Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Banpaia Hantā Dī: Buraddorasuto)

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Banpaia Hantā Dī: Buraddorasuto) 2000

Even today, nearly twenty years after the release of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, I’m still fascinated by the fact that the English dub was done first. And, twenty years later and I’ve still never heard the Japanese cast 🙂

Finishing the English voice acting first was done as part of push for (much-deserved) attention overseas during a US theatrical run in 2000 and I wonder if the subtitle had a related secondary function? The first was of course to distinguish it from the original anime adaptation but to me it’s suggesting that a vampire’s struggle with (or failure to contain) their desire for blood will make up a good amount of the plot.

Instead, the source material probably has a more accurate title perhaps – the third novel in Hideyuki Kikuchi’s series that makes up the key aspects of the movie was called Demon Deathchase.

I like it because it’s more functional in terms of a descriptor – since the film is kinda one long chase sequence. There’s still room to breathe and reflect here and there, and plenty of fighting and gore, but the pacing is brisk as D seeks his bounty through increasingly grim scenes. There’s not a lot of time for character development either, but the scene-setting and atmosphere-building (via the creepy OST and the beautifully gothic visuals) aren’t ignored by any stretch.

The opening alone feels like a lesson in establishing both setting and mood – but it soon leads to the main plot – the rescue mission of a maiden ensnared by a vampire, and then it’s straight to the first impressive fight sequence as D and competing bounty hunters rip through some of the shambling zombie-type vampires. (It’s not until later that we meet the real Vampires; once again the arrogant noble-types).

On almost every level this adaptation is superior to the 1985 one, though in a way it’s not as bold, nor do we get the same feel for D as a character this time around. I think Bloodlust is not as much a gore-fest either, and perhaps it’s even somewhat toned down for Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who was behind Ninja Scroll, Wicked City etc. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is also something of a tragic love story and so if you’re looking for the kinda crass sexual content sometimes found in his other films, you won’t get it here. And whether that was done in part to placate US censors or audiences, I obviously can’t say, but it was a nice change from Kawajiri.

While I don’t usually place spoiler warnings within reviews of ‘old’ films, nor much beyond my general note in the About section, I’ll probably do so now – this next para will spoil a few things.

The film follows certain horror conventions almost as much as dark fantasy and so a good deal of the supporting cast is quickly established as cannon-fodder, and so once I knew most of them would die I didn’t have to bother becoming invested in their lives or storylines, but obviously Leila remains important enough to survive, and again, D is the main draw. Yet it’s Grove who’s probably the most memorable of the supporting cast – and arguably the most tragic – in the film. He’s basically an ace-in-the-hole but when he’s not kicking monster butt he’s bound by the toll his power takes on his body and though his fellow hunters care… there’s no quest to help him; he’s just a caged weapon to be used up. (Maybe there’s more to it in the novel, of course.)

For me the dub was memorable though I guess Wendee Lee might have possibly been under-utilised a little? And if I compare John Dimagio (who you’ll doubtless know as Bender among many other roles) he was able to play three or four characters and I only picked up on him voicing two of them 😀 In terms of a more specific negative for me, I admit that I wasn’t totally sold on semi-Beetlejuice-esque update to Left Hand – his dialogue too, often fell into a ‘comic-relief’ vein which I didn’t like but, it is a distinctive feature of the film.

But again, everything is really high-level with Bloodlust, right down to the very last scene, which is a touching coda that I won’t spoil, and is probably my second-favourite moment in the film.

Definitely for fans of Kawajiri and the vampire genre in general, and certainly anyone who is familiar with Vampire Hunter D but might not have seen this one yet, as it can be fun to compare, for instance, there’s still a strong western feel and a retro-look to a lot of the character design.

Supposedly a television series has been in development for many years – so if it is released one day, I’m sure I’ll check it out with high hopes indeed.

5 Stars

Hellsing

Hellsing 2001

Hellsing is something of a classic anime series and it definitely has some really killer elements… but as a whole it doesn’t quite live up to its reputation for me.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy some episodes or that I think it’s bad series, but the show strays between genuinely atmospheric, creepy and exciting to kinda trashy and even a little shaky re: its animation. And yeah, trashy isn’t always bad and I know the production team were soon working ahead of the manga on a smaller budget (and that’s always fraught with risk) but I think I agree with the general consensus out there, which suggests that the anime didn’t live up to the source material and later, suffered in some ways compared to the remake in Hellsing Ultimate.

But back to the 2001 series – it’s got blood and tension, some interesting music, great voice acting and at times distinctive direction (especially in the opening episode) along with a memorable cast of characters in its favour. The gothic elements were really welcome too and I liked Seras’s storyline – her struggles definitely deserved a little more screen time. Alucard himself is of course a great menace and fits the ‘monster hunting other monsters’ role quite well but the pacing of the series felt off to me and I grew weary of the recapping. And a small thing that also bugged me – the endless repetition of ‘amen’ quickly became odd rather than fitting for the characters.

Still, what this series definitely did was make me curious about a more complete adaptation of the source material and so on that level at least, it really works. And that first episode is pretty stunning, really – it’s just a shame that the quality for me fell away not too long after.

3 Stars

Castlevania (TV Series)

Castlevania (2017 -)

Castlevania as an animated TV series was a long time coming.

The first four episodes were released back in 2017 after around ten years of development ups and downs, with the next batch following late last year – leaving most viewers pretty keen for the third season, it seems.

And I’m one of them for sure; in part it’s due to the art style, in part the storytelling and probably the ace performances of the voice actors too. Generally, I have limited knowledge of which dubs are super-high quality for most anime or animated works (obviously I know that Cowboy Bebop’s is top-notch and many Ghibli ones are great too) so it was nice to hear a range of accents in Castlevania.

Maybe it’s ‘impossible’ to write spoilers about the storylines for fans of the franchise, since they are close to the games, but there’s a lot of familiar character conflict and bitterness mixed in with the gore and fantastic fight sequences as Belmont, Sypha and (in time) Alucard set out to destroy old Vlad Dracula Tepes.

While some of the gore was kinda casually employed (rather than being used to have an impact on the main cast) and the cursing worked perfectly 50% of the time and seemed like posturing the other half of the time, I still think the series is otherwise fairly close to an ‘instant classic’ – at least, the first two seasons are. The initial four episodes have perfect pacing and while the second season wallows a bit in Dracula’s court, the finish is big enough to compensate for me. And all the action throughout is satisfying I reckon, from a visceral and technical standpoint, especially the Belmont/Cyclops and Belmont/Alucard battles. I’d link to the whole thing here but it’s probably going to have more impact after watching the lead-up.

Perhaps above and beyond those aspects are the character design and voice acting.

The look and feel of the characters clearly (and wonderfully) go for a Symphony of the Night / Ayami Kojima feel, with the regal/Elvish vampire approached used to full effect. The creature designs are good too and the settings are suitably grim, and the somewhat dimension-twisting architecture of Dracula’s castle really stood out in the second season especially.

Finally and quickly to the voice acting – I thought Graham McTavish really nailed the power and menace of Dracula, but also humanised him so well. Somehow now, I can’t imagine anyone else’s voice when I think of Dracula. Richard Armitage really killed it as Trevor too, and while everyone else sounded great to my ear, I wanted to also mention someone I didn’t recognise at first, Peter Stormare in season two as Godbrand.

I’m fairly confident in saying fans of the Castlevania franchise will enjoy this adaptation, so too horror/supernatural fans, though perhaps not so much folks who might consider themselves general anime fans – though the Amercian and Korean studios who produced the animation certainly nailed the anime aesthetic.

4 Stars

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī)

Looking back to another classic for this review – this time it’s Vampire Hunter D which is very much a ‘monster hunting other monsters’ film but while there are definite horror aspects present, the Western and post-apocalyptic/sci-fi elements are just as clear.

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī) 1985

So many of the story beats do read like a Western actually; you’ve got ranchers under threat, blackmail, dodgy law-keepers and a hired gun who has drifted into town to save the day… nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but when it’s set against a futuristic/retro backdrop with Vampires and mutants, I think I see why the film must have stood out when it was first released. (And it remains engaging to me both now and when I first saw it as a teenager, though what I enjoyed most on first viewing probably wasn’t so much the cross-genre stuff as the more predictable horror/action elements I suppose: fights! exploding monsters! mysterious heroes! Etc etc).

Anyway – getting back to the actual review, as with so many of my write-ups, I can’t really speak to the quality of the film as an adaptation but if you’re interested in the genre, and if you prefer your vampires to be arrogant nobles a la the classic European style (rather than ‘animals’ or ‘sparklers’ as per some more modern texts) then you might like Vampire Hunter D. Certainly give it a shot if you only have time for a film-length anime too, since it won’t take long to watch it with a running time of only 80 mins.

However, length of the movie aside, I think it’s worth a look not only for its place in anime history, but because I really liked the ‘hard-to-pin-down-a-precise-era’ look to the character design (and some great creatures too) along with a handful of twists that kept things engaging – not to mention the titular character D himself, who’s a stoic but dependable hero. Personally, I’d have loved to see more of his internal conflict but that’d fit better in a series than a single feature I guess.

Until reading up on Vampire Hunter D for this review I’d also never realised quite how much the US was involved, with Sony Records and CBS acting as partners to Ashi Productions, which is perhaps part of why D eventually had a theatrical run in the States a few years after original release (and well before the ‘modern’ anime boom in the west.)

The OST was another element that I really enjoyed – it’s somewhat minimalist and even quite pensive at times (for a horror OST). Fans of 1980s electronic music will doubtless dig it too, but there’s still the sense of a simulated orchestra at times so it’s not ’empty’ either.

No spoilers – but this guy is a real highlight too 😀

Writer of the novels Hideyuki Kikuchi is on record saying that the look of this film is “cheap” and I think that’s somewhat misleading but not always inaccurate either, as there are some animation techniques used throughout that are probably in there to cut some corners, including the use of a lot of close-ups, but the direction is still pretty ace overall, especially with that creepy opening sequence.

4 Stars