Stephen reviews: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust [バンパイアハンターD] (2000)

Starring Andrew Philpot, John Rafter Lee, Michael McShane, Pamela Segall, Wendee Lee, Alex Fernandez, Jack Fletcher, John Di Maggio, Matt Mckenzie, Julia Fletcher

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri


Wait a minute, is that a bunch of Western names on that cast list? It is! Goddamn it, what the hell?! Thanks to some legal bullshitery that I don’t understand (because it doesn’t make sense), Bloodlust is only published in North America in the English version. If you want the Japanese with subtitles, your only bet is to find an absurdly overpriced import or enter the illegal realm of Internet piracy. I have no idea what folks in Europe, Australia or anywhere else might have available, but if you’re lucky maybe you can find it subtitled.

And man is the acting bad. I don’t usually go into the dubbed/subbed debate in my reviews because I figure you’ve already made up your mind, and we anime geeks cling to our opinions as strongly as any other geeks. With the magical arrival of the DVD, this debate has become pretty much a moot point anyway, but every once in a while you stumble onto something like Bloodlust that messes it up. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the English version was made first, and is therefore the original version. Clearly, this was a dumb move to make, and the decision to do so is baffling. But there’s nothing to do about it, so it’s time for me to suck it up and deal. Everything else about the movie is excellent, so on the whole, I still had a good time.

One thing I have learned this October is that when Kawajiri is in charge, you get some great animation. I’m not sure what his magic touch is, but everything of his that I have seen is very well animated, and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust leaves all his prior films in the dust. The animation is detailed and fluid with gorgeous backgrounds to bring it all together. Only Ghibli can do better, and even that might be due to seeing it on streaming video with occasionally dropped frames. I always prefer the scruffy edge of old animation, but this is easily among the best animated films I’ve seen, even with its modern, crisp animation run through a computer.

And all that gorgeous animation is put to good use. This is a another Kikuchi adaptation, and just like the first Vampire Hunter D, it’s got plenty of grisly monsters to show off, and vampires are the most normal of them. The main baddies that D tangles with this time are a trio of demons. The first travels through shadows and can kill by stabbing his victim’s shadow. The next is a sultry shapeshifting woman that blends into her environment and takes on powers from whatever object she has fused with. The third is a werewolf that is woefully underused. Though he has some good moments, his final showdown with D only lasts a few seconds. It’s probably the biggest flaw in the film (not counting the awful dub), but with so much other great stuff in this movie, I can overlook this omission.

The three demons were hired to protect D’s real quarry, Meier Link, a vampire who has kidnapped a young woman named Charlotte. But just to keep things from getting stale, D has some competition. Another group of vampire hunters have also taken the job, and it turns out that Charlotte actually wants to stay with Meier. The story proceeds with never a dull moment as the three groups compete with each other and Meier takes refuge in a castle haunted by the ghost of a vampire that D’s father killed. You also wonder whether Meier is all that much of a bad guy, and whether D will wind up killing him, or taking his side.

It all adds up to a story of far more depth than one would expect from a simple vampire movie. It’s a shame that all the dramatic development is ruined by the acting. D has a heart-to-heart moment with one of the rival hunters, but thanks to the poorly acted and abysmally timed dialog any hope this scene had of resonating with you is thrown out the window. Fortunately the film is more action than drama, but the acting really does ruin an otherwise superb experience. D’s talking hand was pretty much ruined as well. It used to be dark and sinister with a snide edge to its sarcasm, but humor was never its real function. Now it’s almost cheerfully jocular, and nowhere near the laugh riot somebody thought it would be.

I didn’t really try to make this a rant about bad dubbing, but it’s so hard to talk about this film without thinking about how much better it would have been in Japanese. They didn’t even have the courtesy to make it so bad it’s funny (well, there are a few small moments). Instead it’s mostly dry and emotionless monotone. I’ve heard voice synthesizers with more personality than the actors in this film. It’s a nearly flawless film otherwise, and it’s only the acting that brings it down. If you’ve somehow become immune to the terrible English dubs in anime, then this is one of the best movies you can find, but if you have any appreciation for acting skill, it may be too much for you to take.

5 comments to Stephen reviews: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

  • So this was definitely not the movie in my mind either. The intro scene resembles what I remember, but it’s not it. Besides, the production year would make it impossible anyway, as I definitely saw the movie in question before I graduated high school in 1999.

    Anyway, THIS movie is fucking awesome! I agree with everything you say in the review. The dub is monotone and bad, the animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, the werewolf is RIDICULOUSLY awesome and underused, and the hand was kinda ruined (but I still liked him anyway cuz it’s a face in a hand).

    I want to say that the first movie is the better movie overall, just because I think it’s a lot more fun and entertaining on a base level, but this sequel is definitely right there, even surpassing it in many ways. I was able to feel a lot of the drama in spite of the dub, so by the end I was fairly wrapped up in it all. The set-pieces, especially coupled with the fantastic score, are incredible, too. When they get to the castle towards the end and the Gothic music really kicks into overdrive I had moments where I thought, “This is the best anime I’ve ever seen.” It’s not, but I was completely swept away by how well made it all was. Visually gorgeous and artful as well, it reminded me a lot in that way of the Utena movie.

    Man, I wish there were more of these! … According to Wikipedia there’s a live-action movie and an anime series “in the works.” Sounds good to me!

    • This is definitely one of the top tier anime films. It is kinda surprising that they never made more considering just how many novels there are and just how well these two movies turned out. It could have been the anime counterpart to the James Bond films. I’ll certainly be all over any more should they ever come out, live action or otherwise.

      I’m actually not sure which one I prefer more. Both movies appeal to me for very different reasons, so I kinda find it hard to compare them directly even if they are the same series.

      I also feel like I should make a correction to the review. It appears that there never was anything but the English dub. Even in Japan, it released with English dialog and Japanese subtitles. I have no idea why, and it’s still dumb, but I guess there’s no chance of ever watching it without the bad acting. I guess I just dropped the ball on research when I wrote it. Whoops.

      • Yeah, they are hard to compare because they’re so different. Both great in completely different ways, which kind of makes me like both of them even more. I had no idea there were so many books, too. Wow! Maybe they only want a movie out every 15 years… in which case 2015 is just around the corner!

        Weird it was only ever produced in English. Seems like an odd decision to make. I guess it was at that time when anime was exploding in popularity in the West, but still… it wasn’t THAT popular.

        • And just to make me look like an idiot, as soon as I said that I found a youtube video of Bloodlust in Japanese. According to Wikipedia it was just that the English dub was finished way sooner than the Japanese dub. I guess they didn’t want to push back the release date and just ran with the English version. It also appears that the film released in America before Japan, which is highly unusual. Well, I guess I can hope for an eventual Bluray release that will have the Japanese voice work. That would be awesome.

          • Hahahaha, oh well. It makes so much more sense that there is a Japanese version, so I’m glad you cleared it up. I’m guessing the English voices were done quicker because no one bothered to act or do second takes! Boom! Take that, American voice actors!

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