely obsessed with his own leading men, often fawning and gushing over them profusely, attributing to them a fanciful, lady-like beauty. I'm not sure what ever happened to the concept of actual masculine beauty, but all too often it seems a man is considered much more attractive if he is effeminate. That's distracting enough, but far worse, the book at times feels like little more than a depraved dumping ground for chapters worth of Kikuchi's unhinged, psychotic contemplations with which he afflicts the readers mind through gratuitous, nauseating detail—we're talking sadomasochistic concepts on par with the criminally insane here. From self-mutilating, blood drenched masturbatory tangents to an orgy featuring grisly, skin-charring electrocution, Kikuchi's vulgarities seem leveled against us with nearly the same degree of violent neurosis which his own characters employ to molest each other and/or themselves. Yet, for all its sexual imagery, Yashakiden seems to steer completely clear of actually striking a truly erotic note, preferring instead to be merely obscene, brutal and absurd. Likewise, its horror elements lean more towards the ridiculous and clichéd than the genuinely terrifying.
Kikuchi's vocabulary expanding writing conjures many vivid descriptions in this long walk for a short dive, but much of the content goes well beyond conventional vampiric seduction themes and delves into the explicit, sexualized madness of his abusive imaginings—all without any warning to the unsuspecting reader. That probably warrants a mature label, or at least something to set it apart from the average "fantasy/horror" category where it currently resides.
Mania Grade: D
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: C
Text/Translation Rating: A+
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Orientation: Left to Right
Series: Yashakiden: The Demon Princess (novel)