Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust Anime Review
Vampire Hunter D: 2000
Vampire Hunter D: 2000
US Release By
Post Apocalyptic Vampire Action
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...
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Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is the ultimate vampire action anime, period. The visuals are gorgeous; dripping with style, fluidly animated, and combining barely-noticeable CG work and beautifully detailed art. From the spectacular action set-pieces to the sweeping vistas and fabulous, ornate castles, absolutely everything looks as good as anyone could reasonably ask. On top of that, the story is unexpectedly engaging once it gets going, with enough sentiment and humanity to cut through the icy style, and the characters have a modest amount of depth beneath their stone-cold facades. Even the English dialogue (which is the original language, not a dub) is very good, and it's all backed up by a grand and appropriately dark musical score.
Bloodlust takes a tried-and-true theme and does everything right--everything--with just enough creative touches to keep it fresh. It's hard to call it anything but a must-see for any fan of vampires, action, or fine-looking animation in general.
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Fans of the original 1985 Vampire Hunter D movie describe it as the ultimate vampire action movie; it was not, but 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 Yoshiaki Kawajiri tour de force 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 exactly a sequel, in that the stories aren't related, and you certainly don't need to have seen one to appreciate the other.
Let me state outright that I don't generally like vampire movies; all that angst, power, passion, and sexuality wrapped up in the attractive package of the bloodsucking undead gets on my nerves. So, although I'm not incapable of enjoying vampire action movies, I really wasn't expecting to like Bloodlust all that much.
Boy, was I wrong.
Above all else, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust isn't just cool, it isn't just stylish, it is full-on gorgeous--and I do not throw terms like that around lightly. The action set-pieces 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 feature 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 could complain about is the fact that (other than D), the character designs seem to have little to do with Yoshitaka Amano's style. I say "could" because they look so good that it's a stylistic decision, not a problem--distinctive, relatively realistic, hard-edged, generally attractive, and well-drawn. More than just stylish gothic darkness (though there's plenty of that too) Bloodlust is beautiful, slick, and expensive-looking--visually speaking, vampire movies don't get any better than this.
The visuals are more than enough to carry the film, but what surprised me the most was the story. Superficially it sounds 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 a team of vampire hunters to spice things up. However, under the surface, Bloodlust has far more depth than its predecessor, and, on the whole, strikes a remarkably effective balance between plot and action. More impressive still, although there's an appropriate volume of cold, aloof heroes, dark tragedy, angst, and internal conflict of vampire hunger versus human emotion, all of them are in measured amounts. Not only does the story never bog down, the romantic aspects are remarkably sentimental--in a good way.
Although there are 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, have a coldly antagonistic relationship; both have a reasonable amount of depth to their motives and emotional character, and Leila also has an angry edge. More impressively, even the villain, Meier Link, turned out to be more interesting than he first appears. The rest of the cast doesn't feel as fleshed out, but there are still a variety of distinctive personalities (particularly among the hunters), and on the whole they fit together and keep things interesting.
Bloodlust does a lot of things right, but there's one thing that stands out as truly different: D's left hand, which is infested with a chatty, wisecracking supernatural parasite. Comic relief isn't unheard of, but a smart-ass sidekick literally attached to the ultra-cold hero in a film this unrelentingly stylish is a break from formula, at the least. I'm a bit undecided on how well it works, but even though the hand's whining borders on annoying, it's just enough to keep things from getting too dark. The generally inappropriate comments also demonstrate the film's confidence that it's strong enough to break its own mood on occasion (which it is). In any case, the hand doesn't talk all that much, so it isn't a big deal either way.
Actually, there's one more somewhat unconventional thing about Bloodlust: English dialogue. I'm sure some hardcore sub fans (like myself) were reflexively enraged at the lack of a Japanese-language version, even on the DVD. Don't be--if you really don't like dubs, then you shouldn't be complaining, because the English version isn't one. Although a quality Japanese-language dub was also made, English is the "first" language; writer-director Yoshiaki Kawajiri intended it to be in English from the start of production and was involved in the English dialogue recording. Even 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 complain about it on principle, and it most certainly is not a dub.
Setting that little hornet's nest aside, I thought the English voice work was exceedingly good. Although it wavers dangerously close to cheesy a couple of times, the dialogue is solidly written for the most part, and there are a few bits of natural-sounding color--the minor members of the hunter team in particular feel "normal" enough to bring a touch of realism to the rather caricatured group. The casting and acting are quite good all around, with Andrew Philpot's impressively smooth voice backing up D's few lines, and Pamela Segall as an appropriately dry, harsh Leila. Even though the cold characters don't allow for much dramatic range, the occasional chink in the armor is played fairly well. The closest things I have to complaints would be that a couple of the generally colorful minor characters are a little cheesy, and Matt McKenzie's Borgoff is a bit broad in comparison to the rest of the cast, though even his character works well enough. All around, I was quite satisfied with the dialogue--it works well, and probably seems more natural than Japanese would have, particularly in the case of the hunter team.
The last thing to mention is Marco D'Ambrosio's musical score: Dark, well written, and appropriately grand in scale, it is a perfect compliment to the visuals. I particularly liked some of the creepy, chaotic choral themes, but all of it is 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 Kawajiri did with Ninja Scroll in its genre, Bloodlust takes a tried-and-true theme and does everything right--everything--with just enough creative touches to keep it fresh. It's hard to call it anything but a must-see for any fan of vampires, action, or fine-looking animation in general.
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As far as its genre goes, this is the pinnacle, but you might check out the original Vampire Hunter D for a story about the same character with much lower production values. Ninja Scroll is a different setting, but has a very similar style of action, so might also interest fans. A heavily stylized modern vampire tale with a somewhat similar style is Hellsing, or if you want a lighter modern vampire, there's also Night Walker. For a much more subtle take on vampire horror, try Vampire Princess Miyu.
Notes and Trivia
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was released theatrically as Vampire Hunter D: 2000 in Japan, and as noted in the review was envisioned by writer-director Yoshiaki Kawajiri as an English-language production from the start.
The story is based loosely on one of Hideyuki Kikuchi's lengthy series of Vampire Hunter D novels; the novels are available translated into English from Dark Horse. While there is a much later manga adaptation (also available from Dark Horse), the novels are the origin of D and his stories; they include illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano, best known for his concept art for the first six Final Fantasy games.
One thing worth mentioning is the dhampir legend; Dhampirs (or Vampirs) existed in East European folklore as people born from a human mother and a vampire father. "Real life" dhampirs (or, rather, people who claimed to be) were the only humans able to see the undead (this version of vampire was invisible), and would make money wrestling with and destroying these invisible foes for villagers. In this movie, "dunpeal" is used instead of "dhampir"; "dhampir," when transliterated into Japanese, comes out as "danpiiru," and apparently somebody decided to go with "dunpeal" when bringing it back into English (a silly decision, if you ask me, both due to logic and that it doesn't sound as good).
For lots of information on the production of Bloodlust and other things Vampire Hunter D, you should check out The Vampire Hunter D Archives.
Note that the April 17, 2001 date listed is the Japanese commercial premiere of the film; it did however show at a few international film festivals during the latter half of 2000.
US DVD Review
The DVD has a sharp, smooth, all around very nice video transfer, a crisp 5.1 channel English soundtrack, plus an English subtitle track. There are all sorts of fun extras as well: Top 10 fan scenes from the movie, a behind the scenes short, and a very cool storyboard comparison; three sequences from the movie can be displayed with just the storyboard, just the video, or both visible--great for seeing how the production process worked. The disc also includes TV and theatrical trailers from the US, Japan, and even a Korean theatrical trailer. You might note that the Japanese and Korean trailers both feature English dialogue, with subtitles in the appropriate language.
Rated 17+ for graphic violence, and some mature themes; that might even be a little strict.
Violence: 4 - Being a vampire movie, there are a few extremely bloody scenes, but it was relatively restrained.
Nudity: 1 - Essentially no nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Nothing at all graphic, but strong themes.
Language: 2 - Some crude language, but not much.
Staff & Cast
Original English Cast
D: Andrew Philpot
Meier Link: John Rafter Lee
Leila: Pamela Segall
Charlotte: Wendee Lee
Left Hand: Mike McShane
Carmila: Julia Fletcher
Borgoff: Matt McKenzie
Nolt: John Dimaggio
Kyle: Alex Fernandez
Grove: Jack Fletcher
Polk: John Hostetter
Sheriff: John Dimaggio
Benge: Dwight Schultz
Caroline: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
Machira: John Dimaggio
John Elbourne: John Dimaggio
Alan Elbourne: John Demita
Girl: Debi Derryberry
Priest: John Demita
Old Man of Barbarois: Dwight Schultz
Producer: Mata Yamamoto, Masao Maruyama, Taka Nagasawa
Associate Producers: Yasuaki Iwase, Jeong Jeong Gyun
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Based on "Vampire Hunter D" by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Original Character Illlustrations: Yoshitaka Amano
Character Design: Yutaka Minowa
Screenplay/Storyboards: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Animation Director: Yutaka Minowa, Hiroshi Hamasaki, Hisashi Abe
Mechanical Animation Director: Morifumi Naka
Background Director: Yuji Ikehata
Director of Photography: Hitoshi Yamaguchi
Dialogue Director: Jack Fletcher
Music Composed, Orchestrated, and Conducted: Marco D'Ambrosio
Animation by Madhouse
Production: Filmlink International/Hideyuki Kikchi/Asahi Sonorama/Vampire Hunter D Production Committee (Filmlink International, BMG Funhouse, Movic, Goodhill Vision, Softcapital)
Available in North America from Urban Vision on English-language DVD and as video-on-demand; the DVD is currently out of print. Was previously also available on English-language VHS.