Back at the end of last year a friend of mine bought me Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D, a massive collection of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations for Hideyuki Kikuchi’s long-running novel series. I’m not using the word “massive” figuratively here: the book is big enough to cover most of my desk, and could probably stop a .22 when sheathed in its slipcase. Since I’m a massive fan of all three topics — D, Kikuchi and Amano — this was about as perfect a gift as I could ask for. It’s now enshrined in the little permanent collection of artbooks, about three feet to the right of me where I sit typing this.
Yoshitaka Amano: The Collected Art of Vampire Hunter D is probably going to get filed right next to it. It’s not as physically imposing a volume — it’s roughly trade paperback size — but it runs to just south of four hundred pages, and more than makes up in scope what it doesn’t have in dimensions. It’s a gorgeous survey of the remarkable body of artwork that’s been created for this franchise — one which we’re only just now beginning to see here in English-speaking territories. Granted, Amano’s artbooks have been long available before as imports — I had a few of them myself at one point, but stupidly let them go when money got tight; what was I thinking? — but a whole surfeit of them have been showing up as domestic pressings. And now everyone who didn’t haunt bookstores like Kinokuniya or Sasuga can find out what all the screaming has been about.
Amano/D surveys the breadth of Amano’s work for the D franchise — the cover illustrations, the black-and-white interior designs, and a great deal of auxiliary material such as hand-painted T-shirts and a spectacular-looking D statue cast in bronze. For an artist whose work is so distinct and also consistent, Amano’s output for the D franchise spans a striking range of approaches. The cover art tends to be the most broadly colorful and “realistic” (for lack of a better word), while the black-and-white internal illustrations have the fierce, high-contrast look of an impressionistic still from a silent film. Also scattered throughout are many conté-style drawings — rough sketches, art-book outtakes — where D’s features are typically distilled down to the absolute basics. A good deal of the work reminds me of Gustav Klimt (warning: some images not work-safe); I’d be enormously surprised if Amano didn’t cite him as an influence, although he does openly profess a fascination with Art Nouveau in general.
As a way to put the art further into context, Amano includes a bonus short story starring D, “A Village in Fog,” by D author Hideyuki Kikuchi himself.Coffin contained a similar short, “Portrait of Ixobel,” as a similar way to enhance the mood of that book. If you’re an existing Amano fan who picked up this book because of him but not because of D, this is a nice way to get a little of the D mystique under your skin as well. (Both stories are not available elsewhere in English at this time.) Amano himself only speaks at the end of the book, in a note dated July 2000 and in a short segment about his New York City studio. It might have been nice to see more commentary from him about specific works, but that would have probably left all the fewer pages for the art itself — and with art this sensual and moody, the annotations are really all right on the page, anyway.
Three criticisms come to mind. The first is that not every picture is presented in its entirety. Sometimes we get a detail — a nice one, to be sure, and probably quite representative — but the completist in me complains whenever it sees something like that. Examples: A black-and-white inner illustration from the Mysterious Journey to the North Sea books is shown as a detail, missing a good deal of the picture information around the edges that provides some degree of context. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it’s annoying.
The other beef I have — again nothing major but still annoying — is the organization of the book, or rather the lack of it. The works are presented in no particular order, mainly organized for the sake of aesthetic contrast from page to page, and the index in the back simply lists everything in page order. An index of works by name or chronology would have been really useful, the latter doubly so since it would have given some idea of the evolution of the man’s work.
The third is the binding — the book’s been perfect-bound as a paperback, so you can’t really lay the book completely flat the way you could Coffin, and that makes some of the two-page spreads harder to appreciate. On the plus side, the book’s offered in a protective cardboard slipcase and is printed on the kind of heavy paper that a book like this demands, and the repro quality is second to none right down to the spot gold coloring on the illustrations that use it.
The Bottom Line: My complaints about some of the presentation aside, any Amano or D fan who doesn’t already have Coffin is going to want Amano on their shelf — and even those who do have Coffin will want to at least peek at it. At a list price of $30 to the larger book’s $40, it may even offer a slightly better value for the dollar in terms of breadth of coverage. Now: when do we get an Amano / Guin artbook? I’ve got a few Benjamins burning a hole in my wallet just for that.