My grandma picked up this book for me after seeing it at HalfPrice Books, on the basis that it had a manga-ish look to it, and I like manga.
It's a horror story of a light novel type, with vampires and all sorts of other monsters and action, as well as a mysteriously handsome vampire hunter. It's not as if I were expecting great literature or anything, but I assumed it would be fun to read, at least.
I’m really sorry, Grandma, but this book was so awful I could barely even finish it.
I should start by saying that this is the fourth book in a series, and I have not read the first three books. The pathetic thing is that I honestly had no idea that this wasn’t the first book until I googled the damn thing— which was after I’d finished it. This is not a good thing. I didn’t realize it wasn’t the first book because there’s no sense of any continuity with earlier events anywhere in the text. And D hardly comes across as a character the author is used to writing and has had time to get comfortable with.
Before I go any further, let’s talk about D. D is a dhampir— half-vampire, half-human— and is extremely strong and also extremely beautiful. We know that he’s beautiful because Kikuchi reminds us constantly, in an awkward, purple prose style no less. Honestly, I think that if he had removed all of the references to D’s stunning beauty from the book, it would be half the length. It doesn’t help that (and granted, I don’t know whether I ought to blame author or translator for this) all the descriptions of D’s appearance seem stilted and fake.
“The mount was just an average cyborg horse, but the features of the rider were as clean and clear as a jewel, like the strange beauty of the darkness and the moon crystallized. Every time the all-too-insistent wind touched him, it trembled with uncertainty, whirled, and headed off bearing a whole new air. . . . His profile was so graceful it seemed the Master Craftsman in heaven above had made it His most exquisite work.”
I would like to remind you that the fact that this is the fourth book in the series means that apparently the first three books weren’t enough for Kikuchi to get the need to harp on D’s astonishing beauty out of his system.
Aside from his fabulous beauty and strength (for some reason, even though he’s only part vampire, D is stronger than pretty much any other sort of creature, including vampires— and from what I’ve read of descriptions of the other books, he’s also better off than other dhampirs), D is... Um, well, I’m not really sure. He has no actual personality that I can discern. I couldn’t tell you anything about what sort of person D actually is, aside from the fact that he’s very pretty (and apparently that’s all that really matters... right?).
There’s no indication as to why D is a Vampire Hunter. Is he just in it for the money? (And if so, what does he plan on using that money for?) Does he want to be admired? Does he feel protective of humans? Is his vampire hunting (or, rather, Vampire Hunting, apparently) simply practice for some other goal he hopes to achieve? Is he a thrill-seeker? Does he secretly feel guilty about his ancestry and see Vampire Hunting as a way to redeem himself?
Personally, I’d love it if it were the last one, since I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff. But honestly, I’d be perfectly happy to take any reason at all. But as far as I can tell, D is a Vampire Hunter just sort of Because. (Yes, I know: it’s entirely possible that this was explained in one of the earlier books. But so what? D’s actions still ought to hold some clue to his motivation that I could pick up on. Instead, there’s no insight into his motivation at all. Even if Kikuchi did explain the motivation in an earlier book, it doesn’t matter— that motivation is clearly pasted on.)
Tip for the author: when your supposedly fascinating protagonist is a cipher... you’ve got some severe characterization issues going on.
D is clearly an epic Gary Stu, but he’s also a boring one. (Which is depressing, given that a crazy horror-fantasy-sci-fi hybrid of this sort is one of the few places where a Gary Stu character might not actually be a problem, if they were at least interesting to read about.)
The characterization doesn’t get any better with the other characters. It’s not that they’re indistinguishable, like characters in a lot of bad novels are, they’re simply very flat. All their identifying characteristics are superficial. I can’t believe in any of these people; they feel enormously fake. They’re about as interesting as damp cardboard.
We’ll take one of the main characters, Lori. Her parents die almost immediately at the beginning of the story, in events that leave her orphaned and suffering from what is described as severe radiation poisoning, which leaves her without the ability to speak or hear.* Later, she is taken back to the town in which she and her parents used to live, and it becomes apparent that experiments her parents had been conducting when they lived here have some connection to the mysterious appearance of vampires in the town.
* Which is one of the things in this book that just doesn’t make any fucking sense. Even though Lori is by all accounts a normal human being, she reacts to severe radiation poisoning by fainting and losing her ability to process spoken language... completely ignoring the fact that this has nothing to do with the actual symptoms of radiation sickness. I know what these symptoms are because I researched them for a fanfic I’m writing. You know, when fanfic writers spend more time doing research than published authors, something’s gone horribly wrong with the world.
So, Lori ought to be feeling pretty anxious, right? The narrative says she does, but it has such severe problems with show-don’t-tell that none of her anxiety seems genuine. She’s impossible to empathize with, as is everyone else.
None of the supporting characters’ personalities and motivations makes any more sense than D’s do; they feel like paper dolls with a few random traits slapped onto them. Pluto VIII is opportunistic and looks like a stereotypical biker. Lori is demure, fascinated by D, and otherwise doesn’t do much of anything. Dr. Tsurugi is a traveling doctor, is quick-tempered, and knows karate. Mayor Ming is... remarkably boring, for a crazy person. (And D, of course, is beautiful and awesome, with a personality like mushy peas.) Other than that, I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about any of these people.
The townspeople both are stunned by D’s amazing amazingness and also want to kill him (in spite of the fact that, you know, he was hired to save them from vampires) for reasons that never entirely start to make sense. As far as I can tell, they don’t want him around because they’re as afraid of dhampirs as they are of vampires. But since we can’t feel their fear, it all seems contrived.
What I find especially strange here is that I keep seeing Kikuchi compared to Stephen King, who is very interested in the psychology of his characters. This is the exact opposite of that. There are things by King I’ve liked and things I couldn’t even finish, but I will say that in everything I’ve read by him, he puts a lot of pages into describing the characters’ inner worlds. That was completely absent here, so I’m baffled as to why anyone would compare these two authors.
For curiosity’s sake, I do also have to wonder why Kikuchi thought it was a good idea to name the two teenage girls in this book Lori and Laura, given that there’s no real link at all between them except for their age and gender. (Actually, a lot of the names in this give me pause. Why John M. Brasselli Pluto VIII? I mean, just... why?)
What about the plot? The plot itself wasn’t bad, and it basically hung together and made sense, but it suffered from two main flaws. It’s essentially a mystery, but writing a mystery in which there are clues that actually make sense is impossible when your characterization is this bad— how am I supposed to know whether Person A has a motive to do Action B when I have no idea what Person A is like?
The other major flaw is that, while the plot certainly moves along quickly without dragging, and there is quite a bit of action, the action itself is as flat as the characters. There’s never any suspense— Kikuchi has made it so clear that D IS AMAZING that there was no point in the novel when I felt concern that D might lose a fight. (I’m unclear on why one would want to write horror with no suspense in it. Does it really even qualify as horror if the reader is immediately sure that the protagonist will come out of everything okay?) Additionally, the action scenes, although not muddled, are blank and emotionless; they read like someone trying to describe something they saw on TV. (Actually, the whole thing reads like the novelization of an anime— which is too bad, given that the novels came before the movie adaptations.)
What ought to be a deeply creepy scenes are ruined by the fact that the descriptions are so bland it’s difficult to feel much of anything about it; Kikuchi (or the translator?) resorts to “terrifying” descriptions that are all tell, no show. (“A horrifying journey of nothing but murder and plunder.”)
It’s labeled as horror, but there’s nothing in this book that’s even remotely frightening; the total absence of characterization combined with weirdly tepid writing see to that.
All in all: fail. There was honestly nothing about this book I actually liked. I was trying to find something, but no. The illustrations were pretty, but I can hardly credit the author for that. That's about it.