Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Koch Vision Entertainment
Extras: Featurette, Storyboards, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots

While Anime has been around for years in various incarnations, such as "Speed Racer", "Battle of the Planets" and "Starblazers", it wasn’t the 1988 release "Akira" that western audiences really sat up and began to pay attention to the powerful artistry involved in anime. Since that time, anime has exploded in popularity, but for fans of the art-form, it has deteriorated in quality, to the point where the styleless "Pokemon" is being embraced by the public. However, a new golden age for anime may be upon us with the release of "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust". This film had a brief theatrical run last year, and is now coming to DVD in a beautiful package from Urban Vision Entertainment.

"Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" continues the story which was presented in the original "Vampire Hunter" OAV which was released in the ’80s. Set in the distant future, "Vampire Hunter D" tells of a world where vampires roam the Earth, which is a ravage wasteland, and rule the night. However, the undead are now beginning to lose their grip on the world, as their numbers are dwindling. Many vampire hunters roam the desolate countryside, putting an end to any bloodsucker they see. The most feared of these vampire hunters is known simply as D (voice by Andrew Philpot). D is a Dunpeal, half-vampire, half-human. He has the strength and speed of a vampire, and as with the undead, he doesn’t age. However, he has sworn allegiance to humankind and is merciless in his wrath against vampires. As he is shunned by both worlds, D lives as an outcast, his only companion being Left Hand (voiced by Mike McShane), a wise-cracking parasite which resides on D’s left palm. However, D is famous for his skill and his services don’t come cheaply.

As the film opens, a young woman named Charlotte Elbourne (voiced by Wendee Lee) is kidnapped from her bedroom by a powerful vampire named Meier Link (voiced by John Rafter Lee). Charlotte’s brother Alan (voiced by John Demita) and father John (voiced by John Dimaggio) hire D to find her. After agreeing on a $20 million bounty, D sets out to rescue Charlotte. Hedging their bets, the Elbourne’s have also hired The Markus Brothers, a vampire hunting duo to find Charlotte. From this point on, the story follows D and the Markus’ as they pursue Meier. As D overcomes many obstacles in order to get close to Charlotte, he begins to learn that all may not be as it seems and that Charlotte and Meier may have their own agendas.

The purpose and goal of great animation should be to present a story which would be too costly or simply impossible to do in a live-action medium, and "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" achieves this admirably. Storywise, the film is one of the best horror/sci-fi movies that I’ve seen in years. It would be easy to describe the film as "Blade" meets "Mad Max", but it is so much more than that. The movie seamlessly mixes classic gothic vampire conceits with futuristic ideas. From the outset, the viewer is thrust into a world dominated by vampires, where EVERYTHING has a cross on it. While this is very jarring at first, the film never loses its novelty, as it continuously presents us with the many different ways in which crosses are used. Many characters are woven into the story, but by keeping the plot simple (i.e.: rescue girl, fight vampires), the action never gets confusing and the ending is very touching. The only flaw plotwise is that D remains a bit too much of an enigma, leaving the viewer with many questions about him.

As far as the animation, this is where "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" really shines. "Bloodlust" is a U.S./Japanese co-production and was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri ("Wicked City", "Ninja Scroll"). In an age where computer generated animation is overtaken the classic style, it’s great to see a truly breathtaking hand-drawn film. While the animation isn’t always perfect throughout, it’s clear that a great deal of attention was given to the action scenes, and this is where "Bloodlust" shines. The camera zooms through the multi-plane animation at a breathtaking rate, nicely mimicking a live-action film. While some characters sport the large eyes traditionally seen in anime, there are none of the cute or silly characters, which can ruin a good story. The characters designs vary greatly, with the Markus’ resembling Image Comics characters, and Meier looking like something from the "Castlevania" video games. Note the amount of detail in D’s cape and costume. (Although, I question his pimp-daddy hat!) My only complaint about the look of the film is that the barren landscape doesn’t give the artists much color to work with.

Urban Vision Entertainment may be a relatively small company, but they’ve done a fine job with the DVD of "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust". The film has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The image is very sharp and clear, and only a very fine sheen of grain can be seen in certain shots. The transfer shows no signs of flaws or defects from the source print. Nor is the any distortion or video noise on the image. The color balancing here is excellent. As noted above, this isn’t the most colorful film ever, but the blacks are dark and true and the occasional hint of red or green looks fantastic. Overall, a very nice transfer.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio track on the "Bloodlust" DVD is one of the most aggressive surround sound tracks I’ve heard in a while. The action from all five speakers is constant, as no opportunity for a surround sound effect is missed. Unfortunately, the center channel has been mixed rather low, so the dialogue is often hard to hear. But, a simple adjusting to the output from that speaker should clear things up for the viewer. The bass response is very good and there is no distortion to the track. You’ll sit in amazement each time a group of bats swarm across the screen and the sound of flapping wings fills the room.

This DVD boasts several special features. The first is a 23-minute "making of" featurette, which never quite gels. This segment offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the principal crew members, but we’re never given an idea of how or why the film was made, or exactly how the work was done. There are storyboard-to-film comparisons for three scenes. Each can be viewed with side-by-side film and storyboards, just the storyboards, or just the finished film. Three theatrical trailers are presented here, U.S., Japanese, and Korean, all 1.85:1 and in Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as the U.S. and Japanese TV spot for the film (each 1.85:1). Finally, Urban Vision has compiled the Top 10 scenes from the film, as derived from an Internet survey.

I will openly admit that I’m not a big fan of anime, as I usually find it redundant and silly. However, "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" stands out from the crowd, as it offers stunning animation and an intriguing story. The film is action-packed and exciting from beginning to end and may be just the thing for horror fans looking for something new. The DVD offers a crisp transfer and an overwhelming surround sound track. Having viewed "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust", I’m very glad to say that it didn’t suck.