By Justin Graham / October 2nd, 2013
Vampire Hunter D is a 1985 film based on the original work of Hideyuki Kikuchi, whose other works include novels adapted into the anime Demon City Shinjuku and Wicked City. Yoshitaka Amano, whom westerners may be most familiar with as a long-time character artist of the Final Fantasy series, is also the long-time illustrator of Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D novels, and similarly provided the character designs for the film. Animated by Ashi Productions, the film is set in a far flung future where nuclear holocaust has left the world filled with twisted monsters and the human population lives in a society that functions like a nineteenth century eastern Europe infused with science fiction technology.
The humans of this twisted world are lorded over by vampires. As the story begins, one such vampire, the ten thousand-years-old Count Magnus Lee, attacks and inflicts his curse upon the human girl Doris Lang. With her only other options either death or succumbing to Lee’s curse and becoming his latest in a long series of brides, she turns to the help of a mysterious vampire hunter she confronts on the road near her village. A vampire hunter named D.
It becomes clear early on that D is not a garden variety hunter of the supernatural. In addition to his vast knowledge of vampires and skill with a sword, he has a partner in the form of his left hand. Quite literally, his hand not only has a face in its palm, but is also sentient, with a mind and personality of its own.
D’s mystique carries throughout the film, shedding little light on his past, other than the fact that he is not human. Like Alucard of the Castlevania video game series, D is a dhampir; the half-human/half-vampire son of a vampire father and human mother. His bloodline grants him supernatural powers of his own, making him a match for his powerful, nigh immortal foes. But it also renders him susceptible to certain weaknesses; while D is able to move about in broad daylight and doesn’t subsist on human blood, some weapons effective against vampires are just as effective against him.
The plot, such as it is, is rather thin. Doris is cursed and hires D. D rescues her from Lee’s castle. D is attacked and subdued while Doris is taken a second time, and D comes to her rescue once again. The beats are simple, and the film is predominantly filled with action set-pieces as D faces off against foes such as Lee’s lieutenant Rei Ginsei or the various freaks that inhabit the halls of Lee’s castle. What the film lacks in a complex plot, it makes up for with its action, as D cuts his way through enemy after enemy in his bid to keep Doris safe from Count Lee’s clutches. Add into consideration the film’s brief running time (only eighty minutes), and in sum, Vampire Hunter D is a straight-forward, violent yet stylistic movie that is never in danger of overstaying its welcome.
The art direction in the film is an interesting mix. As noted before, the world that the characters inhabit is like a mesh of the European old world and a future of science fiction technology. Horses such as D’s are cybernetic, Doris’s country home is protected by a force field generator and laser rifles are used in place of bullets, but fashion, architecture, and societal structure all take their cues from European history.
While I typically don’t speak much on English dubs in these articles, the dub in Vampire Hunter D is worth a special mention. While the original Japanese is rather straight-forward, the dub, originally produced by Streamline Pictures for its first western release, plays dangerously close to camp, particularly with its vampire characters Magnus Lee and his daughter Lamika. The actors for both sport thick, bad Romanian accents, as though to distinguish them as members of vampiric aristocracy. Lamika in particular lays it on, which can elicit some unintentionally chuckle-worthy moments.
English audio aside, the rest of the audio is quite good. The Japanese voice acting is well-delivered and suitable in tone, and the soundtrack features some memorable pieces. Perhaps not enough to make one pine for a soundtrack release, but still quite good.
Vampire Hunter D is one of the old guard when it comes to anime’s rise in western popularity. While certainly not a groundbreaking achievement like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, its simple accessibility and entertaining action make for great viewing. Though it’s an example of style over substance, the style is easily worth coming back to, say, once every October or so.
Vampire Hunter D was released on DVD in North America by Urban Vision. The release contains both the original Japanese with English subtitles, as well as the English dub produced by Streamline Pictures. The film is not rated, but contains brief nudity and graphic violence.
anime of the pastHideyuki KikuchiUrban VisionVampire Hunter DYoshitaka Amano