Vampire Hunter D (novels) Vol. #07 - Mysterious Journey to the North Sea Part One (

By:John Zakrzewski
Review Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Release Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Hideyuki Kikuchi
Translated by:Kevin Leahy
Adapted by:

What They Say
Even a reluctant hero can't refuse the last request of a beautiful woman. On her deathbed, the mortally wounded woman gives him a strange gem and asks him to deliver the priceless stone to her sister, far off in a North Sea fishing village. D's journey is made ever more perilous by a series of scoundrels and rogues hired by the girl's murderer. They'll stop at nothing to claim the jewel. Will they catch him?

The Review
Please note: This is a combined review with Volume 8.

Going into the seventh book of the series, I was aware Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea was the first part of a two volume story arc; I just wasn’t prepared for a cliffhanger ending. This is a novel (a novella really) after all, and when was the last time I reached the final page of any prose fiction only to have the story terminate with the hero and his nefarious opponent in mid-battle?

Non-endings in mind, the recent trend of American companies licensing light novels—notably those with ties to anime and manga properties—finally gives both impetus and experiential context for ruminating a bit on their intended functionality. Anyone who’s followed manga for a duration has at least once bumped into the almost cliché sentiment concerning the format’s mass appeal in relation to Japan’s public-transit-centric society—“The Japanese fervor for manga exists, in some part, due to its propensity for being conveniently read on trains, going to and from work and school.” Maybe you’ve seen something to this effect before, if not, well then, now you have. Manga, of course, isn’t solely enjoyed surrounded by the hypnotic bustle of a clanking subway car, but like many pop-entertainment mediums, its portability almost suggests a product meant to be savored in quick, small doses. Parallels can be drawn with light novels.

As much as people read on buses and subways, one might question the advantageousness of tackling Dostoevsky when to one side an urban youth, ubiquitous white iPod headphones dangling from his prone head, is graciously serenading you with his music of choice, while in the next seats, those two attractive girls you’ve been eyeing are prattling on about how their best friend Elise was recently dumped. Reading doesn’t so much occur on public transit, instead what one bravely tries to accomplish is the quelling of its many incessant irritations, and often the best material for blowing up the outside world is something easy on the eyes and mind—something like light fiction.

Light novels—these lean books, with briskly moving text and engagingly pandering subject matter—are crafted to be effortlessly consumed. Their incestuous crossbreeding with anime, manga, and video game franchises is obviously no coincidence; this prose style sinuously churns through the same heterogeneous pool, seeping, writhing, and overlapping into shared fan markets. In backpacks and on bookshelves, they coexist equally with their illustrated cousins, offering paper-bound shows, origami roller coasters boarded without even noticing, regardless of whether we’re submerged, neck deep, in the swirling tide of a public space or seated comfortably in the tranquil confines of our bedroom.

Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part 1 (Book 7) ends with an unnamed scream piercing the air, invoked seconds prior by a deadly attack launched at D by a formidable assassin. That’s it. You close the cover, momentarily readjust your senses to the real world while placing the book in your messenger bag, disembark the subway, and go about your day. Maybe Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part 2 (Book 8) is already at home, waiting to be read, or you’ll be making a quick stop to buy the book after work; either way, there’s an episodic quality that allows us to forego the literary need for denouement while eagerly anticipating the story’s continuation.

And yet in a sense, Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea is Hideyuki Kikuchi’s first truly novel length entry in the series, only stretched across two separate volumes; neither can be read independently of the other, one must begin the story with Book Seven and finish Kikuchi’s winding yarn on the final page of Book Eight. But as Part 1 (Book 7) and Part 2 (Book 8) were originally published long, long ago in a place called 1988, it’s best to ignore their severed existence and handle these printed siblings as a single, unified entity—if it helps, think of Book Seven’s ending as one you might happen upon during a multi-volume manga story arc.

A queer bead—found lying on the beach of a remote fishing village in the wintry Northern Frontier—is what ferries our dauntless hunter D to his cliffhanger showdown with the then naked assassin named Gyohki. See, the mysterious bauble had unfortunately drawn the attention of some disrespectable types when a young woman from the village tried pawing the sphere at a nearby town; the girl ended up dead, though not before meeting D and charging him with returning the jewel to her older sister.

Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part 1 is the utilitarian of the two textual brothers, tasked with shipping all the necessary pieces to the northern fishing port; besides D, this nets a merciless mob boss, five shadowy assassins, and three eccentric vagrants, just for good measure. Su-In, the dead girl’s sister, and the reappearance of a long-dead vampire lord round out the cast.

The opportunity to dispatch yet another blood sucker from this world and payment of the highly sought-after bead are enough collateral for Su-In to hire D as a bodyguard and avenger for her sister’s murder. Beyond setting the stage and foreshadowing predictably grander conflicts, Part 1, otherwise, barely skims the surface of the mystery surrounding the bead nor delves too deeply into the machinations of the various thugs competing for the tiny trinket. This isn’t to say the volume’s tedious. Rather, Kikuchi takes advantage of the generous page space allotted to more fully render his landscape for the coming act: he spends time showing us the desolate terrain of this Podunk fishing community, a village whose populace spend their lives hunting the sea, all the while hungering for their brief blast of summer that, thanks to a malfunctioning weather device, only lasts a single week; there’s the hoary remains of a sprawling vampire resort, long since abandoned by its diminishing race, mirrored further in its crumbling façade; and more so than in past volumes similarly stockpiled with a large character depot, Part 1 allows us to gradually seep into its inhabitants, leaving them feeling more alive than simple, artificially injected plot devices.

With the trappings complete and a sense of familiarity instilled, we transition into the rowdy relation; picking up, without skipping a beat, from where its twin left off, Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part 2 (Book 8) is through with gentle strokes, slamming us, instead, in a tangential direction with a massive kung-fu kick—Part 2 is all action and more inline with past Vampire Hunter D installments. Su-In reverts to damsel-in-distress mode as opposition mounts against D, all vying for the bead, regardless of who they list as compatriots; the rouge vampire’s no longer merely lurking in the shadows, the three wildcard toughs come into play, and a lumbering, mechanical crab monster is on the loose, terrorizing the rustic populace.

Even when D’s been temporarily put out of commission, his parasitic left hand manages on its own, scampering about and chucking swords through the hearts of vampire underlings. Surprisingly, the relatively stark dichotomy between the two volumes doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story. Kikuchi subtly installed a firm foundation in Part 1 allowing the sequel text to confidently revel in its visceral carnage, without jettisoning the delicate threads connecting the works. Secrets are still revealed in true D fashion—served on the edge of a bloodied blade—but because this wasn’t a single volume, with a shoehorned plot elbowing its way through a deluge of characters and tumultuous battles, the information glut that, thus far, has been prevalent near the end of many D tales is significantly less severe.

Two distinct but utterly dependent halves merge to create Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea; viewed as a whole, we find a structure comparable to many action stories: slow, expository start, followed by the inevitably battle-driven conclusion. Still, their physical division and diametrical pacing conjure familiar feelings of pouring through volumes of a lengthy manga series. Tempting as those bite-sized single editions might be, Kikuchi floods these two books with enough enjoyable nuances to make me wish more of his Vampire Hunter D stories had been given this thorough a treatment. Maybe one day endless leagues of light novels, like their manga counterparts, will exist on American store shelves, ready to occupy minds during their morning commute; right now, it’s just especially nice when one of these stories feels like it lasted longer than that endless subway ride to work.

Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 8.95
Pages: 208
ISBN: 1-59582-107-4
Size: B6
Orientation: Left to Right
Series: Vampire Hunter D (novels)