Dark Nocturne may be one of the best bargains in the whole of the Vampire Hunter D series so far: it’s three D adventures for the price of one. What’s most interesting is that any one of these novellas feels like it has at least as much detail and incident as any one of the previous full-length books in the series. It’s a hallmark of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s writing: he can make one sentence do the work of ten, and he has that economy of style and storytelling racked up to “11” through this whole volume. And, as always, it features those wonderful Yoshitaka Amano illustrations and cover designs.
The title story, in some ways, is the least satisfying of the three because it doesn’t give us the sort of closure we’ve been accustomed to seeing from the rest of the series. Here, D has been hired to find out why the young men of a certain village are being lured to their deaths by a strange song — presumably the work of the Nobility (i.e., vampires), but D finds something even more bizarre at work. This story has much of the flavor of the novel The Stuff of Dreams — that of a ghost story, where just because all is revealed doesn’t mean all has been set a-right.
“An Ode to Imagined Fall”, set in the wonderfully-named village of Shirley’s Door, features D (reluctantly) protecting two young lovers, Lyle and Cecile, from being forced to appease dark forces that lurk just outside the village. In much the manner of Andromeda being sacrificed to appease Poseidon, a girl is offered as a sacrifice — and Cecile is most likely next. D’s real reason for being there is on the command of an older woman, “Helga of the Red Basket,” who wants D’s protection for the village against an alleged attack by the Nobility that won’t come until later in the season. There is, as you can imagine, a great deal more going on than meets the eye, and an ending that has as much melancholy as it does action.
“Legend of the War Fiends” is the most raucous, and to my taste the most enjoyable, of the three novellas. First, there’s a brief stage-setting flashback involving a power plant crafted by the Nobility and left to run for thousands of years to do — what? That’s the secret to be unraveled as D finds himself tangled up with two most unusual characters: Dynus, a giant with the strength of an elephant and a heart that’s about as big to match; and Raya, a seemingly-innocent young woman who does things that seem blatantly impossible for a girl like her whenever people’s backs are turned. Turns out the two of them are living war machines, preparing to finish a battle that began centuries ago. What’s most interesting is how D is not simply cast in the role of an executioner, but someone whose personality (such as it is) appeals to their better natures. They don’t want death and destruction to be the substance of their lives, but they slowly realize no other options exist for them. This bit of emotional weight was what made “War Fiends” stand out for me as the best story here, and while I could see any three of these tales spun out to the length of a full novel, this one would probably have stood up best.
Translation: Kevin Leahy has been supplying the translations for all the D novels so far, and in every case Kikuchi’s storytelling voice comes through with great clarity. (I should say that the earlier books suffer from some narrative clumsiness that’s clearly not Leahy’s fault; he’s simply being faithful to what Kikuchi wrote, and what he wrote there was a bit stodgy.) As a side note, even though this isn’t a manga, there are several black-and-white full-page illustrations (and a cover design) by D’s visual godfather, Yoshitaka Amano. There don’t seem to be as many of them this time around, and they’re missed, but some of them are just staggering. Page 155 features a glorious shot of D leaping through the air, one of the very best in the whole D oeuvre so far.
The Bottom Line: I’m strongly tempted to recommend this as a person’s first exposure to the D universe, if only because you get a whole spectrum of stories instead of just one. Start here, and if you like what you see, go back and pick up the best of the previous volumes, like Raiser of Gales, Pilgrimage of the Sacred and Profane, or thetwo-part Journey to the North Sea. The latter, by the way, is apparently being made into an animated TV series. That can’t show up soon enough for me.