Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 8th 2009
Vampire Hunter D
Novel 12 - Pale Fallen Angel Parts 3 and 4
As D and his charges May, Taki, and the Nobles Miska and Baron Byron Balazs arrive at their destination of Krauhausen, they discover that the dangers of their journey are hardly the only threats to be dealt with. Vlad, the Baron's father, is aware of their approach and the Baron's patricidal intent and has set the ancient scientist Dr. de Carriole and his minions – including the martial artist Sai Fung of the Thousand Limbs and the bizarre Chlomo the Make-Up Lover – to thwart them. As the Baron soon learns, Vlad is also a formidable opponent himself. The web of conflicting loyalties within de Carriole concerning Vlad, the Baron, and the Baron's mother is a complicated one, however, and the presence of the Destroyer within Miska, her own motivations, and the arrival on the scene of a second Hunter further complicates matters, as do revelations about the manipulations of “a certain great personage.” Fisher Lagoon, the massive owner of the prominent local brothel, also makes his influence known. Though D's initial task is technically done, his work in and around Krauhausen has only begun.
While the first two parts of Pale Fallen Angel told a straightforward defeat-the-threats-along-the-journey tale, the second two parts can only fairly be described as tremendously convoluted. What remained of the original premise – that D was working for an unusual Noble to escort him on a mission to kill his father – probably was not sufficient on its own to fill out 288 pages, so writer Hideyuki Kikuchi apparently took a “throw lots of weirdness out and see what sticks” approach to maintain interest. While a lot of what he came up with is interesting, that does not make for the smoothest of storytelling approaches. Too often events seem to happen just to make things exciting rather than because they are a natural outgrowth of characterizations or the progression of plot developments.
The problem is most evident in (or perhaps most results from) the characterizations, which have always been the weakest point in Kikuchi's writing. Certain aspects of Miska's behavior towards the end would be more acceptable if Kikuchi had shown more effort towards developing her in that direction, but for most of this novel she is little more than a plot tool, as is Taki. A bigger problem is de Carriole, whose depth of conflicting loyalties (especially once the story reveals what he had to do to the Baron's mother) could have been very involving if handled better, but instead he seems to change loyalties at the drop of a hat. Fisher Lagoon has a similar problem, while Vlad and the Guide who shows up late in the story have all of the personality of wet cardboard – which is only slightly less than D. The Baron, who showed potential in the first two parts, is not integrally involved in enough scenes here to realize his full potential. In fact, the only prominent characters who could be considered well-developed are the girl May, the villains Sai Fung and Chlomo, and D's snarky left hand, and they are far from enough to compensate for the rest of the cast.
Kikuchi's strength, as always, is in his application of hyper-advanced technology to create scenes and situations more appropriate in pure fantasy, although this volume strays more into actual mysticism than most. The punishment inflicted on the Baron's mother by his father is awe-inspiring in its inventive cruelty, and as silly as Chlomo the Make-Up Lover's name and ability sounds, his ability to manipulate others via his make-up has its own horrifyingly twisted potential. Kikuchi also skillfully crafts some scenes of true dread, though in other cases he ramps up his efforts to ludicrous overkill or depends too much on exaggerated reactions by his characters. Fans of gore will also find plenty to like here, and he does not spare even his youngest and most innocent characters from getting involved. And, of course, D does lots of cool stuff, as does his hand.
At times Kikuchi's writing style resembles that of a much-parodied anime narrator who tosses questions out about the hero and what he can possibly do in a situation. At other times the style comes off more like a medieval bard spinning a tale in a king's audience hall. Either way, the style may be a little too casual or informal for the tastes of some, but anyone likely to still be reading this series of novels at this point probably won't mind. He still overuses idioms, cannot have characters except D give anything but extreme reactions to any situation, and resolutely continues to include “needless to say” and “it goes without saying that. . .” far too often. The emphasis on D's incomparable beauty is not quite as tiring here as in the previous novel but is also still an irritation.
As with previous novels, Dark Horse Books has released this one complete with color cover, one color interior illustration, and mediocre black-and-white interior illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. Following the regular story are a two-page Postscript, a 20-page preview of Twin-Shadowed Knight Part One (the next novel), and brief bios on Kikuchi and Amano.
For all its flaws, the second half of Pale Fallen Angel is still a minor improvement over the first one. The ending brings the story to a sudden and harsh, but yet also strangely satisfying, conclusion and along the way a lot of interesting things happen. The lack of a smooth and cohesive flow prevents the novel from achieving any grander level, however.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Imaginative and interesting, sometimes effectively horrifying.
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