Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 2

Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrator: Jun Suemi

Translator: Eugene Woodbury
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569701461
Released: May 2010
Original release: 2007

Since beginning Yashakiden: The Demon Princess I have read a few of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s manga collaborations, but Yashakiden remains the only prose work of his that I have read. I’ll admit, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first volume in the series. Despite brief moments of brilliance, overall I found the novel to be pretty cringe-worthy. However, there as enough that intrigued me in the first volume of Yashakiden, particularly Demon City Shinjuku, the setting of the story, that I wanted to read at least the second volume as well. Digital Manga Publishing released the English translation by Eugene Woodbury in 2010 and was kind enough to send me a review copy. The edition, which includes illustrations by Jun Suemi, is based on the version of the novel that was published in Japan in 2007. Kikuchi completed the work in 1997.

The second volume of Yashakiden begins immediately where the first volume leaves the story off. Four ancient Chinese vampires have come to Demon City Shinjuku to make the city their own. Two of the city’s most formidable residents, Aki Setsura and Doctor Mephisto, oppose them. They don’t entirely trust each other, but the two men must work together, even forming an alliance with Demon City Shinjuku’s local vampire population. It’s not enough. Neither side of the conflict comes through unscathed from the ensuing struggle for control over Demon City Shinjuku: there have been numerous deaths, Setsura is in the hospital unconscious, Mephisto is acting strangely, and the vampires on both sides are all worse for wear. Still, the Chinese vampires’ influence over the city continues to grow as they turn leaders of the government and the police force. To make matters even more complicated, most of those living in Demon City Shinjuku aren’t even aware of the danger they are in.

I am very happy to be able to say that the writing style of the second volume of Yashakiden greatly improves upon that of the first. I do wish it was a little more descriptive, though. Quite frequently important details are introduced only when they are immediately needed. This can make things a bit confusing for the reader from time to time, such as during an action sequence in which a character suddenly makes use of a sword that he had apparently been carrying the whole time but that I couldn’t remember ever having been mentioned. But overall, the writing is much better in the second volume. The tone and pacing of the story, which varied wildly in the first volume, is much more even, as well.

Yashakiden continues to intrigue me. In the second volume, Kikuchi has introduced some new plot elements in addition to developing those that have already been established. Mephisto, who has always come across as a little odd, has become a more interesting character now that his stoic facade is starting to crumble. As for Setsura, I am becoming more and more curious to learn about his “other” self of which Kikuchi has only allowed readers glimpses so far. I do enjoy the scenes in which the two men appear together; they know how to push each other’s buttons and I find their mutual needling to be rather amusing. While Yashakiden isn’t a series that I would rush out to recommend to just anyone, personally I plan to follow it a bit further. I’m hoping that each volume continues to improve and am honestly interested in seeing where Kikuchi takes things next.

Thank you to Digital Manga for providing a copy of Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 2 for review.

Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 1

Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrator: Jun Suemi

Translator: Eugene Woodbury
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569701454
Released: January 2010
Original release: 2007

Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 1 is the first novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi that I have read. The fine folk at Digital Manga, which released the English translation in 2009, discovered that I had never read anything by Kikuchi and were kind enough to send me a sampling of his work. Kikuchi is probably best known for his series Vampire Hunter D. The reason I decided to read Yashakiden, another vampire series, first is that the author himself considers it to be even better than Vampire Hunter D. Also, the cover art by Jun Suemi, who also provides the interior illustrations, is marvelous. Yashakiden was originally written in 1997 and the edition that Eugene Woodbury’s English translation is based on was published in 2007. Yashakiden currently has four volumes available in English, equivalent to the first six Japanese volumes since books three and four are omnibus editions.

Ever since the Devil Quake, Demon City Shinjuku has become a corrupt and sordid place. Cut off from much of the outside world, the city serves as a sort of safe haven for the paranormal. Demonkind and humankind live side by side in a very precarious balance. The arrival of four ancient and powerful Chinese vampires who want to control the city for their own purposes threaten to upset that balance. It is up to two of the city’s most dangerous, feared, admired, and talented residents to stop them: Aki Setsura, senbei shop owner and skilled private investigator, and Doctor Mephisto, also known as the demon physician. If the two men hope to save their city from the greatest evil it has ever faced, they will first have to put aside their differences and work together.

Yashakiden features not one, but two unnaturally beautiful, supernaturally inclined protagonists. In fact, both Aki and Mephisto’s primary characteristic seems to be how gorgeous they are. Kikuchi never misses an opportunity to remind the reader of their beauty, although it is generally stated rather than being described in any depth. This goes for many of the vampires, too. Personally, I need my characters to be more than paranormal pretty boys to really engage me in the story. (Not that I have anything against pretty boys; quite the contrary.) Fortunately, there are some glimmers of hope towards the end of the first volume of Yashakiden that they will actually be interesting characters after all. The mystery that Kikuchi has shrouded them in is frustrating because it seems like the author is simply withholding information from the readers rather than there being anything inherently mysterious about the men.

I don’t know if it is the fault of the original Japanese or the English translation, but for the most part the writing in the first volume of Yashakiden is pretty terrible. It does get better as the novel progresses, but even towards the end of the book there were turns of phrases that honestly made me cringe. Often, the narrative would even deliberately contradict itself for dramatic purposes. However, the more depraved or grotesque a scene, and often this was the same thing, the better the writing was. It could actually be quite good. The bloody, far from vanilla sex scenes that seem to come out of nowhere are fine examples of this. I should note that the portrayal of women in the novel isn’t particularly flattering. Granted, many of them are vampires, but still. Fortunately, they are somewhat balanced out by Takako, who is more than just a sex fiend. Despite some of my misgivings I will be reading the next volume of Yashakiden and probably more after that. I really like Demon City Shinjuku and much of the world-building. It seems like the story could get very interesting very soon.

Thank you to Digital Manga for providing a copy of Yashakiden: The Demon Princess, Volume 1 for review.

My Week in Manga: Ocobter 17-October 23, 2011

My News and Reviews

Not much news here, not that there ever really is, but I did post a review last week for The Journey to the West, Volume 3. I only have one more volume to go in Anthony C. Yu’s translation of this Chinese classic. However, the post that I’m particularly happy with from last week is Random Musings: 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die—Japan. I found an excuse to not only make a list, but a spreadsheet!

And now for fun things online: Connie of Slightly Biased Manga has a great list of Medical Manga that I would recommend checking out. Also, Yaoi-con was this weekend. Arguably the biggest news to come out of the con this year is that Viz Media is starting a boys’ love imprint called SuBLime. (Note the BL in the name.) It’s starting out as digital, but print manga is expected to launch this coming spring. The link to Anime News Network’s article on the announcement can be found here.

The Horror Manga Moveable Feast begins today! I’ve got a vampire-filled quick takes section for your enjoyment here (plus Samurai 7 because I felt like watching it). Later this week I’ll be posting an in-depth review of the manga adaptation of Otsuichi’s award-winning novel Goth. The Feast will be running through the 31st, so I’ll have another batch of horror themed quick takes ready for next week, too.

Quick Takes

Hellsing, Volumes 1-8 by Kohta Hirano. What do you get when you have fanatical groups of Catholics, Protestants, and Nazis, with vampires and werewolves thrown in for good measure, who all want to kill each other? You get the insanity that is Hellsing. There’s not really much of a plot beyond that, but none is really needed. Hirano is obviously having a lot of fun with this series and the readers are in for one hell of a ride. There’s plenty of blood, gore, and violence, but Hirano’s artwork is well suited for what is asked of it. My favorite character is easily Alucard and I wish that he would show up more in the series than he actually does. But when he does make an appearance it is extremely memorable.

Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist, Volume 1 written by Hideyuki Kikuchi and illustrated by Shin Yong-Gwan. I’m not really sure what’s going on yet in Taimashin, but I don’t really care because I’m so enthralled by the titular red spider exorcist. I think that is somewhat the point, though. Megumi doesn’t really know what’s going on either, but for some reason she’s being pursued by demons. She is told to seek the aid of Akamushi, an elegant Noh dancer gifted with astounding supernatural abilities. Some of the scenes are actually pretty creepy. Yong-Gwan’s art is very clean and attractive, Akamushi in particular. I’d like to see where things go with Taimashin, and I’d like to see more of Akamushi, so I’ll be picking up the next volume in the series.

Vampire Hunter D, Volume 1 by Saiko Takaki. Not having read the Vampire Hunter D novels, I don’t know how the manga adaptation compares. I can say that it does make me want to give the original a try, though. D is certainly the most compelling character, which is understandable; he is the hero of the series, after all. He’s dark and brooding and beautiful. As a vampire hunter, he’s also a talented fighter. I like the setting of Vampire Hunter D, a post-apocalyptic far future where humanity is just barely hanging on. Vampires, known as the Nobility, who rule over the humans and hold much of the power are now in decline as well. But that doesn’t mean they are any less dangerous.

Vampire’s Portrait, Volume 1 by Hiroki Kusumoto. For as sexy as the vampire Sein is supposed to be, there is absolutely no chemistry between him and his supposed romantic interest Lou. I actually found the Vampire’s Portrait to be rather frustrating for just that reason. It’s supposed to be a boys’ love title but the characters’ development is completely lacking and their relationship is unconvincing. Don’t let the cover fool you. The best part of the volume is the showdown between Sein and his brother, particularly when Sein’s “true face” is finally revealed to Lou and the readers. The scene and his appearance is fantastically frightening. In fact, I would consider Kusumoto’s artwork to be the highlight of this manga.

Samurai 7 directed by Toshifumi Takizawa. Samurai 7 is a very interesting interpretation and adaptation of Kurosawa’s classic film Seven Samurai. I quite enjoyed it and found the anime to be very engaging. Occasionally some of the parallels seem a bit forced, but at other times they’re pulled off brilliantly. The series is at its best when it doesn’t try to adhere to strictly to the original story and is free to be itself. The animation and production values are consistently high throughout. Samurai 7 grants some new takes on the characters involved in the story, as well. The portrayal of Katsushiro as an eager young man who matures and grows drastically is particularly well done.