Vampire Hunter D is set in the year 12,090 AD. It’s been several thousand years since a nuclear war ravaged the earth, and humanity has been reduced to a ragtag bunch of survivors dominated by “nobles,” vampires who look down on humans as cattle. Doris Lang, our virtuous young heroine, has been bitten by the Count Magnus Lee, a 10,000 year old vampire whose only escape from his boring existence is capturing and bedding young women. Enter D, our dark enigmatic hero, a powerful vampire hunter who is hired by Doris to protect her and her brother Dan from the Count and his evil forces. But D has a darker past: he’s a half-vampire with incredible powers. Doris finds herself falling in love with D, and D must fight his vampiric side and the Count’s minions to save her.
Now that’s a pretty darn good premise for a movie. You’ve got a good foundation for plenty of action, lots of good material for storytelling, and even a bit of unrequited love. Unfortunately, Vampire Hunter D just doesn’t pull any of it off. It’s got plenty of action, and some of it is pretty bloody, but it’s not particularly thrilling. If you want to see good anime action, watch Ninja Scroll. The story is pretty interesting, but unfortunately, you have to sit through atrocious dubbing and melodramatic dialog. And just when you think that the love between Doris and D is going to remain unsaid, she throws herself at him — fresh from the shower, I might add — and we get to see a “tender” moment when he struggles to suppress his vampiric urges.
In some circles, Vampire Hunter D is a cult anime hit. You’ll find plenty of websites devoted to proclaiming its merits. However, compared to much of the anime coming out today, it seems pallid and stale. For starters, the animation isn’t all that great, and gets downright atrocious at times. The characters are poorly drawn and look like every other anime character ‘ve ever seen, which is a shame considering that Yoshitako Amano’s original sketches are simply gorgeous. The only good animated sequence occurs at the very end, but overall, I haven’t seen animation this bad this side of M.D. Geist (another anime with lots of unrealized potential).
I wouldn’t mind seeing a subtitled version of this, because my major beef with the movie is the dialog and dubbing. The dialog is clichéd and formulaic, especially the scene when D and Dan have a heartfelt, man to man talk. The aforementioned scene between D and Doris could be good, even a little moving, but it’s ruined when Doris cries like a little girl and begs D to run away with her to some place far, far away. And when it comes to the dubbing, where should I begin? How about those wonderful “Transylvanian” accents of the vampire nobles? Or the fact that Dan, a young boy, is voiced either by a young girl or a very effeminate man?
The only real highlight of the movie is D. He’s like a character from a Sergio Leone western, if it was set in the year 12,090 and there were vampires. He doesn’t say much, half of his face is always in shadow, and he carries a big sword that he’s not afraid to use. And the real kick is D’s left hand. Picture Thing from The Addams Family, but with a face, a biting sense of humor, and a huge appetite, and you get the picture. His little verbal jabs at D are the best dialog in the entire film, and one of the only good dubbing jobs.
All in all, it’s really sad, because the concepts behind the movie (which is based on a popular series of Japanese novels) are really cool. The movie had a lot of potential, but seems to be more interested in showing us lots of decapitations, disembowlings, and women in skimpy outfits.
Urban Vision, the distributor of the original Vampire Hunter D, is releasing a new version of the movie this year. From what I’ve seen, the look of the film is vastly improved, as is the animation quality. It has that cool gothic/atmospheric vibe that is desperately missing from so much of this film. I just hope that the quality and depth of the story matches the visuals. If it does, the new version of Vampire Hunter D will be everything the original wasn’t but could’ve — and should’ve — been.