【Artbook】Coffin: The Art Of Vampire Hunter D (Amano Yoshitaka Illustrations)

Probably one of the best artbooks ever published in the world(?). It’s so good that the local library has a copy of it, which I borrowed and am reviewing here. And happy new year, I guess. GTFO 2009

Coffin: The Art Of Vampire Hunter D is a standalone artbook first published in Japan by the name of かんおけ―吸血鬼ハンターD (Kanoke – Vampire Hunter D), and later published in North America by Dark Horse Press. This supersized artbook collects the illustrations and artwork, all by Amano Yoshitaka, from the Vampire Hunter D series of novels (authored by KIKUCHI Hideyuki), and exhibits approximately 190 pieces of artwork from a span of 14 years. Despite initially being published in North America, this version is currently available for purchase worldwide on all Amazon divisions except for China. As well, the artbook is written in two languages, Japanese and English, where all instances of the original text is placed beside the translation.

Order at Amazon: USA (US$26.37) | Canada (CAD$27.55) | UK (£21.85) | France (Marketplace only; €22,50+) | Germany (€28,99) | Japan (¥3,730)

The contents of the book, in order of appearance, include

1. Short introduction by KIKUCHI Hideyuki (1 page)
2. Vampire Hunter D-Portrait of Ixobel- by Kikuchi Hideyuki (6 pages; Exclusive Vampire Hunter D Short Story)
3. Illustrations from Vampire Hunter D by AMANO Yoshitaka (190 pages)
4. Painting Data (2 pages)
5. Notes by Amano Yoshitaka (1 page)
6. Profile of Amano Yoshitaka (1 page)

Opinion: This print publication is so amazing that I don’t really know where to start. Just picking it up and seeing its sheer size had already left an impeccable first impression on me, and it further reinforced that perfect impression by amazing me with its complete contents and high print quality. To be honest, I wasn’t much of a fan of Amano’s illustrations – I thought that they were unique and slightly eerily cool, but they weren’t exactly my favourite. However, this book completely changed my opinion of Amano’s work because it really showed off his versatilty and skill as a true artist. There are so many different styles that Amano uses here (not at all limited to the “usual” wispy, thin style!), and this book can be quite aptly described as successfully representing the “many styles of Amano”.

Covers, binding detail, and size comparison with standard DVD boxes. Click to enlarge.

Previous knowledge of the Vampire Hunter D series is not an essential prerequisite for buyers of this artbook, but I do recommend knowing a thing or two about the series so that the original short story by Kikuchi wouldn’t go to waste, and also so you would be able to give appropriate context for the pieces of work featured here. I personally haven’t read the novels in the series yet, but I was still able to really enjoy the artwork exhibited here. (I’ve taken a look at the translated version of the first volume of VHD, though.) I haven’t read the short story yet, so it’s not reviewed here.

The majority of the artwork are black and white scene insets found in the novels, and these are produced in the highest possible quality and look loads better than the versions found in the books (as this is printed on better, utterly superb paper). Some fans or artbook collectors may usually be inclined to consider black and white artwork to be of slightly less value than full-colour artwork, and may tend to find them to be like “fillers”, but the monochrome pictures here do not take a backseat to the coloured ones because they are not sketches, has quite a lot of detail and variety, and are just so well represented overall. They’re treated the same as the full-colour pieces, and are given a whole page on their own with absolutely no cropping, resizing, or other drops in quality, just like all the other artwork in the book.

Intro page and illustration page samples from the book. This is just the very tip of the iceberg! Click to enlarge. (Warning: 6.30MB image)

The full-colour pieces, on the other hand, seem less abundant as they are very throughly dispersed in between the many pages of monchrome artwork. Up until about two-thirds of the book, they seem quite like awesome but random surprises while flipping through the book in order. However, they are still undoubtly the main attractions, because it’s these colour pieces that show the most versatilty and variety in style from Amano. He used many different mediums, colour palettes, and compositions, and it was this that was the most interesting to me, even though I also really liked the other artwork. This was mainly because a great number of colour artwork made me go “That’s Amano?!” in a good way.

Besides the large artwork, there are also subtle breaks in the book where one whole page consists of a tiny area of art by Amano. These are usually very rough or indistinct sketches, but all of these are artistic and unique.

Also, this is truly an “art”book, because it features little other content. The other things included are only the documented sources of each artwork (One of my favourite sections), brief profiles and notes from Amano, and the original short story by Kikuchi. Every other page of the book features art and only art by Amano.

Non-illustration pages in the book. Landing and exit pages are of harder paper, and all text are in Japanese and English. Click to enlarge.

One point I wanted to clarify was something I read in this amazon.com review, where the reviewer said that the JPN version was smaller and had cropping. I have a hard time believing this as the reported page count and dimensions for the JPN version, according to amazon.co.jp, is exactly the same as this ENG version. However, if there are any Japanese readers (?! Sorry this isn’t in Japanese lol) who have been wanting to get the JPN version (which is out of print and sells used for ¥ 8,999 on the marketplace), I highly recommend getting this as a better alternative, as this version is not only readily available for a good price, it also includes the original Japanese text AND English translation. This bilingualism seems rare in most formal artbooks, but I personally highly appreciate it, for reasons for comparison and also the chance to read it in its original language without having to buy the other version.

Conclusion: All in all, this is an incredible artbook that should be worth far more than what it’s being sold for on Amazon, due to the quantity of great artwork and the near-insurmountable production quality. If you’re a fan of Amano, you really mustn’t miss out on this, since this is a great exhibit of Amano’s work. You can also get this book even if Amano is not your favourite artist in the world, and as long as you appreciate his art to some extent, taking a look at this book will seriously make you appreciate and like his art more. At least, that’s what it was like for me.

It’s seriously kind of like an art gallery in book form, but even better because 1) No museum entrance fee (besides the initial purchase price) 2) No time limit for perusing and 3) 190+ pieces of Amano goodness, the original copies of which would not all fit into a single museum exhibit due to its numerosity. It also makes a great (and huge) coffee table book that anyone can appreciate and be impressed by. No review or description can really do this artbook justice because it’s something best experienced in person, and no amount of preview pictures will ever cover the huge area of styles and themes covered by Amano here. The only setback I can see here is that it is a nightmare to store away, and you actually need a pretty big coffee table to host put this on.

Left: Layout Sample of a piece / Right: Added layer of gloss on the artwork area. Click to enlarge.

Packaging: This is probably one of the main features of the book because it’s so well done. First is the matter of the huge size, which does all the artwork justice as they’re shown as large as possible and in the highest resolution, and especially the wider illustrations are stunning as they utilize the full width of the page. As mentioned earlier, one piece of artwork appears on its own page, with absolutely no grouping or cropping anywhere. The artwork is printed on slightly matte paper and on the area of the artwork is a very thin layer of gloss, giving it a sort of invisible frame that shines when you hold it up to the light. This gives it a sharper look (especially for the black and white illust), helps retain the colour of the work better, and gives it a more substantial texture than just printing on matte paper. Beside the top right corner of each picture, there is a “©YOSHITAKA AMANO”, and below the bottom right corner is the title of the piece or the title of the novel volume it came from in both Japanese and English. The Japanese text is set in a Mincho font, and the English text is set in a serif font, so even when a title is entirely in English, there are still two iterations of the title on the bottom. This general attention to detail really does Amano’s work justice, and I could really feel that the people behind the organization of this book tried their absolute best to do justice and give respect to the artist.

The binding is quite heavy duty, and lets the book lie flat without damaging it. The cover, although quite hard, is still to be considered as a “soft” cover as it is not made of cardboard, and can be easily bent if one flips it carelessly. Given the size of the width, bending the cover of this book is a lot easier to do than in regular-sized books. Be prepared to handle this with a little extra care.