Director: Toyoo Ashida
Screenplay: Yasushi Hirano
Based on the light novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Cast: Kaneto Shiozawa/Michael McConnohie (as D); Michie Tomizawa/Barbara Goodson (as Doris Lang); Satoko Kitô/Edie Mirman (as Lamika); Seizo Katou/Jeff Winkless (as Count Magnus Lee); Ichirô Nagai (as Left Hand); Kazuyuki Sogabe/Kerrigan Mahan (as Rei Ginsei)
Watched with English Dub
Having only known of Vampire Hunter D through its two animated adaptations, the one I'm covering today and the more critically acclaimed follow up from 2000 by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, I'm a novice in my knowledge of a momentous pop cultural franchise. Like (entry # 16) Galerians: Rion (2002), I first heard of the franchise through a videogame tie-in in one of my old Playstation One magazines, though its origin as a series of light novels would go on to spawn many a tie-in beyond that game. A huge factor to these books' reputation is the art by Yoshitaka Amano, whose work if you research him on Google is some of the most beautiful and artistically satisfying to be created for a Japanese pop cultural object. His work and Vampire Hunter D in general, including the anime adaptations, are heavily influenced by European art and genre motifs, to the point the most beloved of the two anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust by Kawajiri, was a US-Japanese co-production where the English dub came first.
The influences and how Vampire Hunter D used them to create its unique world is ultimately the best virtue of the 1985 version alongside its OVA quality animation. Melding Gothic horror with the post-apocalyptic, with frontier western vibes crashing against post-medieval towns, it envisions a world thousands of years in the future where, after a calamity, mankind survives in a society scattered across apocalyptic wasteland where demons and mutants gladly co-exist, where werewolves prowl the lands and, in lieu of the title, vampires stalk the night and require paid vampire hunters to eliminate. A dhampir named D, half vampire and half mortal man, wanders the landscape being paid for jobs, the only constant being his left hand which, with a human face, is sentient and cannot shut up, mocking his attempts at resisting his vampiric blood. The plot is pretty basic after this established character is introduced over eighty minutes, a young woman named Doris Lang hiring D after an ancient vampire Count Magnus Less has marked her to be his bride. Like a lot of pulpy characters, as much in anime like this, its these characters including those introduced for a single story that bring out the personality, the plot thickened by a mutant who'll gladly help the Count in hope for immortality and the Count's own daughter Lamika who is appalled about both the idea of a mortal peasant joining their royal lineage and becoming her mother-in-law.
The basic nature of said plot, where D has to repeatedly struggle against new obstacles each scene, from ghouls to the aforementioned mutant, means that the entertainment is in the world itself being depicted onscreen. Horror, as mentioned in previous posts last year for Halloween, is a surprisingly neglected genre in anime, only starting to pick up in amount within the last ten years and especially with stuff like Tokyo Ghoul (2014) getting popular in animated and paperback form. While action orientated, seeing a Japanese work entirely devout to a fetish of European horror, even in the big eyed eighties character designs, is utterly welcoming. The melding of science fiction and gothic horror manages, despite being potentially awkward bedfellows, to work in these two anime adaptations, reined in by the general tone and looks of both. They exhibit one of the most extreme, but ultimately satisfying, examples of a genre melting pot in how many influences there are - period townsfolk and frontier western clothing against robot horses, the vampire count dressed like Bela Lugosi against the bloodier violence of straight-to-video anime - and yet because of the art style this first adaptation makes it all seamlessly work together.
The animation style does add to the film immensely. The only real botch to this version decades on is that the female lead occasionally looks like a twelve year old in scenes, even in the context of the eighties character designs, certainly cringe worthy when you notice it when there's a scene where she melancholically tries to seduce D only for him to struggle with wanting to bite her neck. The gothic, realistic character designs of the 2000 version are the best, but as a film meant to bring the D character and his world to the video screen, the original eighties version is still handsome in quality and gets right the most important of the story in terms of the fantastical nature of it. Against anything from giants to an imp-like witch, the protagonist D exists in a world of the phantasmagoric melded with sci-fi; where the ruined castles would have to be dank and oppressive, where the pits below have the centuries old skeletons laid about from a war and snake women to seduce people, as the post-apocalyptic content is as appropriately bleak. The more unconventional aspects, such as D's talking hand, add to this is giving the film its own distinct personality. The only thing that spoils the general mood that is so well added are that, one, the original English dub is terrible with stilted line readings and, two, the end credit song is a wildly inappropriate New Wave influenced J-pop number, especially after the ending takes on both a sudden abstract series of seasonal changes and both a sombre, clean act of saying goodbye. The dub is only a problem depending on the version of Vampire Hunter D you see; now with the recent American re-release of the film, the company realising it Sentai Films had to create a new English dub due to the original dub's materials being too damaged for restoration. The end credit song however is one you're stuck with.