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March 22, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: Yashakiden: The Demon Princess

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Yashakiden: The Demon Princess
Author: Hideyuki Kikuchi (Taimashin, Vampire Hunter D)
Jun Suemi
Digital Manga Publishing
This is the first volume of a four book series.  It’s a light novel, of decent length (about 280 pages), for $13.95.
Vintage: 2007 in Japan (in current volume form), Januray 2010 by DMP.  It’s copyrighted by Kikuchi 1997, and author notes in the back suggest he was writing it in the late ’80s.
Genre: It’s definitely a mature title, with gory battles, nude illustrations, sexual content, demons, vampires, and various things.  It’s fantasy horror, mainly.

In Demon City Shinjuku, the extraordinary is ordinary.  Creatures of the night live alongside the humans of daytime.  A massive quake shook the city several years ago, unleashing all manner of dark creatures on the city.  Remarkably, there’s a balance between the demon creatures and the humans.  These dark creatures have a right to survive in the city…provided they do not harm the humans.  The two most remarkable beings in the city are not positively demon or human: detective Setsura Aki and the Demon Physician Doctor Mephisto.  They look and behave like humans (generally speaking anyway), but have impressive supernatural powers.  Setsura is  normally employed in finding missing persons, or investigating strange happenings in the city.  Mephisto, not quite a friend though not simply a partner, often works alongside him; but mostly he works in his hospital tending to the bizarre and mysterious specimens of Shinjuku.  The delicate balance of the city is brutally disturbed when four ancient Chinese vampires suddenly descend upon the unsuspecting citizens.  The enigmatic Princess, the sadistic alchemist Kikiou, the loyal guardian Ryuuki, and the enchantress Shuuran employ all their powers to bring Demon City Shinjuku to its knees.  Only Setsura and Mephisto have even the slightest hope of defeating them, but are their combined talents enough?

In this volume we are, of course, introduced to main characters Setsura and Mephisto, and the villainous Chinese vampires.  We meet several other characters, like the leaders of Shinjuku’s vampire citizens, the mayor of Shinjuku and his secretary, a couple of newly formed vampires that I’m not sure will make continuing appearances, and a young woman named Takako who seems to be taken with Setsura.  There are numerous encounters with strange creatures, and several battles with the Chinese vampires.  Setsura and Mephisto just scrape by in these battles, which is not at all comforting…but they do have certain tricks and secrets up their sleeves.  They are quite enigmatic, and while they appear to work for the side of good, their actual natures are unclear.  The nature of their powers makes it obvious that they are not normal humans, if indeed they are human at all.  What the four ancient vampires want, exactly, is not yet clear, though they seem bent on either domination or destruction.  Demon City Shinjuku seems perfectly suited for them, and it was certainly its unique nature that made them journey there.  There are hints that they may not all share the same exact goal, and certainly they don’t agree on the same methods.

Setsura and Mephisto, along with the vampire Yakou, look on as a vampire spawn is tortured for answers in Yashakiden vol. 1. Several of these gritty illustrations are scattered throughout the text.

I had a pretty wordy rant written out about the quality of writing in this book.  On further reflection, I think it was my literary snobbery taking hold.  So I’ll briefly touch on the problems I had with the text.  I’d like to first remark that the books I typically read are more…sophisticated in nature, written by long dead authors, who used big words and flowery descriptions.  That is to say, I enjoy 18th and 19th century European fiction, and Tolkien.  I want to make it clear that it is not Digital Manga’s translation that is the problem, because it appears to be sound (except for a handful of editing errors).  My problem is with Kikuchi’s style.  Though it won’t hurt to note that I am generally not a fan of the “horror” genre.  I prefer fantasy and history.

Here’s the short version: I think the story and main characters are interesting, but the execution fails to impress me, and Kikuchi’s writing style does nothing for me.

My main problem with the text is all of the unnecessary repetition, specifically Kikuchi’s incessant remarks on the beauty of his two main characters, and the Chinese vampires.  That they’re the most beautiful people in Shinjuku, that Princess is so beautiful you get hard from just a glance, that Setsura is so beautiful he seduces women without trying.  They’re faces are beautiful, their bodies are perfect, and so on.  Everyone is beautiful, automatically seductive, and for no reason other than…they just are.  The idea that the inhuman is beautiful is nothing new, of course, but I’m not complaining about the fact that they’re beautiful.  Just that Kikuchi feels the need to re-explain this every time they appear on the page.  It reads like a romance novel.  Particularly the sex scenes.  I admit that I have not actually read any traditional romance novels myself, so I just imagine that’s what they must be like.  Trashy and exaggerated.

The book is not really scary or thrilling in any way.  I think it’s trying to be, but then tossed in between chase scenes, hunt scenes, or investigations, are these bizarre sequences with mutated monsters (that aren’t described nearly as well as the naked women), and over done sex scenes with no real purpose in the story as a whole.  In fact, they (the sex scenes) interrupt the flow of the story, and it’s like you’re suddenly reading a different book.

I wish he spent half as much work as he does on his sex scenes on properly describing character emotions.  What does some random eye flash or flicker mean?  Is it from anger, or excitement?  Elation?  Most of the time I can’t tell, which sort of kills the feel of the book.  Especially difficult is identifying Mephisto’s emotions.  Granted, he’s supposed to be cold and distant, but when he does exhibit something other than his standard medical curiosity, it’s difficult to grasp what he’s projecting.  As a result, I can’t get a solid grasp on Mephisto as a character.  Setsura isn’t too much better, as Kikuchi dangles his powers before the reader with no explanation.  Why bother writing a story like this, with unique and interesting characters, if you’re not going to take full advantage and really write it?  It’s one thing to write an enigma, it’s another to write like you just can’t be bothered.  Obviously there are other volumes, so presumably all will be explained eventually, but a continuing story is no excuse to be unnecessarily vague.  And nothing is an excuse for the choppy writing and story progression.

I want to like this, I really do.  Mephisto is on the cusp of being an incredibly interesting character.  Setsura should be intriguing instead of generic (hot guys with crazy powers is nothing new).  Unfortunately the whole thing just fell flat for me.  I think someone with less refined tastes will be less concerned, because there’s an interesting story here, certainly.  I have a tendency to nit-pick things that a lot of readers wouldn’t even notice, so don’t let my personal grievances with the format discourage your interest in the plot.  Er, sorry, that was still a pretty wordy rant, even with what I cut.  Um…the illustrations are quite lovely!  There, something I really liked.

For anyone interested, volume 2 comes out at the end of May.  Come back Wednesday for a review of DMP’s new yaoi anthology, Reversible, and for a chance to win a copy of the first volume!


Review copy provided by Digital Manga.