Title: Vampire Hunter D
Director: Toyoo Ashida
Writer: Yasushi Hirano (created by Hideyuki Kikuchi)
Distributed By: CBS Theatrical Films
Starring (English): Michael McConnohie, Barbara Goodson, Jeff Winkless, and Edie Mirman
Release Date: December 21st, 1985
It’s time to delve into some Kikuchi film adaptations here on Movie Mondays. And although Vampire Hunter D is originally a novel and not a manga, its impact on both manga and anime are undeniable. I suppose to some extent Hideyuki Kikuchi impacted manga the way The Shadow impacted comic books.
If you’re familiar with the first book of the Vampire Hunter D series, then you probably know what to expect from the film, since this is fairly faithful adaptation of it. For the many of you who might be completely unfamiliar with Vampire Hunter D, the premise is fairly easy to grasp, as it’s somewhere between a Western/Samurai film and a Hammer Horror. Basically, in the year 12,090 AD, humanity has reverted back to a more simplistic (though somewhat futuristic) lifestyle after a nuclear war occurred in 1999. Vampires arose from the post-apocalyptic world and are now essentially the nobility of the social hierarchy. In a small village, Doris Lang (Barbara Goodson) is attacked by Count Magnus Lee (Jeff Winkless) and will soon be his bride. In a desperate attempt to avoid becoming a vampire, she hires D (Michael McConnohie), a dhampir and a vampire hunter, to kill Count Magnus Lee.
Like the Hammer Horror that inspired it, Vampire Hunter D‘s greatest strength is arguably the atmosphere and setting. Right from the get-go, Vampire Hunter D has a dark, almost dream-like quality to it, especially with the brilliant post-title scene where D wanders through an apocalyptic wasteland. A good deal of it comes from the coloring, which might sound like a trivial attribution, but the dark blues, reds, and blacks, as well as the occasional bright daylight scene, keep the tone in check. Not to mention that Tetsuya Komuro’s brooding, synth driven score, which has a hauntingly surreal quality that still holds up pretty well.
Fact: The Moon appears 80% larger in all horror films.
However, while the atmosphere and style still works, the animation is starting to show some age. Don’t get me wrong, the animation’s impressive for 1985. But like many 80s anime, some of the flaws are beginning to show. The movement is the main culprit here. Again, for the mid-eighties it’s pretty good, but the stilted movements are glaringly obvious compared to today’s more fluid top-quality anime.
Speaking of stilted, the voice acting is also something that hasn’t graced well in today’s times. It’s far from being the worst English anime voice acting out there, but it has the common 80s flaws. Where the actors put a little too much emotion into the lines at times, and everyone “talks-like-this-where-the-dialog-sounds-staccato-and-stilted.”
Talk to the hand.
However, those flaws are easily overlooked because of the story. As stated before, the story is pretty close to the novel. There’s a lot of character changes, from minor ones such as Dorris’s hair is blonde while Lamkia Lee’s (Edie Mirman) hair is black (their hair color is vice-versa in the book), and Rei Ginsei’s (Kerrigan Mahan) character relationship to Dorris and D is still malicious but much more nobler. But the plot itself is close to the novel.
What’s different from the book, though, is the pacing. While the book is a terrific read, the heavy emphasis on detail occasionally grinds the flow down to a snail’s pace. Whereas in the anime, everything runs along fairly smoothly, including the scenes outside of Lee’s castle.
The English translation of the script (by Tom Wyner) avoids the pratfalls of bad translation errors, and the dialog seems natural if you ignore some of the voice acting that comes along with it. Especially D’s left hand (Kirk Thornton), who’s a scene stealer whenever he speaks up.
Simon Bellmont's little sister.
Even after almost thirty years, Vampire Hunter D has proven itself to be an absolute classic for both anime and animation in general. Yes, there are some flaws that come with age. But these are really minor when you look at the well-written story, mix of horror, sci-fi, and action, and gorgeous atmosphere (not to mention violence and nudity). It’s a shame they waited fifteen years to make another film, rather than making a film series that would’ve followed the books. And it’s a bigger shame that they still have yet to make a live-action film that might spark mainstream interest in the franchise. But at least they made the anime, which is definitely a must see if you can get your hands on it.