Vampire Hunter D Anime Review
Kyuuketsuki Hantaa D
Vampire Hunter D
Movic, Asahi Productions
US Release By
Vampire Horror Action
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.
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Vampire Hunter D, one of the first anime movies brought to the US by Streamline Pictures, is wildly popular for no particularly good reason, but it does hold its own as an old-school anime gore flick with a fair amount of style. The classic plot also has a bit of an epic horror feel to it, and manages to move its way through the plot steadily, being neither hurried nor boring. The audio features your choice of a decent Streamline dub with a bit of dry humor or a better but less humorous Japanese track.
Its main strengths, however, are its dark, gothic style (with distinctive Amano character designs), and post-apocalyptic setting blending cyberpunk and medieval fantasy. It's not a spectacular movie in any way, but if you enjoy a good bloody horror action flick, you'll no doubt enjoy Vampire Hunter D, and there's enough gothic style (with a cyberpunk twist) to go around for fans of that sort of thing as well.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
This in one of the first anime movies brought to the US 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 with a fair amount of style.
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, the evil vampires do have some personality--I rather liked Magnus Lee's dispassionate elder vampire style in particular.
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 with a nice touch of gothic style. Being an older movie, the visuals show their age, but are still distinctive. The older style also means that the art is rougher and more detailed, than most modern movies; lacking a large budget, the flip side is less smooth animation, although it isn't so static that it's a liability. There is of course also an abundance of spraying blood and monster hacking, which look about as good as you'd hope.
Perhaps most noteworthy, though, are the character designs by Yoshitaka Amano (famous for his art designs for the Final Fantasy game series, among other things). The art doesn't quite live up to the potential of his concepts, but the characters still have a sharp, refined look to them. Overall, while the film isn't visually spectacular, it generally maintains its classic horror movie feel quite well.
There are two small things that set Vampire Hunter D out from the pack of generic bloody vampire flicks, though: It's setting, and D's left hand. The setting isn't laid out in great detail and doesn't feel particularly well-realized, but there is 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 demeanor. Neither of these things are taken as far as I'd have liked (the sequel does much more with both), but they're still nice touches.
The acting in the dub is classic Streamline, with recognizable actors and generally good performances. Magnus Lee's voice is probably the most distinctive of the dub cast, while Michael McConnohie is a little too dry as D. The acting in the original Japanese version is somewhat better (certainly less cheesy), but it doesn't have quite as much character as the English take, and I liked the touch of dry humor added in the dub. 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. It's not a spectacular movie in any way, but if you enjoy a good bloody horror action flick, you'll no doubt enjoy Vampire Hunter D, and there's enough gothic style with a cyberpunk twist to hook fans of that sort of thing as well.
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To start with, there's the sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, to track down, which is better in almost every respect. In terms of style (in that it's an old style bloody action movie), VHD bears some similarity to Fist of the North Star. In terms of bloody swordplay and nasty beasties, Ninja Scroll looks good and probably took a lot of cues from this one; a few of the monsters (like the wasp guy) in that movie are suspiciously similar to ones (the spider guy) in this one. Others that might be appealing are Amon Saga (not as violent, but by the same character designer and somewhat similar), Ninja Resurrection (much, much more violent and somewhat sillier), and if you're really stretching for a modern take on the same sort of lone wolf character, Golgo 13: the Professional, and Golgo 13: Queen Bee might be worth a look.
Notes and Trivia
Vampire Hunter D is based on the first of a long series of novels, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, about the same character. The novels are available translated into English from Dark Horse. While not manga, the novels included illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano (best known as the illustrator for the early Final Fantasy games); D's look in this movie is based on Amano's illustrations. This movie has a sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, that is loosely based on the third novel in the series. There's also a Playstation game and a manga series (also available from Dark Horse).
An additional semi-random (and obvious) note not of much interest outside role playing circles that I feel like pointing out anyway is the similarity between Vampire Hunter D's world and the classic Palladium role playing game (the paper-and-dice sort) Rifts. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this provided some of the inspiration for the setting of that game, particularly considering Palladium's extensive involvement with the highly-detailed Robotech RPG.
Similarities include the distant future setting, medieval-styled post-apocalypse peppered with extreme technology and monsters, the resurgence of magic, and powerful vampires and supernatural beasts ruling over cowering human peasants. In a particularly random side-note, I also noticed that this movie lines up quite well with Palladium's rules regarding vampires and mega-damage; Magnus Lee is entirely immune to Doris' obviously mega-damage laser rifle, but he is physically damaged (with no lasting effect) by her brother's knife.
US DVD Review
The video on the DVD is fairly good looking for a movie this old, with a minimum of bleed and harshness, although a few scenes seemed to be so dark that some of the detail was lost. The Japanese audio, unfortunately, is very harsh, and crackles whenever folks start screaming, but it's still a welcome addition. The dubbed audio track is the old Streamline version, but sounds pretty good all things considered. On the down side, the DVD also used the Streamline video, which means that the English credits are overlaid on the montage at the end, and although the full Japanese credits are included, there is no English translation (see below for the cast).
The DVD also includes the Japanese Trailer (not subtitled), a trailer for VHD: Bloodlust (and other Urban Vision titles), an Amano image gallery set to music (including some biographical information and an introduction to a collaboration with Neil Gaiman), a preview of the Playstation game, and a video on the making of the production, including interviews with the director and Japanese stars (you probably don't want to know what D really looks like, though).
Very violent, with some mild sexual content, for a 16+ rating. Note that there is an edited version that was shown on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Violence: 4 - A fair amount of spurting blood and dismembered bodies.
Nudity: 2 - One shower scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Nothing direct, but some mature themes.
Language: 2 - Some harsh language.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast
Michael McConnohie, Barbara Goodson, Jeff Winkless, Edie Mirman, Kerrigan Mahan, Steve Kramer, Steve Bulen, Joyce Kurtz, Lara Cody, Tom Wyner, Kirk Thornton
Original Japanese Cast
(Names are listed family name first; translation by AAW, so there may be errors)
D: Shiozawa Kento
Doris: Tomizawa Michie
Dan: Toda Keiko
Count: Katou Seizou
Ramiika: Kifuji Fusako (?)
Rei Ginsei: Sogabe Kazu(?) (?) D's Left Hand: Nagai Ichirou
Greco: Okura Yuusaku
Feringo: Kiokawa Ganmu(?)
Snake Woman: (?Yanaga?) Kazuko
Snake Woman: Sakakibara Yoshiko
Roman: Uramatsu Yasuo
Danton: Tokumaru Kan
Oreirii: Tanaka Kazumi
Gimlett: Kotaki Susumu
Narator: Nagai Ichirou
Director: Ashida Toyoo
Script Writer: Hirano Yasushi
Art Director: Ashida Toyoo
Music Director: Matsuura Noriyoshi
Character Designs: Amano Yoshitaka
Executive Producers: Maruyama Shigeo, Takahashi Yutaka
Producers: Kato Hiroshi, Koeda Mitsuhisa, Nagasaki Yukio
English-Language Producer/Director: Carl Macek
Theme Song: "Your Song"
Lyrics: Komuro Tetsuya
Composer: Komuro Tetsuya, Kine Naoto
Arrangement: Komuro Tetsuya
Performed by: TM Network
Animation by Asahi Productions
Available in North America from Urban Vision on bilingual DVD (buy from RightStuf). Was previously also available on subtitled and dubbed VHS. There was also a much older Streamline dubbed VHS tape, long out of print.