Vampire Hunter D
Genre: Vampire Horror Action (Action)
What’s in it?: Gunfights (big energy weapons) Swordfights (good stuff) Beasties (lots) Magic (kinda) Little Robots (ok, so it’s a horse) Alternate World (a high tech/fantasy future)
10,000 years in the future, the world has become a very different place; monsters roam the land freely, and people, although equipped with high tech weapons and cybernetic horses, live a humble life more suited to centuries past. This story focuses on a small hamlet plagued by monster attacks and living under the shadow of the rule of Count Magnus Lee, a powerful and very ancient vampire lord. When a young girl is bitten by the Count and chosen as his plaything, she seeks out the help of a quiet wandering stranger, D. It so happens that D is one of the world’s best vampire hunters, and he takes it upon himself to cut through Magnus Lee’s many minions, and put an end to the Count’s rule.
This in one of the first anime movies brought to America by Streamline Pictures, and although it’s wildly popular for no particularly good reason, it does hold its own as an old-school anime gore flick. The story, which has a bit of a classic epic horror feel to it, is basic but reasonably well done, and I can at least give it credit for being unhurried without getting boring. D is the archetypal quiet, aloof hero (Clint Eastwood with a big sword, hunting vampires), and although there isn’t much to the rest of the main characters either, the evil vampires actually had some personality. I rather liked Magnus Lee’s dispassionate elder vampire style in particular.
There are two small things that set Vampire Hunter D out from the pack of generic bloody vampire flicks: It’s setting, and D’s left hand. The setting wasn’t laid out in great detail and didn’t feel particularly well realized, but there was just enough of a cyberpunk touch to this dark future world to make things interesting. And D’s hand? Well, he has a little issue with some sort of parasite attached to his hand, and it occasionally offers some snide remarks to offset his too-cool demeanour. Neither of these things was taken as far as I’d have liked (the sequel did much more with both), but still a nice touch.
What Vampire Hunter D really has going for it is not its story but its style: a fine example of a classic anime horror movie. There is of course an abundance of spraying blood and monster hacking, with the added bonus of some reasonably well done gothic style. Being an older movie, the visual style shows its age, but is still distinctive in parts. The older style also means that the look is rougher, more detailed, and less smooth than most modern movies, and although it’s not spectacular it generally maintains the whole classic horror movie theme quite well. Perhaps most noteworthy are the character designs by Yoshitaka Amano (famous for his art designs for the Final Fantasy game series, among other things) although the art didn’t quite live up to the potential of his concepts, the characters still have a sharp, refined look to them. The animation, though a little static (to be expected in an older movie), is generally good, and there’s a fair amount of well done bloody action.
The acting in the dub is classic Streamline, with recognizable actors and generally good performances (though Michael McConnohie is a little too dry as D), with Magnus Lee’s voice probably being the most distinctive of the dub cast. The acting in Japanese version is somewhat better (certainly less cheesy), but I’d have to say it didn’t have quite as much character as the English take, and in a way the touch of dry humour added in the dub was nice. The soundtrack is interesting – a lot of strings, and perhaps a bit underpowered for the broad themes of the movie, but still attractive and for the most part appropriately creepy.
In all, this is a classic horror story told as a classic anime movie. If you enjoy a good bloody horror action flick, you’ll no doubt enjoy Vampire Hunter D.