Genre: Post Apocalyptic Vampire Action (Action)
What’s in it?: Vampires, Swordfights, Beasties, Demons n’ Devils, Magic, Super Technology, Cyber Horses, Tragedy, Post Apocalypse
10,000 years in the future, demons and vampires rule the world, while the remains of humanity huddle in fear of the forces of darkness. But humanity is not giving up quietly, and a new profession has appeared as a result: Vampire Hunters. The best of these hunters is D, a dunpeal; torn between his hatred of vampires and his own half-vampire blood, he hunts the vampire race that produced him. When the beautiful Charlotte, the only daughter of a rich family, is kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link, D is hired to bring her back and destroy her kidnapper. But Meier Link is a powerful vampire, and there is another team of hunters – some of the best in the world – hot on the trail as well…
Fans of the original 1985 Vampire Hunter D movie describe it as the ultimate vampire action movie; Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is actually worthy of that sort of praise. With ultra-slick visuals, high-budget animation, style galore, and a surprisingly engaging plot, this is everything a Vampire Hunter D movie could hope to be. Although it involves the same title character and world as the popular original, Bloodlust also isn’t a sequel in that the stories are not related, and you certainly don’t need to have seen one to appreciate the other.
Above all else, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust isn’t just cool, it isn’t just stylish, it is gorgeous – and I do not throw terms like that around lightly. The action scenes are exciting, full of creative powers and locations, positively dripping with style, and fluidly animated. The settings range from sweeping vistas to fabulous, ornate castles, to dark, densely-packed 18th Century-style towns, with each background rendered in a combination of barely-noticeable (but very effective) CG work and beautifully detailed art. Even many of the non-violent scenes featured an abundance of style and masterfully produced animation. Most importantly for the feel of the movie, just about everything (with the possible exception of one slightly-too-traditional Old West-style town) is infused with some level of artistic flair, be it a subtly rich backdrop in a forest glen, a sunset showdown bathed in amber tones, or a variety of creatively surreal illusions and magical powers. The only thing that I might complain about is the fact that (other than D), the character designs seem to have little to do with Yoshitaka Amano’s style, but they are still distinctive, relatively realistic, hard-edged, generally attractive, and so well drawn that this is hardly a problem. More than just stylish gothic darkness (though there’s plenty of that too) Bloodlust is beautiful, slick, stylish, and expensive-looking. Visually speaking, vampire movies don’t get any better than this.
The visuals were more than enough to carry the film, but what surprised me the most was the story. Superficially it looks more or less like the first Vampire Hunter D movie (or a post-apocalyptic Blade, another vampire-hunting series probably inspired by this one); half-vampire angst, a damsel in distress, an evil vampire with a horde of scary monsters to cut up, plus another team of vampire hunters to spice things up. However, under the surface, Bloodlust has far more depth to it than its predecessor, and on the whole struck a remarkably effective balance between plot and action. More impressive still, although there was an appropriate volume of cold, aloof heroes, dark tragedy, angst, and internal conflict of vampire hunger versus human emotion, all of them were in measured amounts, and not only did the story never bog down but the romantic aspects were remarkably sentimental (in a good way).
Although there were a number of relatively formulaic situations and it took a little while to grab me, as the characters began to flesh out I found myself getting surprisingly caught up in their exploits. D and Leila, the two main characters, had a coldly antagonistic relationship; both had a reasonable amount of depth to their motives and emotional character, and Leila also had a distinctive, angry edge. More impressively, even the villain, Meier Link, turned out to be more interesting than he first appeared. The rest of the cast didn’t feel as fleshed out, but there were still a variety of distinctive personalities (particularly among the hunters), and on the whole they fit together and kept things interesting.
Although Bloodlust is a top-notch vampire movie all around, there was one thing that stood out as being really different: D’s left hand. Comic relief isn’t unheard of, but a wisecracking parasite attached to the ultra-cold hero in a film this unrelentingly stylish was a break from formula, at the least. I’m a bit undecided on how well it worked, but even though the hand’s whining bordered on annoying, that was just enough to keep things from getting too dark, and the generally inappropriate comments showed confidence that the movie was strong enough to break its own mood on occasion (which it was). In any case, the hand didn’t talk all that much, so it wasn’t a big deal either way.
Actually, there’s one more somewhat unconventional thing about Bloodlust: The English dialogue. Specifically, I’m sure some hardcore sub fans were enraged at the lack of a Japanese-language version, even on the DVD. The truth is, if you really don’t like dubs, then you shouldn’t be complaining – the English version isn’t one. Although a quality Japanese-language dub was also made, English is the “first” language of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. The director intended it to be in English from the start of production and was involved in the English dialogue recording, and the original theatrical release (in Japan, mind you) was English only, with Japanese subtitles, as was the Japanese DVD. Bottom line: you are certainly allowed to not like the English dialogue, but there’s no legitimate reason to hate it on principle, and it most certainly is not a dub.
Setting that little wasp’s nest aside, I thought the English dialogue was quite good. Top notch, in fact. Although it wavered dangerously close to cheesy a couple of times, the dialogue was solidly written for the most part, and there were a few bits of natural-sounding colour. The minor members of the hunter team in particular felt “normal” enough to bring a touch of realism to even that rather caricatured group. The casting and acting were quite good all around, with Andrew Philpot’s impressively smooth voice backing up D’s few lines, and an appropriately dry, harsh take on Leila; even though the harsh characters didn’t allow for much dramatic range, the occasional chink in the armor was played fairly well.
The closest thing I have to complaints would be that a couple of the generally colourful minor characters were a little cheesy, and Borgoff was a bit broad in comparison to the rest of the cast, though even his character worked well enough. All around, I was quite satisfied with the dialogue. It worked well, and probably seemed more natural than Japanese would have, particularly in the case of the hunter team.
The last thing to mention is the music; dark, well written, and appropriately grand in scale, it was a perfect compliment to the visuals. I particularly liked some of the creepy, chaotic choral themes, but all of it was very good.
There is a lot to say about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, but the bottom line is quite simple: it is the ultimate vampire action anime, period. As Ninja Scroll is to it’s genre, Bloodlust takes tried-and-true genre and does everything right – everything – with just enough creative touches to keep it fresh. I have trouble calling it anything but a must-see for any fan of vampires, action, or fine-looking animation in general.