Vampire Hunter D (1985)
In a world of darkness and death, only one hunter dares to take on the stranglehold the Vampires have on humans.
I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, on the pedestal of my past the movie that got me into something called anime. Beyond that, it introduced me to a new world that even to this day is an exciting twist on the rather dull and expected Vampire genre that feels as though it just carries on through a checklist of things it has to have. It got me back into reading after I had stopped for a while as well, after I found out that the novels from which this was based on were getting an english translation and release, and I got deep enough into it that I own not only those novels, a few of the manga renditions of them, and the two movies (the second will come later, don't you worry), but also a rather mediocre game that came on in the vein of Resident Evil. This, you stunning people, is Vampire Hunter D, and I am quite excited to share my thoughts on my gateway into so many things.
A desolate wasteland, a ruined earth, and one incredibly crazy looking castle. As we pass through the tall grass, we find that a girl wielding a large rifle-type weapon is stalking through the grass, creeping up on something reminiscent of a mutant brontosaurus on a smaller scale. Seeing her prey, she flips on some flood lights, catching the creature by surprise and loosing a blast from her weapon. It's a glancing shot, and the creature begins to flee at high speed, fast enough that the girl summons her cybernetic horse Luke. The chase continues for a short time as the girl lines up a series of more well placed shots, eventually cutting the top of the beasts skull clean off and sending it crashing to the ground. As she cautiously checks for a pulse by stabbing it with the sharpened end of her rifle, everything seems fine and she readies to leave, only to narrowly dodge the dying throes of the beast - an act that catches her faithful steed by the neck. She makes sure such an act can't happen again by dumping enough of the gun's heated contents into it's head that's nothing left, and as she approaches her horse to check on how hurt it is, yet another unfortunate event befalls the girl: A werewolf has decided that her horse would make a great meal. As it jaunts past the girl, it's claw makes a seemingly half-hearted swipe at her and takes the cross she wears around her neck clean off. As if her night couldn't get any worse, she's then greeted by a large foreboding figure visible during the clashes of lightning - a vampire!
A scroll of text gives us a backdrop for the state of the world, but with a scene like that to start the movie we already know everything we really need to - the world is an incredibly dangerous place for humans, with vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of mutant creatures out to kill and eat them. The girl we saw is named Doris Lang, and the next time we see her she blocking the road a lone traveler in a long brimmed hat is meandering down. After a brief one-sided verbal exchange, she decides to attack the man, and upon being bested by him without him even so much as raising a hand, she relates the tale of how she was just testing him to make sure he was better than the others, and hires him to kill the vampire who bit her - Count Magnus Lee. The man, D, seems to be of few words, but takes the job. This is at it's core the plot of the movie - D carrying out his duties as a vampire hunter to save Doris from becoming any further a victim of the nefarious count. Along the way, we are introduced to a whole slew of characters, such as the town's mayor's son Greco - a distasteful man who want's nothing more than to bed Doris and acts every part the creep oh too well - as well as Doris's young brother Dan. On the opposing side of the fence is the Count himself (every bit the classic imposing white-haired vampire growing bored during his eternal life), his daughter Lamika (a bit of a royal snob disgusted that her father would take a common human as a bride), and the count's servant Rei (a mutant with strange powers who wishes to be a noble himself).
There's plenty of little side adventures that never are unrelated to the primary plot during the course of the adventure as well. Lamika constantly trying to kill Doris rather than let her become one of them, Greco's underhanded ways of trying to make Doris his, as well as Rei's quest to make sure D is killed all pop up on multiple occasions. D serves as the main cause of most of the action, although it could be argued that Doris receives just as much screen time as a main character as he does, but he also has plot elements all of his own. Being half vampire himself (constantly known as dampiel in this movie), he struggles with his more nefarious nature at times, and there is generally a shroud of mystery about him as everyone tries to figure him out.
Animation quality here is a bit dated at parts - considering it's age, it's to be expected really. As the image gets blown up to unthought of proportions (I use a projector), things start to get a little less crisp, a little bit muddier to the eye. It's inevitable that I find myself asking if it was in fact always like this, or if in fact it's just the larger screen I now have grown accustomed to using that has caused this effect - but I know the answer. It may be one of my favorite movies in existence, but it's about the same age as me - and that means it's going to have a lot of quirks relevant to that time. The overall presentation is still pretty good, although a lot of 'scenes' as they are appear incredibly dark, causing things to lose details that may or may not have been drawn in there. Occasionally you'll be struck by the energetic Speed Racer style backdrops (if you don't get the reference, then think of those static two or three frame backgrounds that alternate really fast to give the impressions of speed), even though they don't always feel as though they are being properly used. Movement (both characters and fore/background) tends to be relatively smooth and not as stiff as some of the early days of CG animation or cel shaded stuff that can be found on the market, although every now and then a transitional screen will appear rather janky and stuttery. You'll also find a decent degree of shading or "lighting" getting used (outside the aforementioned super-dark scenes), and will recognize the early-era "Japanimation" large eyes and over-dramatic proportions of some of the characters. Lots of blues and reds as well, which is sort of appropriate considering the apocalyptic future style setting.
Audio here is a mixed bag that contains good and one of the biggest things that irks me about this movie. The score in the background is phenomenal, giving a very haunting and lonesome mood that at the same time is just underscored with this strange sort of beauty. The sound effects are well done, giving you that satisfying swish of blades and stomping of feet (or crashing of feet in the case of that giant that shows up). It might not be as fancy as the current generation's 7.1 surround sounds and the likes, but this is a day and age when DvD's were a new thing you know? The voice actors do a relatively fine job of their parts, and you can get a bit of a feel for the character just by whose voice you are hearing (you can tell that Dan is still a young boy, even if times and the world need him to be a bit tougher than average to survive, or that Greko is just a woman-hungry pretty boy on a power trip) and how they deliver the lines. Where my problem lies here, and indeed it becomes one of my biggest complaints I can lodge about the movie as a movie is the hurried nature many of the lines seem to have. It might have something to do with translation - it's possible that it would sound more natural in Japanese (which I don't speak) then it does in English, but as it is on many occasions there's hardly any pause between lines, creating this big verbal run-on sentence like the delivery is somehow "on the clock" and pushing to get done and go home. It's not a big deal, but it does lead to the ruin of some of the line deliveries when immediately following a line a laugh is spewed forth without so much as taking an extra breath.
Characters themselves run the gamut from original to a bit molded. Our stoic lead D may very much in some ways resemble the quiet drifter from many a western, highly skilled at his trade and of few words. Count Magnus Lee seems very much the simple vampire archetype - large, imposing, clad in a cape and frilled shirt , and with a penchant for going after young human women to subside his boredom of eternal life. Even Lamika can be placed into the "rich person better-than-thou" mold. D, of course, has some specific bits about him that makes him different from the other gaggles of vampire hunters we've seen in the past - namely the Left Hand.
Ah, but that's not all! I could just end the review here, but in a rare case of being able to geek out about something, I know things. You see, I've read the novel this is based on, and it's been a very long time since I took the time and had the know-how in a review to actually come out and blast you with any comparisons to how things hold up to their source. Before I get into that though, I can say that the movie isn't for everyone. Anime (particularly some of the older ones) has no qualms against violence and nudity you see, and there is quite a bit of the former with a few instances of the later as well. Yes, it's silly to think that people may get so offended about the equivalent of putting two marker dots on a nude barbie doll, but to some folks it's not about the actual look but rather the nature of it. Outside of that, if you happen to already like anime, there's no real reason to not watch it in my opinion. Of the two, the Second movie (which I'll get to later) would come with a higher recommendation than this particular one, but the imagination present in the setting was enough to draw a younger me into a whole type of film that I previous hadn't really cared for - so that must count for something at least.
Now, onto the meaty tidbits. Lets hit some minor stuff first shall we? Dampiel. The word just sounds so silly, so unlike it belongs in any creative process for coming up with a way of saying "part vampire part human," and indeed you won't find this used in the books - where instead we get the more pleasant Dhampir. It's minor, just like the change of using Vampire almost exclusively in the movie as opposed to the more common use of "Noble" amongst everyone in the book - not that the word Vampire doesn't show up, it's just a mild difference that sets the tone of how people look upon the vampires of the setting. Some other changes I don't mind, even if they are somewhat minor as well. An example is that during her first encounter with D, the major trick Doris tries to employ isn't just a split-ended whip, but rather to distract the prospect hunter with a surprise nakedness. Some of the lines of dialogue are also changed as you may guess, as is some of the descriptions of characters (It's never really said that D wears a cape, for instance, although this is generally how Amano always draws him) and in one odd case a name (Lamika appears as Larmica). Another example of character changes is the swap between Doris and Lamika's hair colors (Doris should have black hair, Lamika blonde), as well as a change to Doris's normal outfit (which consists of a pair of pants rather than a skirt that barely covers anything more than a shirt).
One of the largest changes comes in the form of Rei and his trio of monster buddies. Our flying freakish friend really just moves incredibly fast in the book, the giant is just a giant of a man (as opposed to towering real giant), and the spider-controller is just a hunchback. Rei himself changes ethnicity (from Japanese) and takes on a more noble approach to things in the movie as well, instead of a guy who can warp space that tries to rape Doris and want's her for himself. Lamika, beyond the name change, also goes from being a full-blooded noble in the novel to a half-breed in the movie, and her companion during her first encounter with D is a werewolf in the book (as opposed to the werewolf in the movie who simply shows up to destroy crosses and leave).
So that's it really. If you haven't figured it out yet, although I love both the book and movie, it's one of those occurrences where the book feels like a better deal. At least a part of this is probably due to the extended amount of time the book has to flesh things out - such as the characters and their motivations. Although some changes to fit the time frame aren't all that big (the exclusion of the internment camp for those bitten) and some make no sense (why change the hair colors?), I still incredibly enjoy the movie to the extent where I will normally come back and watch it once a year - but the book still holds the position of King in comparison. The world has enough to it that makes you want to come back to it, this wonderful little blend of science fiction and fantasy with the elements of horror. Some of the descriptions are hard to live up to as well, so I can't really fault it for that (how does one draw and animate what is essentially described as a man so beautiful both genders and monsters instantly fall in love with him?). If you aren't the reading type, the movie will suffice, but much like most book-movies for the full effect reach for the novel.