Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
When the Sun Sets... The Hunt Begins
(It's a long one, so please forgive me my tresspasses on the english language.)
Goodness, it took me long enough to get to this one didn't it? You see, the biggest issue is I wanted to take the time to re-read the book, as there are some pretty substantial differences between it and this movie - but of course I'll get to that later. For now, the world's most beautiful part-man returns with another job to kill another vampire. This time, things aren't quite as they may seem, and D isn't the only hunter on the case! Can this addition to the video collection bring it's fangs to bear, or is it just a stake to the heart?
As one could guess, the main plot here involves vampire hunter(s) being hired to kill a vampire. To be more specific, an elderly man hires the hunters to save his daughter, who he believes has been kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link. We are told all this through the old man's meeting with the dunpeal D, a man who happens to be quite the famous hunter - and the way every gun pointed at him during the movie shakes so nervously is only a testament to his skills. Finding the price for the job to not be to his liking, D goes to turn the man down until the price is raised, and as he starts to leave the old man informs him that he isn't the only hunters hired for the job...
In an undisclosed town, an enormous armored car rolls up to a drunk man near a well. A huge hand comes out and lifts the man up, inquiring to if a black carriage has gone through. Met with drunken mumbles, the hand's owner quickly finds out this drunken fool is nor more than a fiendish ghoul - a trait that the entire town seems to share. A battle ensues, and we find ourselves introduced to D's main competition for the job - the Marcus Brothers. Establishing their formidable skills during the battle, three of the four brothers even take a moment to joke around after a brief meeting with D when their battle ends. Their 'sister' takes off, apparently incredibly anxious to not be beat to the paycheck on the vampires head.
It isn't long before things get complicated, with many fights breaking out along the way and losses on the hunter's side as well as the hired-help on the vampires. Complexity isn't lost either when we discover during an encounter between D and Link that the girl may not actually have been taken against her will. Twists, turns, and one huge castle lie in wait during our adventure, and the heads will most positively roll when talented hunters meet mutant crazies face to face in pursuit of their payday.
As far as animation goes, there are some immediately apparent improvements over the first D movie. Some of you may even recognize the art style of this group, as it's appeared in other movies such as the anthology flick The Animatrix (the samurai section specifically, called "Program"). It's an art style that is sticks out as being rather recognizable (and it doesn't hurt when the same VA's pop up as well), but beyond that it is also well done. Practically more so than the characters, background set pieces stand out in incredibly vivid ways, matching the wasteland and gothic architecture with plenty of more scenic places one might want to vacation to if they were to actually exist (I'm looking at you, beautiful lake with slight ruins). Smooth as can be, and with a slight hint of almost cel-shading like borders to things to make the characters pop from the background, the poor old D movie really just can't stand a chance against this in anything but nostalgia on the animation front.
Voice actors also do a lovely job, and long gone are the troubles of the original where sentences were said in rather rushed manners causing them to blend together like an episode of Speed Racer. Heck, some of the voices you could swear you've heard from somewhere else, to which extent you most likely would be right (Michael McShane for example). As for conveying emotions, they do pull off a rather good job - although it changes from character to character and situation to situation of course, there are genuinely at least a few moments when the banter between characters feels as though it's real people talking to each other as opposed to the rather flat deliveries experienced in some other instances of voice acting. This is good, because as we all know, a movie can look incredibly pretty, but if the acting job is so bad it can't hold a candle, we all love it for a totally different reason (SyFy originals, anyone?).
Now, the actual soundtrack is a little bit of a toss up. I love the feeling that the original managed to convey, and it does seem that some of that feeling of wonder and hints of sadness are lost in the switch to the more full-blown orchestral blockbuster style soundtrack. Of course, don't take it the wrong way - some of the new songs can and possibly will send shivers right down your spine, and they are put together well enough (outside of the tendency of that main theme getting unnecessarily loud). They just, like I said, lack that mystery and gut feeling from the first entry. Other audio (namely sound effects) come off sounding mostly as one would expect, from explosions to roars to meaty tank-car engines. The only real exception is the slightly warbly shiiiiiiing noise that tends to accompany D's sword can seem a bit off, but considering what used to pass for sword sound effects elsewhere, I can hardly really fault it on such a trivial thing can I?
Now, if you don't care about the source (aka book) that it's based on, you can end the review right here. Would I recommend it? Yeah, I would think that anyone capable of watching a R rated flick could find enjoyment out of this - but I'm a bit biased in that sense because I love this movie (Last time I actually kept count, I think I was up to about 60 viewings). That being said, fans of vampire flicks should enjoy it (seriously, better love story than Twilight - not that that says much), and anyone who already has a hankering for anime should have no problems falling in love with the finely done animation job in this thing. If you don't give a hoot about vampires or anime, then of course I can't very well tell you that you should watch this because you most likely won't like it all that much, being a blend of both those categories after all. At the very least, the art is wonderful enough that I would say it'd be worth at least a "borrow" to check it out.
Now, that all being said, if you are already a fan of the Vampire Hunter D novels, you should know that this is not the same thing as what you read back in volume 3: Demon Deathchase. Although the players are still there - Vampire, daughter, D, Marcus Bros, hired mercenaries - things just aren't the same. First, we have here another instance of name changes: Mayerling becomes Meier Link, and the unnamed daughter the hunters are hired to save is actually given a name - Charlotte. Of course, name changes are minor things, so we can easily overlook that right? Heck, we can even overlook that annoying dunpeal instead of dhampir thing - not like they didn't use that in the first one, so at this point it's just consistency right?
Now, one of the bigger differences lies in the Marcus Brothers themselves. In the movie, they are actually a sort-of likable bunch. Cracking jokes, being bad dudes and killing the bad guys right? Well, in the book you want nothing more than for them to get absolutely murdered, and the best example of this would be the change to the sickly-looking Grove character. In the movie, to use his power of going ghost-mode laser-man, they just pop him full of drugs to induce a heart attack / death like state. In the book, they just rape Leila in front of him. And hey, you know that friendly competition they have with D in the movie? It's a lot more like flat out trying to kill him with traps or whatever manner they think they can kill him with in the book. I distinctly remember the moment that Borgoff (the bearded, bandana wearing brother) gets his comeuppance in the book I may have vocally cheered instead of it just being in my head. Leila herself is a bit less hard-edged in the book as well (again being a bit more likeable). Other characters also have some changes to them in various extents.
So we changed some names, made the Marcus Bros more likeable, anything else? Well, yes, as a matter of fact the entire ending. In the movie, we are treated to this wonderfully bloody and twisted play with the bloody Countess Bathory herself - something that does not happen in the book. We also, of course, get the heart wrenching "can hear his screams over the rocket engines" one-sided sadness, with the after-mint that is the time-skipped funeral scene. In the books, we get a very Romeo and Juliet double-death (who need's happy endings anyways?). So I mean, we are talking some pretty substantial changes overall, and it should become apparent by now why they labeled it as "loosely based on" instead of "based on" in the descriptions. That being said, and I know that as far as this situation goes it's a very rare case, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed the move much more than I enjoyed the book - not that the book was bad, but the sole fact the Marcus Brothers were so much more likeable really made that much of a difference in my opinions. It might be a little less fitting with the general desolation of the D universe, but as far as the comparison is, that's where I stand.