I decided I needed some animation in this marathon, and I've been trying to decide for about a week now what to watch. I considered something nostalgic from my childhood like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or Garfield's Halloween Adventure, but then today while I was flipping through my DVD collection, I came across the perfect movie to review. One of my all-time favorite animated features, Vampire Hunter D.
The film opens in the distant future, in a world where human civilization and technology has regressed and monsters rule the night. A young woman named Doris is protecting her crops from a dinosaur-like creature when she is attacked by an ancient vampire named Count Magnus Lee, who bites her as "payment" for trespassing upon what he considers to be his land. After the attack, Doris encounters a strange man on the road and, presuming he is a vampire hunter, attacks him to test his strength. The man shrugs off her attack, and she begs for his help in destroying the Count. The hunter, who identifies himself simply as "D," agrees. When Doris rejects a jealous would-be suitor in the village, he reveals Doris' condition to the townspeople. Shunned by the villagers, Doris returns home with D and her brother. That night, the Count's minions come for Doris, but they are repelled by the vampire hunter, who is revealed to be a dhampir, half-human and half-vampire. Using his preternatural powers, D combats the forces of darkness in order to save Doris and rid the earth of monsters.
While the original English dub can be a bit cheesy at times, it's very much a product of its time. Let's be honest, all English anime dubs in the 1980s were awful. I learned today that there's a newer English dub released by Toho in 2015, and I checked it out on YouTube, skipping around to get a feel for the different voices. While some of the new voices and dialogue are improvements, I still prefer the original. Maybe its simple nostalgia, but I just feel the original voices suit the 1985 animation style better.
Oh, the fan service! Anime fans are accustomed to it, I suppose. Throughout the film, Doris wears what I assume is the only outfit she's owned since she was four years old. Doris tends to go from strong, independent badass to damsel in distress in the blink of an eye. While I understand it's hard to be brave when confronted by vampires, werewolves, and mutants, I think the writers could have tried to be a bit more consistent with her character. The 2000 sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, did a much better job with the character Leila, who actually bears a strong resemblance to Doris. A descendent, perhaps?
So what about the monsters? Well, the movie certainly has no shortage of strange and interesting monsters, particularly within the walls of Magnus Lee's castle. All manner of indescribable beasties slither in the darkness as D makes his way through the corridors. Magnus Lee himself isn't a very dynamic character, but both his animators and voice actor did a splendid job of portraying him as a bored immortal. The space-bending Rei Ginsei is just as much the antagonist of the film as Count Lee, facing off against both D and the Count. In fact, he comes much closer to defeating D than the Count himself!
What many casual American fans may not know is that Vampire Hunter D is based upon a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi. I own a few of these, but have so far only read the first, upon which today's film is based. The novel differs significantly from the movie, as both Greco and Rei Ginsei play a much larger role in the story with Greco sporting power armor at one point in the story and Rei Ginsei acting as the leader of a gang of wandering mercenaries. While the movie does simplify the novel's plot a great deal, I think I prefer the movie's treatment. The novel tended to be tedious at times, taking too much attention away from the main story of D hunting Count Magnus Lee. Those differences aside, however, I'd still recommend checking out the novels if this movie and its sequel aren't enough to sate your appetites.
So it's time for my verdict, which should come as no surprise. I absolutely love this movie, and I've been hoping for a third film for the past eighteen years. There have been whispers of a live-action movie and an animated series or several years, but nothing has ever come of it. If you're a fan of vampires, or simply a fan of Japanese animation, then Vampire Hunter D is required viewing.