~written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
~illustrated by Jun Suemi
~translated by Eugene Woodbury
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.