After the high that was Raiser of Gales, the Vampire Hunter D series plunges to a rather dreary and functional low with Demon Deathchase. This is easily the weakest book in the series so far, not just because it’s a blatant and depressing retread of the basic elements of the D stories but because it has been assembled with such indifference to the possibilities the series brings up. The title fits nicely: it’s a chase, no more and no less, and after the chase is over the story ends like a door being slammed in our faces. The previous two books, even when they were at the most shameless in their determination to entertain, weren’t this callous to the reader.
It’s not as if there’s a dearth of inspiration in the abstract here. The D mythos contain no end of possibilities to be mined by a creative and vigorous author. The problem is that the author, Hideyuki Kikuchi, seems just as willing to settle for a rather bloodless (pun intended) run-down of all the basic tropes of the series than he is to explore them in a dynamic way. There’s D himself, whose handsomeness and near-immortality and unmatched fighting skills have already been underscored to the point of tedium, but they’re repeated here just in case anyone didn’t catch them the first two times. There’s the usual gallery of supporting characters — almost all of them openly antagonistic to D, except when the story conveniently requires him to have an ally — but none of them are terribly memorable. Even his big quarry falls flat as a menace, or even as much of a goal.
The plot’s not terribly complicated (when is it ever that complicated in one of these novels?): The daughter of a village elder has been abducted by a Noble (read: vampire), who plans to flee with her to one of the more dangerous sectors of the D world. The elder himself hires not just D but another gang of vampire hunters, the notorious Marcus family, who not only kill off vampires but many of the other hunters they tangle with. They drive around in a big customized van, outfitted with any number of gizmos and vehicles-within-vehicles — kind of like the truck we saw tooling around the wasteland in the future-schlock Seventies flick Damnation Alley, but with nicer chrome. And one of the Marcus family hunters is female, and if you think she’s going to make it to the end of the book without swooning for D once, you haven’t been paying attention to this series.
What few twists there are in the story aren’t even used for much in the way of a surprise. The fleeing Noble and his “prisoner” are in fact in love, and quite determined to escape together, a situation that’s milked for pathos but runs dry very quickly. It doesn’t even work well as pulp tragedy, since the characters have no weight to them other than the dramatics of their situation, and by the time D catches up to them their fates are more or less a foregone conclusion. Other freakish characters also show up — like a trio of killers from a village of mutants, who go gunning for D — but they, too, end up just becoming chess pieces in the story’s lockstep plotting. Eventually they all checkmate each other, with no real surprises offered up in the process. Since there’s no real suspense in whether or not D will survive — there are, after all, other books in the series — the story has to derive interest in other ways, but the degree to which you find them in this particular volume is pretty low.
How is it that such a fundamentally uninteresting story could wind up becoming the basis for one of the D movies? Probably because it sports a fine gallery of elements to be ready-made into an animated spectacle: a handsome, aloof hero; a myriad assortment of lurid villains; fancy gadgets; and, most importantly, nonstop forward momentum. When things never stop moving, you don’t have time to pick apart how thin they are. This works well onscreen, but on the page it isn’t as immune to criticism.
The one major way Deathchase contributes to the D mythology is in how it goes at least part of the way towards explaining what that bizarre creature that lives inside of D’s hand might be, and the way we find this out is actually integrated pretty elegantly into the action. But outside of that, this is one of the more disposable — and dismayingly short — entries in the D series, best saved for a spare hour or so when you can whip through it and get it over with, and move on to better things.