As Japan opens its doors to the world, will a seventeen year old kendo prodigy be enough to save Tokyo from the wrath of Count Dracula himself? Brought to you by Hideyuki Kikuchi of Vampire Hunter D fame, this novel is one to put on your reading list.
Writer/Artist: Hideyuki Kikuchi with Illustrations by Katsuya
Translated by: N/A
Adapted by: N/A
What They Say
FROM JAPAN’S MASTER OF HORROR, HIDEYUKI KIKUCHI, COMES A TERRIFYING, ACTION-PACKED VAMPIRE THRILLER.
Japan, 1880. Seventeen-year-old Daigo possesses a wicked talent for the sword. Though many have come to challenge him, none has triumphed. But one moonless night, a stranger arrives in Daigo’s quiet village, bearing the key to a mystery that haunts Daigo’s family–a tale too incredible to be believed, the proof too compelling to be doubted.
Count Dracula cannot change who he is, or what he craves, or how many souls he must steal to slake his undying thirst. An entire country is about to fall prey to the count’s bloodlust–and no one’s at greater risk than those closest to Daigo, especially the beautiful, love-struck Chizuru. Only Daigo can save his community from this demon of the night. But Daigo has never faced a more formidable opponent. He’s never confronted a vampire’s speed, a vampire’s strength, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, a vampire’s seduction. . . .
The front cover tries to entice you with an ominous looking Dracula and the Dark Wars titles in big, blood-red letters. Unfortunately, the rest of the cover is a bit cluttered with several images splashed on a mostly gray and green cover. Dracula himself, with his blood red eyes, is holding a fainting Chizuru in his arms. Beneath the Count are shadowy black and white images of Daigo, Shiro, and Jigoro, a gas lamp, and a moon shaped like a skull. On Dracula’s coat is the Tale of the Meiji Dracula subtitle in white, with a bloody D on the Dracula. Author’s and illustrator’s names are at the bottom, but the gray lettering makes them hard to read.
In contrast, the back cover and spine are a bit plain with no sketches. The spine is blood red with white lettering. The back cover has a teaser about Hideyuki Kikuchi, in bold white lettering in the upper left. The story summary takes up most of the back cover, in gray lettering on a black and gray background that looks like night fog. The bar code is bottom right, and the Del Rey name is bottom left.
Extras include more than a dozen illustrations spread throughout the novel. The illustrations have varying degrees of details and go from bone-chilling to bursting with action and energy. There’s also a table of contents, a table of illustrations (very cool), afterward from the author, and a glossary.
Parts of the novel read like a voiceover, with date entries and locations at the beginning of the chapters. The novel as a whole reads fairly smoothly, and Japanese words and names have English phonetic equivalents. The voice of the narrative is in contemporary English and the tone is in keeping with a horror/ thriller novel.
The novel uses Japanese words quite liberally and comes off as sounding like Japanglish. You may find yourself flipping back to the glossary quite often, but by the middle of the story you’ll have picked up most of the vocabulary. In fact, the use of the Japanese words (i.e. six shaku rather than six feet) helps to give 19th century Tokyo more depth and character rather than just the anonymous backdrop for the plot.
Daigo is not your ordinary seventeen year old living in Japan’s Meiji Era. It’s sometime in the 1880’s and Daigo has a lot going for him. He is quite the kendo prodigy and his kendo master, Isanosuke, wants Daigo to marry his daughter (Chizuru) and take over the kendo school. Of course, Daigo also has a lot of baggage. He has a nasty reoccurring cough, is still hung up on his father (a master swordsman who disappeared at sea), and gets a rush from fighting tough opponents.
Like most horror stories, things really get going when Daigo and his teenage friends decide to venture into the scary abandoned mansion. With him is Akane (Chizuru’s younger sister), Niizuka (Akane’s chubby friend), and Shiro (Daigo’s new friend and prodigy of the new martial art called Judo). After making their way deep into the mansion, they fight off an attack from a bat and encounter a towering figure. Thankfully, the man who refers to himself as Count Dracula ushers them out. They are more than happy get out of the mansion relatively unharmed-- just a couple scratches and bites from the bat.
As it turns out, Daigo’s not the only one who can’t resist a good match. Count Dracula shows up at the dojo at the worst time, during a visit by Japanese dignitaries including Jigoro, Daigo’s Judo teacher. Isanosuke puts up a good fight, but it’s not until Diago steps in that the dojo becomes electrified. It’s a draw and the Count is satisfied for now. However, once Dracula sees the beautiful Chizuru, a new desire starts to well up inside him.
After the bout, horrific and bizarre occurrences pop up around the town. Akane starts to go mad, refuses to eat, and is repulsed by garlic. Shiro has trouble concentrating and complains of the pulsating neck pains. On her way home, even Daigo’s mother is not immune from the horror. But when Chizuru is forced to go to a European ball held in honor of foreign dignitaries, it’s Count Dracula’s spell that she falls under.
Will Daigo’s swordsmanship be enough against the evil from Transylvania? What is the mysterious connection between the Count and Daigo’s father? Will Akane, Shiro, and Chizuru be the end or only the beginning of Dracula’s terrorizing of Tokyo (Edo)?
If you’re in for a Meiji era period piece with suspense and vampires mixed in, you should give Dark Wars a read. Kikuchi does a masterful job immersing you in 1880’s Japan. The smells, the sounds, the people of that era all come to life in a Noir-like voice. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this title. Thankfully, it’s a bit more nuanced than some of the Dracula B-Movie flicks I used to watch. (No offense to you Dracula B-Movie fans out there!) The chilling illustrations spiced throughout the novel have a NASCAR-can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-crash quality to them. Kikuchi’s historical notes that he disperses throughout the story are as interesting as the vampires themselves. The author really makes Meiji Era Japan as much a character in the novel as the Count himself.
The sections of the story have journal date entries, much like an X-Files episode. Unfortunately, like some X-File episodes, this story has some plot gaps as well. It’s not too much of a leap that the Count could put up a good fight. However, I don’t understand why he needs to be a master swordsman too. He’s a vampire! There’s no need to fight with swords when you can disappear in a cloud of smoke or turn into a bat and bite your opponent. Additionally, while it moves the plot along faster to have Jigoro as a vampire expert, it is way too convenient that he knows everything from garlic to crucifixes. Part of the problem is that this novel could easily be twice as long or spread out over two or three books. It’s a thrilling story but it feels like the author cut out portions of a larger story to keep the novel within a lower page count.
I won’t give away the ending, but it’s just like those Dracula B-Movies out there. If you want closure, you’re probably going to be disappointed. That being said, the afterward gives an engaging account of Kikuchi’s motivation for writing this story. Reading the afterward helps me to appreciate the ending and the novel as a whole.
Despite the minor points, this novel is captivating and will appeal to many different fans. Suspense and horror fans will enjoy the gruesome descriptions and the haunting illustrations by Katsuya Terada. Kikuchi fans will enjoy the multilevel vampire character development, and setting the Count in Meiji Era Japan is a treat. It’s not a perfect story, but it’s a page turner nevertheless. Though I wasn’t a Dracula fan before I picked up this book, if Kikuchi wrote another installment I would certainly go out of my way to read it.