Reviewby Theron Martin,
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
In the year 12,090 A.D., humanity has endured an eon of dominance by the magically and technologically-empowered vampires, but the vampires are now on the decline, due in part to the rise of a special class of Hunter. One such Hunter, the mysterious dunpeal (i.e., half-vampire) D, is hired by an old man to recover his daughter, whom a vampire by the name of Meier Link has absconded with. This time, though, D faces professional competition in the Marcus Brothers, a family of four human brothers and one sister who make their living as Hunters, too. Their respective hunts are further complicated by Meier hiring powerful help to protect his and the woman Charlotte's path to Castle Chaythe, where he hopes to take a rocket to a space station-based city and live in peace with his love. And unlike last time, this time the woman may actually love the vampire back.
Bloodlust is the 2001 follow-up to the original 1985 movie Vampire Hunter D. Whereas the first movie adapted the first novel of the source series by Hiyuki Kikuchi, this one loosely adapts the third novel, in the process adding in a couple of new elements while discarding others. What matters much more, though, is that it is vastly superior to its predecessor by virtually any measuring stick, especially on the production front. And unlike its predecessor, it holds up quite well on more than just nostalgia value and will for decades to come. Too bad the same cannot be said for its Blu-Ray visual quality.
Once again, the story is rather basic: the hero is hired to retrieve a beautiful young woman who has been kidnapped by a vampire. In the process he must deal both with the vampire's fearsome employees and the ghost of another great vampire. The two big complications are that a rival team of capable hunters is also pursuing the vampire and that, unlike last time, the supposedly-victimized woman might have actually eloped instead. Also, this time the victim and the feisty woman are two separate characters and decidedly more emphasis is placed both on the mistrust of half-vampires and how the conscientious ones (like D) must ultimately live apart from the rest of humanity due to their natures. That is embodied in one key line a bit more than halfway through the movie, where D bitterly says, “you get to have a life” to Leila. With that single sentence D gets more characterization than in the entire first movie, but it also proves to be an important statement for defining Leila, too; although no flashback is used to remind her (or the audience) of its significance, it clearly has an effect on her decision-making late in the movie and in the way the satisfyingly bittersweet epilogue plays out.
And really, that developing relationship between D and Leila is critical to the storytelling. That is because the Charlotte/Meier Link romance, which drives the plot, always feels cold and detached; for all that the two are made out to be lovey-dovey, they have almost no chemistry. That is the movie's biggest weakness. (It is possible that this was done intentionally to symbolize how unnatural human/vampire love stories are, but it feels more like a writing flaw since other media have more readily pulled it off.) Charlotte is more a walking plot device/McGuffin than an actual character, as she has few lines and no personality and does not do much other than look pretty; in fact, she barely even moves for much of the movie. She was left unnamed in the source material, and it is not hard to see why: her identity does not really matter. Meier Link, contrarily, is basically an emo lover boy, one at war between wanting her passionately and yet not wanting to fully draw her into his world. If he was paired with a more actively and openly passionate woman then they could have made quite the striking couple.
Fortunately the D/Leila dynamic keeps character interactions afloat, and the way D stands as a warning to Leila about her lifestyle choices actually gives the movie some heart, which is something that the first movie utterly lacked. Naturally the crotchety talking hand is still around, and some decent but also limited-by-time byplay does occur amongst the Marcus brothers. (That Leila is actually their sister, and not just some tag-along, is never made clear in the movie, or at least not in the English dub.) One fairly strong scene involving D getting a little help for unexpected reasons when he seeks to buy a new horse is also a nice touch. On the downside, the dialog is sometimes cumbersomely wordy.
Ultimately, though, this is an action movie, and on this front it absolutely does not disappoint. Keeping the plot thin allows plenty of time for creative and stylish action sequences. These are usually less sustained battles and more savage, bloody, and often brutally swift affairs, and though they are sometimes truncated, their timing and flow is far better than anything the first movie achieved. They showcase dazzling displays of skill and wars of super-powered tricks very much in the tradition and style of a Ninja Scroll or Wicked City (no surprise there, since the three movies have a common director); if you are a fan of either or both of those movies then this one is a must-view. While the animation tends to suffer from Frozen Face Syndrome (a problem also common to Ninja Scroll), the animation production effort by Madhouse is nonetheless well up to the task.
Where the movie really shines, though, is in its art design and music. Art director Yuji Ikehata (Magnetic Rose) hits a home run with incredible architectural designs like the eye-poppingly Gothic look of the Castle of Chaythe and character designer Yutaka Minowa (Ninja Scroll) takes the original character designs by Yoshitaka Amano and turns them into beautiful characters, whether it be the dashingly bishonen D and Meier or the sumptuous dresses of Elizabeth and Carmilla. Imaginative equipment, vehicle/mount, and weapon designs also pepper the production. Color use is also particularly sharp in places, especially the castle scenes towards the end. Graphic content is fairly high and one scene does have a brief bit of nudity; although this release of the movie is officially listed as Unrated, its original DVD release was rated R.
The soundtrack, which was actually done in California, is also pretty special. Unlike the cheap-sounding, synth-driven score of the first movie, this one utilizes a full symphonic score powered by intense, dramatic songs and vocals. It juices the action sequences immensely (albeit sometimes to the edge of overkill), and in its peak moments is reminiscent of the heavier moments from an anime movie which came out just a year before: Escaflowne: The Movie.
Like with earlier DVD releases, this one only contains the English dub (which was completed first and so could be argued to be the original dub). While most of the cast members have very limited anime résumés which span only a brief period of the late '90s/early 2000s, long-timers such as Wendee Lee and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn do pop up. Also listen for a couple of significant roles (Benge and the Old Man of the Barbaroi) voiced by Dwight Schultz of The A-Team (TV series) and Star Trek: The Next Generation timeline fame. Despite the dearth of dubbing experience, performance quality is pretty high, with voice actors showing tentativeness only in a couple of places and many performances being both perfectly-smooth and ideally-cast for the roles. The only subtitle option available is closed captioning, so no script comparisons could be made, but the use of “dunpeal” to refer to half-vampires, where it was “dhampyr” in the first movie, raises the question of whether or not the former is actually just a mistransliterated version of the latter.
The Blu-Ray release is offered up under the Discotek label Eastern Star. Most of the Extras are direct lifts from the original Urban Vision DVD releases: various trailers, a “Storyboard to Screen” rendition of an early scene, and a painfully grainy 22 minute “Behind the Scenes” piece produced by Urban Vision, which features both Japanese and American staff and several of the English voice actors. (This also looked quite grainy on the original DVD release, though.) Added in is an art gallery. The artwork is a little brighter than the original DVD's but isn't as much of an improvement as you might hope for. It's important to remember that Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was not produced traditionally, and was printed to film using a variety of now-antiquated digital techniques rather than shooting cels on film the way traditional animation usually happens. What this means is that you can only really get so much detail out of even the most pristine print; there are no film elements to go back to, so this could never look as crisp and fresh as, say, the Cowboy Bebop DVDs or even something produced using modern digital methods. This release does, however, offer a Multi Master Audio soundtrack to go with the original 3.2 soundtrack, and the sound upgrade it grants is glorious, complete with booming sound, deeper resonance, and additional audio effects which simply could not be heard in the original soundtrack. Physically, the release comes in a red slipcover and features bonus interior art.
Even if you decided that the first movie was not your thing, Bloodlust is still well worth a look, as it offers so much more than the original. Being familiar with the original is not at all necessary for appreciating this one, either. It is easily one of the top non-Ghibli anime movies to come out of the late '90s/early 2000s era.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : na
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Fantastic soundtrack, sharp visuals, upgraded storytelling.
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