ARTBOOK SPOTLIGHT: Narumi Kakinouchi’s Illustration Collection
September 2, 2011
Studio Ironcat – 2002 – 78 pages – 192909017X
While trying to pick out which artbook I wanted to talk about next, I got a shock when I found this on my shelf. I completely forgot about Narumi Kakinouchi. She was very popular about 10 years ago. Tokyopop her fighting girls manga series (Juline, Shaolin Sisters, and Shaolin Sisters Reborn), and Studio Ironcat got all the vampire stuff (Vampire Princess Miyu, New Vampire Princess Miyu, Vampire Dahlia, Vampire Yui, Yui Kanonsho, The Wanderer, and My Code Name is Charmer).
Ironcat also published this artbook, which I bought because I loved her color artwork. I’m less fond of her comic art, but maybe that’s just because I read New Vampire Miyu, which has extremely indistinct characters and backgrounds. But I deeply admire the fact she seems to have a love for the world she creates, and a lot of her series are linked and feature the same characters. The Tokyopop series are all sequels to one another, and all the Ironcat ones except Charmer are related as well.
I never have that much to say about the art in these books, so instead I’m just going to talk about Kakinouchi’s various vampire series as I post images (this was an Akita Shoten artbook originally, so none of the Kodansha Juline series are represented here). Actually, that’s not that interesting either since many of them are similar. But Kakinouchi is so rarely discussed that I’m hoping that some will find this a handy introduction.
Narumi Kakinouchi has a fairly interesting career, aside from the fact she had an unusually large number of series translated a long time ago. Actually, all those series were probably translated due to the popularity of the Vampire Miyu TV series from the late 90s, so it’s not that unusual. Still, this is probably among the largest bodies of work available for a mangaka in English, but all of it was published 10 years ago and is largely forgotten at this point.
She started out as an animator, and worked on a lot of popular 80s shows, including Macross, Urusei Yatsura, Kimagure Orange Road, and a smattering of the Studio Pierrot Magical Girl shows. But she got very popular as one of the main creative forces behind the Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs in the late 80s, and from there she began her manga career by adapting Vampire Princess Miyu as a shoujo horror title for Akita Shoten starting in 1988.
Vampire Princess Miyu stars Miyu, the titular vampire, and her companion Larva. Larva was a vampire hunter sent to kill Miyu, but failed to do so because he sympathized with her. His powers were sealed behind a mask, and he decided to accompany her on her wanderings. All the illustrations in this book have him without the mask, but in the manga, I think he rarely takes it off. There are a lot of battles against an enemy called Shinma, which are basically monsters that feed on humans. It relies on atmosphere to convey its sense of horror, and I think Miyu and Larva mostly just drift from place to place, fighting Shinma and interacting tragically with humans. It ran for 10 volumes in Suspiria Magazine. Ironcat released 5 of the 10 volumes. The first volume came out in 1988 and the last in 2002, so it was released over a fairly long stretch of time.
New Vampire Miyu is the sequel, and it is basically a fighting tournament against a series of Shinma deities. It’s not very good, and I had a hard time telling the characters apart. It ran for five volumes in Suspiria in the early 90s. Ironcat released all 5 volumes.
The next sequel is Vampire Yui, which is about Miyu’s daughter and her awakening to vampire powers in a modern-day setting, if I recall correctly. Yui also has a Larva-like companion, but one of the frustrating downsides to these series are that Yui and Miyu are close to the male secondary character without verging into overt romance territory. So it doesn’t really have that going for it. This is also very atmospheric, and maybe a smidge more plot-driven. Vampire Yui also ran in Suspiria, I think right after New Vampire Miyu? I can find volumes dating back to 1992. It ran for five volumes. Ironcat released one volume in paperback, but all five are available as individual comic issues if you know where to look.
Vampire Yui’s sequel, Yui Kanonsho, started in 2002. It sounds like the series starts off with Yui losing her powers, and I believe her and her companion and do some battles similar to Miyu’s. I know even less about this one. It ran for 8 volumes, 2002-2005. Ironcat licensed it, but never published an English-language version.
Related to Vampire Yui is a series called The Wanderer, which is about a boy named Sei who is getting used to being a vampire in everyday life and apparently confronting roving bands of supernatural delinquents. Yui made him a vampire. It’s three volumes long, and ran in Suspiria magazine in 1996. Ironcat released 2 of the 3 volumes.
A newer sequel, titled simply Vampire Princess, appears to take place in Meiji-era Japan and may be some sort of alternate retelling where Yui awakens to her powers differently. I believe this is one of Kakinouchi’s current series, and it looks like it’s being published… digitally? by Softbank Creative and Flex Comics. It began in 2009, and there are currently 4 volumes.
Vampire Dahlia was the best of the Kakinouchi books I read, and features a more traditional vampire hunting humans with the usual sexual imagery and a lovely re-enactment of Salome. I don’t remember the Miyu tie, but I’m sure it’s in there somewhere. Her art was best in this book. Two volumes were serialized in Suspiria magazine in 1996. Ironcat published the first volume in English.
A one-volume sequel to Vampire Dahlia came out in 2006, called China Blue Jasmine, which stars the best character from the volume of Dahlia I read. Also serialized in Suspiria magazine. This is my favorite illustration in the book, but I don’t have a scanner big enough to capture the whole thing.
Kakinouchi has many other unrelated supernatural series as well. Wraith Sweeper and Wraith Sweeper Cross were released by Leed and Jive Publishing, respectively, and are stories about Vampire Hunters. My Code Name is Charmer, one of her very earliest series, came out in English from Studio Ironcat, and features schoolgirls with supernatural powers fighting monsters. She has a series called Le Masque that is based on Phantom of the Opera. Koi Suiren is a fantasy story about the princess of water lilies being banished to the human world. Ruby Blood is another vampire series, this one starring a little girl.
Her current most popular series is called “The Strange Case Files of Ryoko Yakushiji.” Kakinouchi wrote the bulk of her work herself, and most of it is published by Akita Shoten and is basically shoujo horror. But Ryoko Yakushiji is a supernatural detective-themed story based on a novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka, and ran in a combination of Magazine Z and Afternoon. Basically, a seinen manga. It also has around three spin-off series at the moment, and sounds kinda like a seinen X-Files. I’d read that.
After all that… you know, I read all of New Vampire Miyu, the first volumes of Miyu and Yui, and a volume of Dahlia. Dahlia was the only one I could make heads or tails of, and even that was still a little confusing. She’s definitely good at setting the mood, but after that, I have a hard time figuring out what’s going on, or even getting into the stories at all. And this is coming from a person who will make any excuse at all to read shoujo horror and anything from Akita Shoten. I wanted to like Kakinouchi because there was so much to read, but I just couldn’t do it. I haven’t talked to very many people who have read these books and liked them, either. But I do like her color artwork quite a bit, and I can’t argue with her ability to build atmosphere (she’s really, REALLY good at that). I just wish there were a little more to her stories than that. Or maybe there is, and I just didn’t read the good stuff.
But having said that, I still like this artbook quite a bit. A lot of the illustrations are very similar, but I enjoy her painterly style and character designs, and I’ve always been fond of Miyu’s design in particular.
So there you go. A little artifact of manga history for you.