Anime Reporter dials back the anime clock thirty years to 1985 to review Vampire Hunter D (apologies to everyone that I just made feel their age), the animated film adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s novel series. This film is one of the first anime movies to be released outside of its native Japan, so while more modern audiences are spoiled for choice when it comes to anime feature lengths, this was pretty big news back in the day. (That day being in 1985, which was thirty years ago. Remember that, Greg? 1985…Thirty years… Where did they go?)
When this film starts off, we’re told it takes place well into the future, (in the thirteenth millennium), in a post apocalyptic land that contains laser rifles, mutants and the fashion trends of a few hundred years ago where vampires, werewolves and all many of monsters prowl the land. Things starts off with a young woman called Doris being attacked by one beastie after another until she eventually succumbs to a fairly traditional vampire (I mean, he’s even a count). Doris is bitten and faces the prospect of being turned into the count’s bride, so she seeks out the aid of a vampire hunter.
She seeks out this help by attacking the first stranger on a horse, (or cyborg-horse, because, hey, it’s the future), she can find. Luckily for her, her incredibly powerful foe doesn’t kill her and listens long enough to agree to help her with her vampire problem. The vampiric nobleman sends the best and brightest of his monstrous servants after Doris and what follows is more or less what you’d expect. There’s a noticeable lack of the humour and character development that contemporary anime offers so first-time viewers might well find it a little stilted. Likewise, character interaction and relationships are a little bit by-the-books. Our stern and mysterious hero is stern and mysterious. Our damsel in distress is tough but very much in distress. Vampires are your typical villainous fiends and the local slimeball is creepy, dishonest and perverted. Characters don’t really develop much beyond their assigned roles and the plot doesn’t move much from hero saves the day; bad-guy does his best to prevent this.
There’s a lot to be said for the gothic tones throughout. There’s a definite marriage of futuristic sci-fi and the classic tropes of horror, while the dark animation, though undeniably dated, is wonderfully emotive and carries off the entire film well.
Ultimately, Vampire Hunter D is a very simple blend of action and horror which doesn’t quite give viewers the chance to get invested in any characters, but it does offer some gruesome monsters, some mystery and suspense. Just don’t expect to see anything you haven’t seen before. That’s the problem with iconic and groundbreaking films, in thirty or so years, they start to look like less polished versions of everything that’s been borrowing from them for the past few decades.
It’s still worth checking out though.