Writer/Artist:Hideyuki Kikuchi / Yoshitaka Amano
Translated by:Kevin Leahy
What They Say
In the title story, "Dark Nocturne," D is hired to unlock the secret of a siren's song that is drawing men in their twenties to their deaths in the hills outside Anise Village. In "Notes on Imagined Autumn," D finds himself caught between two lovers during a ritualistic sacrifice in the village of Shirley's Door, but if D can't stop the sacrifice will all in the village be doomed?
And in "Legend of the War Demons," two living weapons, genetically engineered creatures who are the last remnants of a war waged hundreds of years in the past, find that battle is not so easily forgotten. It's up to D to stop their unending conflict before it consumes the present as it did the past.
Once more into the breach with Hideyuki Kikuchi’s prolific vampire hunter, although for this installment, D’s adventure comes in aggregate. For the series’ tenth volume, Vampire Hunter D: Dark Nocturne, a trio of short stories is on offer, attempting to distill the franchise’s essence into potent yet delicious cocktails
With most of the previous volumes clocking-in under 200 pages, rarely have the D books felt overly lengthy and in need of serious trimming; rather, I’ve usually found myself wanting just a few extra chapters, fleshing out characters, concepts, and allowing for more vivid imagery. So then it’s curious that these three brief tales manage to hit something of a sweat spot, displaying relatively ideal mixtures of exposition and action, without leaving readers asking for far greater elaboration.
Possibly this is because—while Kikuchi has a knack for atmosphere and setting—his language often wilts when pressed to deliver clear meaning amidst chaotic action sequences and queer descriptions of the fantastical. One does, of course, always question how much is lost through translation, but regardless of reason, I find it common in D books to come upon long passages striving towards a grander vision than what ultimately is present on page.
In this particular instance, where space is at a premium, the author had little room for excessive embellishment—a circumstance Kikuchi adroitly handled by delivering three enjoyable pieces that still maintain the rhythm and feel of a Vampire Hunter D book.
The first story, and the volume’s namesake, is Dark Nocturne. An entrancing song wafts across the vast frontier luring a young man named Ry to the village of Anise, a tiny burg that plays home to this mysterious melody. Created thousands of years prior by a local member of the vampiric Nobility, generations of the townsfolk have lived in fear of the devious tune’s hypnotic effects, never knowing its true purpose. Ry, however, is not the sole audience summoned by the seductive aria, as other—far deadlier—frontiersmen have also heeded its call. Now with the right living pieces in place and horrifying secrets rising to destroy the sleepy village, can D solve the song’s puzzle in time to save Ry and the town’s inhabitants?
Next is An Ode to Imagined Fall. While comprising a more conventional D outing than the previous story, Ode radiates with a greater overall exuberance, an aspect downplayed in Nocturne's somewhat languid text.
Fall is when the bucolic village of Shirley’s Door truly comes alive—it is a time of harvest, festivals, and preparation for a long, harsh winter. Nothing can ever be allowed to disrupt such a vital season, so what better protection could be found than the frontier’s most renowned vampire hunter. Hired by an elderly sage after ominous signs begin to appear, D soon finds himself faced with a two-sided battle between a resurrected Noble and the town itself, whose traditional solution for vampire troubles is sacrificing local maidens to the monster’s deathly kiss.
If of the three Ode can be viewed as primarily representative of the series proper, Legend of the War Fiends presents—at the very least—a slight deviation from the norm. Maybe not surprisingly, it’s also the most entertaining of the stories, mixing the standard antithetical bounty hunters and swordplay with two unusually dominant characters whose backgrounds give further insight into the fragmented world D travels through.
Thousands of years before their downfall, the Nobility created an incomprehensibly advanced society where magic and science fused along invisible lines, becoming the very fabric of everyday life. In present times, when a scientific expedition unearths the ancient ruins of a Noble’s castle, the flames of an eons-old feud are suddenly re-ignited. Never leaving their dark, airy spires, longstanding wars once raged between fanged aggressors, fought through the use of devastatingly powerful biological weapons, some of which were indistinguishable from an average human. With the castles discovery, two such fearsome harbingers have suddenly awakened. As this pair of unlikely adversaries draw ever closer to their brutal destinies, any chance for avoiding the bloodied conflict rests entirely on the onyx-clad shoulders of the legendary hunter, D.
All three stories are purely one-shots, eschewing any apparent attempts to thematically link the prose. From this standpoint, one can read these selections in any order they so choose; although, the current arrangement stands as the most fulfilling. Where Dark Nocturne is light on content and pads its story with prolonged exposition, An Ode to Imagined Fall finds itself on the opposing end, laden with material that might well have been better served in a longer story or possibly its own book. Legend of the War Fiends, instead, strikes a textual balance between the previous two and in doing so ends the book on a high note. Its concepts are more fully realized than Dark Nocturne, but composed with a narrative structure befitting of the slim page length. In a sense, War Fiends cleanses the other stories’ weaknesses from the reader’s palette, while also tying the entire package together.
As a whole, the tenth Vampire Hunter D book is a pleasant change from the series’ usual routine. These three swift little stories are entertaining enough and retain the core elements needed for a true D volume. While nothing revolutionary is added to the series, it’s interesting merely to see Kikuchi work with his titular character through shorter text, plus having all three pieces present in one compilation makes the book additionally worthwhile.