Unified Pictures, the production company founded by Keith Kjarval that produced Rudderless, Trust Me and A Single Shot among others, is developing an animated Vampire Hunter D TV series. The popular series of Japanese novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi has spawned two movies in 1985 and 2000. We spoke with another Unified founder, Kurt Rauer, and Scott McLean who are overseeing Vampire Hunter D.

They are beginning with a comic book adaptation of the unpublished Kikuchi story Message From Cecile. With 34 published Kikuchi stories, and Kikuchi sill working, Vampire Hunter D is in no danger of running out of material or catching up with the books like Game of Thrones did. The comic book, Message from Mars, is told from the point of view of Cecile, a human colonist on Mars. Unified launched a Kickstarter for the first issue and met their $25,000 goal, so have set an even higher goal to finish the comic book as a prequel to the TV series.

Unified have partnered with other artists to create more collectible material to reintroduce Vampire Hunter D to America including medals, buttons, jewelry and sticker packs. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game made a character sheet for D and will do so for other characters as they’re introduced in subsequent issues of Message From Mars, ultimately planning a 32-page booklet of augmented rules for Vampire Hunter D games and their own short story. Fans can meet McLean at GenCon in Indianapolis this weekend, and read our interview with Rauer and McLean below. 

Since you tripled your Kickstarter goal, how can you use the extra funds to put back into the comic?

Rauer: So here’s our goal. Initially, we had gone down the route of wanting to cover printing and creation costs of the first issue to make sure that there’s a market there. We had planned on doing additional Kickstarters for additional issues. I think that we’ll get through the entire run of five issues if we can make it to the number one most backed single issue comic of all time on Kickstarter. That number is about $120,000. I think that that’s doable for us. We’re going to make a concerted effort and a big push. I think we may be able to achieve that. With those funds, we’ll be able to publish all five issues and get to a place where we have the short story completely told off of this Kickstarter program.

Are you interested in adapting Vampire Hunter D as a new movie?

Rauer: Potentially for a feature. What this is serving to do is it’s showing the rest of the United States, showing the folks in Japan that there’s still an appetite for Vampire Hunter D. We are working closely with Digital Frontier in Japan. They’re our co-creation partners. We are bringing Vampire Hunter D to the broadcast studios to create a one-hour dramatic animated series.

So television, not movies.

Rauer: So somewhere around eight to 10 hours a year is where we’re hoping to be.

Do you have a network involved with that?

Rauer: Not yet. This is part of that creation process. So as we’re doing visual development for the comic, we’re also doing visual development under the hood for the series itself. So some of the work that you see as biz dev on the Kickstarter campaign, that’s being used to set our look and feel of pictures for the animation side of things. It’s sort of dual purpose.

What’s your timeline now that you’re funded for several issues?

Rauer: Our first issue, the pencils will be completed and into ink by the middle of next week. That will be off to the printer within four weeks from now. Then we’ll dovetail in each of the next issues from there with a final creation date of issue number five scheduled to go to the printer end of February next year. The first issue will hit the streets, retail copy, this year in November. So it will be a monthly delivery after that. We needed to build up a little bit of padding. Each issue is in that nine- to 10-week gestation period. So we need a little bit of padding before we start retailing issues on the 15th of the month. That’s our schedule.

We are putting in front of everyone on the creative side in Japan, short stories that could work as follow-ups and a larger plan to create, if there’s a need and the retailer versions of these books sell well, that we can just move into telling other stories that augment the D universe and not parallel the series work, but fill in gaps and enrich the universe a little bit through the comic book. Potentially publish small short stories that Kikuchi-san has written that we’re not able to easily access in the United States, things that were only ever written in Japan. We have a very close relationship with a translator that Kikuchi works with, so we’ve gotten some great insight as to what else is out there that we don’t have access to in the United States.

McLean: I just got another one e-mailed to me this morning.

So always Kikuchi stories?

Rauer: For D, yes. Look, he’s so prolific, it’s incredible.

McLean: He’s written 34, 29 in the main franchise plus a whole slew of short stories, some of which including Message From Mars that have never been published here. There’s the Greylancer books so I believe there is somewhere north of 50 separate stories if you count novels, shorts, and side stories.

Rauer: And he’s still writing. His schedule, from what we understand, between this work and other franchises or other series that are only published in Japan, he finishes a book every five to six weeks, a novel every five to six weeks. At any one given time, Kevin Leahy our translator, says that he’s working on two, sometimes three books in parallel. So as he’s feeling the energy of one story, he writes through that. If he reaches a point where he’s no longer able to write quickly, he’ll switch stories and pick up another one. It’s incredible.

McLean: There’s enough source material that we’ll plan on seven seasons.

Rauer: We’re not working terribly hard to invent new stuff. You get in a situation where if you have three or four novels written that the series can exceed the scope of the written canon. I don’t think we face that challenge with 30 plus books in the series.

And they would not overlap with the movies that already exist?

McLean: There are already two movies and our plan includes not going back. We are not planning on remaking anything. So books one and three, which were the basis of the first two movies, we won’t be using for the television series.

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