It’s style over substance in Toyoo Ashida’s action horror Vampire Hunter D.
“Wait! You’re a hunter just like I thought, and…you must be… a vampire hunter!”
Vampire fiction has gotten a bit stale, hasn’t it? Sometimes it seems like it’s all the same thing, with the same story beats. So how do we switch it up? How about a vampire story set in the year 12,000, where freakazoid mutants roam the landscape, and some people have sentient talking left hands. Vampire Hunter D follows Doris Lang who, while hunting for werewolves in the far future, is attacked by a 10,000 year old vampire who plans to make him his bride. Scared, she calls for help from D, a – you guessed it – vampire hunter. However, Count Lee is not the only threat. His servant Rei, a time-manipulating mutant, and Lee’s daughter Lamika also stand in his path, leaving D faced with his greatest challenge yet. I think. I don’t know, we’ve not seen any of his other adventures.
Based off the novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, the people behind the movie adaptation knew smartly to call in cover illustrator Yoshitaka Amano back for this project. He acted as a character designer and his flair for imaginative concepts really comes through. However, the overall style has more of a mainstream anime feel, and a few of the characters were redesigned from scratch by director Toyoo Ashida. I would have actually preferred if they had animated the entire thing to Amano’s art style, like Angel’s Egg was as, sometimes, the characters almost look like fan art of the man’s designs, and this is especially true in Rei Ginsei who looks like somebody tried to draw Final Fantasy II’s Firion from memory. As it is, and as wonderful as a lot of the design is, it sometimes clashes with itself. Doris looks like she’s out of something by Toriyama and is probably the one who stands out the most.
But whatever, that’s a minor gripe. The movie has such a fascinating visual palette on what appears to be a limited budget that I’m willing to both forgive the bizarre pacing and ignore the feeling that some scenes were cut for time. Who’s the floating cackling witch? Who cares! What was the deal with the pterodactyl man? It doesn’t matter, because stopping to explain that sort of nonsense would only delay us moving on to the next scene of D slicing and dicing his way through Count Lee’s strange metal castle. Vampire Hunter D cannot hide the fact that it was a once a book; there’s clearly a tonne of lore here that was looked over or forgotten about in order to make the movie concise.
Is this a problem? Kind of – it will definitely take the audience a while to really settle into the world and even then they’ll just find themselves nodding and moving along without fully understanding what anything is meant to be (Time-bewitching incense?) – but I never got the impression that this film is trying particularly hard to do that. It’s almost like it wants to set up more films in a franchise (and unfortunately only got another film fifteen years later), or perhaps give way to a TV series. I had to Google search just now, actually, because this would make an excellent series. The fact that it hasn’t is baffling.
So, should you watch this? I say yes, definitely. It’s fun, exciting, but don’t come in expecting some extensive worldbuilding and a rich, deep lore. This isn’t that. This is a man with zero personality silently murdering his way through hordes of abominations, and an old vampire who looks staggeringly like Cesar Romero. At least Doris is given some personality, which works in making her a likeable character. There’s some semblance of giving D a backstory right at the end, but it’s almost done as throwaway lines that it’s hard to feel the emotion behind it. In short, don’t take Vampire Hunter D too seriously, and you’ll be sure to have a good time with it.
Verdict: Vampire Hunter D might be shallow, but it’s also a fun, imaginative and visually thrilling time.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: 2/10 for brief animated nip-slips
Vampires hunted: 1
Spiders Guy: Jesus, fuck that guy
Sentient hands: Seriously, this movie is so weird
Vampire Hunter D (1985)
Also known as: 吸血鬼バンパイアハンターD
Director: Toyoo Ashida
Writer: Yasushi Hirano (screenplay), Hideyuki Kikuchi (novel)
D – Kaneto Shiozawa
Doris Lang – Michie Tomizawa
Count Magnus Lee – Seizo Kato
Dan Lang – Keiko Toda
Greco Roman – Yusaku Yara
Countess Lamika Lee – Satoko Kito
Rei Ginsei – Kazuyuki Sogabe
D’s Left Hand – Ichiro Nagai
Dr. Feringo – Motomu Kiyokawa
Mayor Roman – Yasuo Muramatsu
Sheriff – Kan Tokumaru
The Three Sisters – Kazuko Yanaga,