Old School Anime Review - Vampire Hunter D
A post-apocalyptic pseudo-western with vampires
It's been a while since I did something with the Old School Anime Reviews series. The last review on Lily C.A.T. was almost exactly one year ago and it's time to return.
The horror and western genres are two of my all-time favorite genres! With that in mind, I thought I'd take a look at a film that combines those two genres...sort of.
So, go over 1985's Vampire Hunter D and see just how well the horror and western genres were mixed.
There will likely be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.
Hideyuki Kikuchi's Novels
Author Hideyuki Kikuchi wrote the first of the Vampire Hunter D novels in 1983 and to date a total of 37 novels have been written with, 21 of them being translated into English.
The series follows the exploits of a half-breed vampire hunter named D as he wanders through a post-apocalyptic world ruled over by the nobility (vampires) about 5000 years after a nuclear war pretty much destroyed the world.
In addition to the main series, Kikuchi has written two other Vampire Hunter series' which are set in the same universe that follow different leads. D himself has appeared in a few novellas and short stories too.
There have been a number of adaptations of Kikuchi's novels including:
- Two animated films in 1985 and 2000
- Five audio drama adaptations of the first three novels (1988 to 1990)
- A video game in 1999
- A 2007 manga and 2016 comic book series
There's also apparently a new animated series in the works so that's something to keep an eye out for.
The 1985 Film: Vampire Hunter D
D is a dhampir, the product of a sexual encounter between a vampire and a human (typically the vampire is male), who hunts vampires and other monsters in a post-apocalyptic world.
Doris Lang is attacked and infected by Count Magnus Lee a local vampire nobleman. She subsequently hires D to kill the vampire and prevent her from becoming a vampire herself.
Okay, so...what works about Vampire Hunter D?
Let's face it, the 80's aren't really known for good anime dubs. That said, the voice acting here is pretty good. There are a few places where the performances could've been improved (Doris' little brother for example) but overall it's good.
The same thing applies to the writing. It's fairly well-done, there are a few problems here and there where the dialogue slips into fantasy/horror cliche territory but it's not going to damage the viewing experience.
Characters are alright, most of them have great personalities although there are obviously exceptions - which we'll get to in a minute. D is the typical strong, silent protagonist. He says very little, only speaking a handful of times in the film. They've mostly avoided the issues around a silent protagonist by making the dialogue that D has relay his thoughts and feelings with each delivery.
Visually, the film is interesting and the amount of effort that went into all the different creatures should be commended.
The music, what little there is of it, is nice.
What Doesn't Work?
Oh brother...where do I start with this section?
As nice as the animation is - particularly considering the time in which the film was made - it's also damn-near impossible to see anything most of the time. The nighttime and castle interiors are all done in shades of dark blue which brings visibility down considerably. I'd like to say that this is to create an ominous mood but it fails miserably if your audience is straining their eyes to see what's going on!
The antagonists in this film are, for the most part, lacking in the intimidation department. Magnus Lee is fine - mostly. He's a bored, ancient vampire who's looking to have a bit of fun. Unfortunately, he doesn't do much throughout the film and has no real presence; he just sits around.
The characters of Rei Ganzi and Greco are cookie-cutter, stereotypes all the way through. They have little to no impact on the story and little to no personality. The count's daughter is just as bad if not worse; she has no real personality and again does absolutely nothing. No, constantly complaining isn't doing something.
Sadly, Doris doesn't come away from this unscathed. She's likable enough and she has a lot to do throughout the film; but she doesn't really have a unique personality of her own. Instead, she seems to be an amalgamation of multiple damsels in distress which isn't exactly a good thing.
The pacing is erratic as well. With a run-time of 80 minutes, some sections run smoothly while others do not. You go from slow and steady to breakneck speed to snail trail several times and it's a bit of a nuisance.
Final Thoughts: A Fun Popcorn Movie
All things considered, Vampire Hunter D is considered a classic and for good reason; it's good fun in spite of its flaws. You can sit down and switch your brain off for about an hour or so. A bowl of popcorn, some drinks and a group of friends on a Friday night - that's where this movie would be most at home.