While light novels are a relatively new concept stateside, they've been around for ages in Japan. They've been the source of many popular franchises, including Slayers, Boogiepop Phantom, Kara no Kyokai, A Certain Magical Index, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and so on. Light novels are conducive to an episodic format and with their rather intense release schedule, there's typically a lot of material.
One of the more famous light novel series to get an adaptation is Vampire Hunter D. There are many whose first foray into Japanese animation was the 1985 film, which was a loose adaptation of the first book. Nearly thirty years after the release of the first novel and the movie, the Vampire Hunter D novel series is still getting releases in Japan and now in the states.
So with that in mind, I dove into volume 18 of Dark Horse's Vampire Hunter D series, Fortress of the Elder God. How was it? Well, it could've been better. Much better. Hit the jump to find out why.
Vampire Hunter D Volume 18: Fortress of the Elder God
Fortress of the Elder God begins with a group of humans boarding a sky bus that is to cross an immense wasteland called the Playground. Called so due to the human and magical experiments run by the vampiric Nobles of the past, the Playground isn't exactly the kind of place you want to cross on foot. Things go awry when the plane these humans are on crashes in the middle of the Playground and this group find themselves to be the only survivors. Soon after landing, they cross paths with an impossibly beautiful vampire hunter named D who is on his way to kill a god.
Before I continue with the synopsis, I've got to tell about this motley crew. You've got a young punk that thinks himself a mobster, an old couple going to visit their grown kids, a younger lady with a lot of attitude, a guy with severe communication problems, a police man and his assistant escorting a vampire to the Capital for experiments and an older warrior who has seen a thing or two in his day. It's the kind of group you'd expect to see in a slasher film and they are treated as such. I'll get more into that in a bit.
Due to a surprising bit of compassion on the part of D, the highly-skilled vampire hunter decides to take an incredibly low amount of money to protect this group of plainly stupid people on the condition he finish the job he was original hired to complete. Through an immense amount of whining, whinging, posturing and complaining, D manages to reach his destination: a massive keep in the middle of the Playground that was the site of a battle in ages past. D finds that the fortress was home to the followers of a Lovecraftian-god and that by investigating the premises, he has reignited the war that began so long ago. Now our talented vampire hunter must deal with the fortress' ancient defenses, protect the useless humans from themselves AND kill the ancient god that seems to be unstoppable. D has his work cut out for him, no doubt.
Alright, I'll get this out of the way: this book is a mess. Trying to combine the two main stories into a coherent work was not successful here. You'll spend pages upon pages hearing how the young punk tries to rebel against every single person in the group, how the old couple's children have moved on with their lives and how the old man is bitter about this, how the young lady can't stand anybody else in the group except for the vulnerable boy, etc. With the exception of the warrior, everybody else is a useless bag of meat that is obvious slasher bait. I don't think there was anyway I could care less about these people and their plight.
There are also the numerous literary ticks present. There had to be over a dozen references to D's unnatural beauty. Yes, I understand that D is an exceptional physical specimen blessed with the aura of a dhampir, but there is no need to mention that as often as it is. It doesn't really feature into the story, which irritated me even more. I'm also not too fond of the translation, but I think that has something more to do with the original work and less to do with the conversion from Japanese to English. There's only so much polishing you can do with a script that is bad to begin with.
The conclusion of the work felt rushed and nonsensical. The crux of the ending involves the escorted vampire hearing the voice of the titular elder god and how the humans were corrupted by the same voice. I'm fine with that idea. What I'm not okay with is how Kikuchi decided to deal with most of these people. I'm still a little confused on how one character managed to make it to the last page without being revealed and the motivations behind another characters turn still fails to make sense. It doesn't help that the finale lacks any sort of satisfaction.
So far my review is predominately negative. However, there are a couple things that are good about Fortress of the Elder God. Anything relating to D is good to me. Granted, you'll see a ton of references to his ethereal beauty and his surprising strength, but I find D an interesting character that I'd like to learn more about. There's also the entire history of this world and how the Nobles rose to power and fell. Since it's so long after the fact, the only thing we see are the scattered remains of some messed-up times. As dangerous as the Vampire Hunter D world currently is, you can only imagine what it was like at the height of vampiric power. Those seeds are enough to keep me from completely panning this book outright.
If you're a fan of great writing, interesting characters and a good story, Fortress of the Elder God will likely disappoint you. However, if you're willing to get past the many flaws, you'll find one interesting character (and his sarcastic left hand) and a world that deserves to be fleshed out. I was able to eek out some amount of entertainment from those elements. When the best part of your book are the events that happened hundreds to thousands of years prior to the start of your story, you've got a problem.
5.0 - Mediocre - Lacks creativity, and even fans of the genre may grow tired of it.
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