Vampire Hunter D (2000)
Dub, 35mm film
A wonderful fantasy action film that surpases the original in everthing but gore.
Vampire Hunter D (2000)
By Jake Forbes
I vividly remember the first time I saw Vampire Hunter D, exactly ten years ago to the day. It was my first experience with anime (not counting Robotech which I had watched religiously as a kid). D was the second bill of a 1:00 AM double bill of poorly dubbed anime on some forgotten UHF channel which which I only knew about because they aired the terribly underrated Exo-Squad cartoon. D was preceded by Robot Carnival, another early eye-opener for the west to the possibilities of animation. I caught just the end and was a bit confused, and the mesmerizing images lulled me to the edge of sleep. But then the second film commenced and I would not sleep 'til 4:00 AM.
The original Vampire Hunter D opened my eyes to new levels of terror and violence (by my 14-year-old standards), and the bloody action and intricate character designs won me over. In retrospect, it wasn't a very good movie; the plot moved too slowly, and the characters were cardboard. But Vampire Hunter D, for better or worse, ranks with Akira and Robotech in helping to start the 90's anime boom.
So it was with great anticipation that I attended the Halloween screening of the remake of Vampire Hunter D. The internet buzz had been high and the online trailer was killer. The sold-out audience was expecting the second coming of an anime god. Did the new D deliver? You can bet your giant, trusty, vampire-slayin' sword it did! The old D's dead, long live the new D!
D is a dampeal, or half-vampire, who works as a vampire-slaying bounty hunter. As the film opens, a girl is kidnapped and D is hired to save her. D has a horse, a big ol' sword, a talking hand, and a quiet disposition. There the similarities to the original film end.
This time out D has competition in the bounty hunting business in the form of Brogardd and his eclectic gallery of rogues. These guys could give James Woods and Danny Baldwin a lesson or two on slayin'. In their iron-plated crucifix-mobile, this ass-kicking team have a head start on D. They also have a much larger arsenal of vampire-slaying gear, including a rapid-firing crossbow, flying knives, a giant spike-on-a-stick, and a futuristic pistol that'll blow a hole clear through a lesser undead. My favorite character is a withered invalid bounty hunter who can manifest as an angel-like spirit by injecting himself with drugs. Hauntingly beautiful stuff. The most developed character is Leila, the sole female member of the team. She's a tragic bounty hunter by necessity, and the closest thing to a love interest that D gets.
The villains are much improved over what D faced in his last outing. The vampire target is Link Meier, definitely of the Louis/Barnabus school of blood-sucking. He gets a few cool action scenes in which he wields his cape like a blade, but for the most part, he's the dramatic center of the movie and not a warrior. More exciting in combat are a trio of freaks from a city of monsters. Featuring werewolf, a shadow creature, and a transmuting plant girl, these three act more like the villains in Ninja Scroll then vampire cohorts. There's also a grand-dame vampire in a spooky castle who gets to play mind games on our heroes.
With this many characters duking it out, you'd think that the action would get in the way of the story, but surprisingly, it's very well balanced. Every character gets a chance to show their stuff, and there isn't a dud in the bunch. I can't think of another anime movie that juggles so many characters so well. Most of the action scenes were short and sweet. The only one that disappoints is D's confrontation with the werewolf, in which the monster starts bleeding and dies for seemingly no reason. At least the werewolf gets to kick butt a few scenes back so his character isn't a total waste.
Even with all of the fight scenes, the movie is not about fighting. Up until the final battle, the film maintains the thrill of a hunt. Most of the characters are bounty hunters, after all, and the main suspense revolves around the heroes being able to keep up with their target. The film also plays with our expectations of who's the hero and who's the villain as a tragic love story unfolds between Meier and his human "prisoner."
All of these elements add up to an excellent fantasy/adventure movie. If I could find one major fault with the movie, it's that the film very rarely feels like horror. There are no scares, no gruesome deaths, and very little blood. It's PG-13 to the core. That doesn't make it a bad film at all, but if you go to it expecting a dark, violent horror film, you will be disappointed.
The animation is top notch throughout. The beginning sequence is probably the most impressive as a CGI skyline is blended seamlessly into a beautifully intricate gothic village. As Meier makes his entrance to the city, crosses bend, flowers wilt, and water freezes. The production values here are as good as any I've seen in anime. The rest of the movie emphasizes detail and design over high frame rates, so the movements aren't always fluid. This serves the tone very well, however, and I have no complaints about the high quality animation.
At the time of this screening, the only version of Vampire Hunter D 2000 that exists is the English dub. Overall it is very well done, with some of the best lip-syncing I've ever seen. The voice acting is a bit generic, with lots of familiar voices; nothing terrible, but nothing memorable. The writing is adequate at best throughout and often feels stilted, probably because of Urban Vision's dedication to good lip sync.
The music is of the Hans Zimmer school of movie scoring: very dramatic, often militaristic, and American to the core. It is a good score, and will make the film more accessible to mainstream America, but it isn't all that unique.
I'd like to commend the art department for Madhouse and character designer Yutaka Minowa for letting their imaginations go farther with this film. What I've always admired about good anime is the sense of awe and wonder it conveys. Disney used to have it, but in recent years this feeling has been all but gone from American cinema. The flying sand mantas, city of misfits, and a gothic vampire space ship may not ad to the horror of Vampire Hunter D, but they took me someplace beautiful and new.
Urban Vision hopes to give Vampire Hunter D 2000 a US theatrical release next year. I truly hope they make this happen. It's a visual masterpiece that is far better than recent American action animation like Titan AE and Dinosaur. I just hope they realize that they have a first-rate quest adventure, and not just a mediocre horror movie. Don't to this movie expecting a sequel or remake to the original D. What you'll get is entirely different, but truly wonderful.