Directed by: Toyodo Ashida, Carl Macek | 80 minutes | action, animation, fantasy, science fiction, horror | Actors: Ichirô Nagai, Hideyuki Tanaka, Kôichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Seizô Katô, Motomu Kiyokawa, Yasuo Muramatsu, Satoko Kifuji, Kaneto Shiozawa, Kazuko Yanaga, Michie Tomizawa, Keiko Toda
After the success of “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust” from 2000, distributor A-Film seemed like a good idea to release the illustrious predecessor. The first part about the wandering vampire D was published in 1985 and enjoys a certain cult status. Unfortunately, not everything that is “cult” necessarily wants to be “good.” Something that certainly applies to this “Vampire Hunter D”. More on that later.
Let’s take a look at the story first. Vampire Hunter D is about the mysterious D: half human / half vampire. As a lineage of the dreaded “Dunpeal race,” D wanders in solitude through 12090 Japan. D earns his living as a mercenary rescuing people from dangerous demons, monsters and vampires for hefty payments. When the young girl Doris (Megumi) is kidnapped, a professor enlists the help of the doomed Dunpeal. D will have to fight hard to free Doris from the clutches of Count Magnus Lee (Katô).
If you hope that “Vampire Hunter D” is as exciting and flashy as its 2000 sequel, you will be disappointed. Deeply disappointed. Part one is nothing like its successor. The gothic style and the depressive atmosphere of “Bloodlust” are hardly encountered in this episode. D remains a meaningless character without any form of depth. And that stings. Especially when you consider that the film revolves around his person.
The biggest shock from this film is that cheerful children play a part in it. As the story progresses, D turns into a good-natured childhood friend who effortlessly spouts words of encouragement and fatherly to cute anime kids. The tragic nature of a misunderstood loner looking for money from “Bloodlust” has almost completely disappeared in this film. In the sequel, the character of the wandering Dunpeal has been thrown into the “extreme makeover”.
Anyway, what matters is of course whether this twenty-year-old film can stand on its own two feet. It is not fair to compare a cartoon with many years on the counter with a film that uses the latest animation techniques. In short, can “Bloodlust” fans still get some fun out of the anime that started the saga?
The answer is a cautious “yes”. Although the film obviously cannot keep up with today’s state-of-the-art animation, the film is still quite enjoyable. The haze of mystery surrounding the Dunpeal is still there. D may have little or no depth in this predecessor, but his charisma and ‘bad ass attitude’ are clearly palpable. But if you want to enjoy it, you will have to put up with a lot of imperfections and shortcomings.
Because “Vampire Hunter D” looks very dull and coarse. The animation is wooden, the use of colors is pale and candy red and the soundtrack is hopelessly outdated. The action is invariably accompanied by headache-inducing strobe effects and a migraine-evoking voice cast. Characters scream in shrill voices over a soundtrack dominated by electric guitars. And even the most hardened metal fan will have to keep going to get through the guitar solos.
The use of color is worth a separate paragraph. How the makers have been able to put together such a chaotic color palette is impressive. Poison green grass in combination with cobalt blue shoes and orange-clad characters really hurt the eyes. Pink tones in combination with light blue drawings also look very psychedelic, but in a bad way. Suddenly swelling strobe effects complete the jumble of color.
As mentioned, the voice cast is also cringe-inducing. Especially Migumi is annoying as a screamy and panting Manga girl. So you have to love it. D is then again spoken well by a man with a deep voice. That’s the way it is with tough characters.
The action is reasonable. The sword fights are well portrayed and the unexpected plot twists make the action part quite amusing. Especially when you consider that you are dealing with a more than twenty year old cartoon. If the cartoon pays more attention to D halfway through, the story suddenly becomes a lot more interesting and fun. The annoying kids get less leeway and the film does that a lot well.
In conclusion, as an inveterate “D” fan, you can give this film a chance, but then you have to poke through a lot of downsides. If you don’t like the white ancestor of vampire slaughterer “Blade” then you can skip this film with confidence.