Director: Toyoo Ashida
Writers: Yasushi Hirano
Studio: Ashi Productions
Released: December 21, 1985
This will be my first review where I will attempt to give a numerical score based on a number out of ten. I don’t know if I’ll stick with this system but I think it’s worth a try.
There are timeless classics, and then there are works that might have been good around the time they originally came out, but haven’t aged well overall. Vampire Hunter D is the latter.
Vampire Hunter D is an anime movie adaptation of the first novel of a long-running, popular series of post-apocalyptic/fantasy/horror novels from Japan. I haven’t read any of the books so I can’t speak for its faithfulness to its source material, but I’ve read that it is a faithful adaptation for what that’s worth if you’re a fan of the source material.
It’s a real shame that I don’t particularly care for Vampire Hunter D, because there are elements to it that are well executed. It manages to deliver a pretty heavy atmosphere, the soundtrack is decent, the unusual setting is interesting, and the designs of the monsters are creative and genuinely disturbing in appearance. The movie has a lot of potential to be something special, but alas, it doesn’t manage to reach even half of it.
The story is set thousands of years after a series of nuclear wars, the Earth has become a world filled with mutants, monsters, vampires, and other dangerous creatures. A vampire hunter only named “D” is given a contract by a young woman to kill an ancient, powerful vampire that takes young girls from a small town to his castle to be his brides every 50 years. There are a couple of side characters and villains, but none of them are interesting or well developed. Our main character D comes off less like a character and more of a plot device at times with how powerful and underdeveloped he is. As the movie goes along, it will become clear to you that nothing is really a threat to D. Oh, he might have difficulties, but they feel artificial and move along so quickly you’ll barely notice, save for one instance where you think for a moment he might actually be dead (he’s taking a long nap really). He reminded me a lot of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series in terms of demeanor and occupation: A monster hunter feared by most of the populace, loved by a few, and women will want to sleep with him just after getting to know him. The pacing to the plot is also a mess, moving too fast with some scenes feeling barely connected together, yet with some scenes just dragging on. There’s an attempt at a one sided love on the young woman who hires D that feels totally artificial thanks to the bad pacing. Lastly, while the world the movie is set in is interesting from a concept point of view, the world presented on screen feels very patched together. There’s some advanced technology, but the small town looks medieval in architecture and clothes worn by the townspeople, like a steampunk setting. It’s a unique idea, but the world comes across as artificial and not lived in at all.
The animation for the movie is the most poorly aged aspect to it. The stiff, recycled animation makes the action scenes on a technical level very weak and lacking in tension, and because the characters are so poorly developed there’s no emotional investment to the fights. We know D will win, it’s just a matter of when. The most entertaining aspect to the fights is the blood and gore, which I’ll admit can still be entertaining today. Voice acting isn’t exactly good either. Now after doing some research I found out that the English voice acting I heard was in fact a newer dubbing done by Sentai Filmworks after they got the distribution rights to the film in 2015, not the original 1992 dub from Steamline Pictures. Neither is what I’d call good, but the newer dub is better than the old one. At least the new one has some cheesy camp to it, the old one is just stilted and dull. I did listen to a bit of the Japanese voice acting and it sounded okay by today’s standards.
I’m sure there are some people with nostalgia for this movie, and it is an interesting work from a historical perspective with some redeeming value to be found, but that can’t redeem its flaws. Vampire Hunter D is just an average movie as a whole that isn’t really worth your time. If you want to see some violent, monster killing action that bad, go watch Netflix’s first season of Castlevania. Maybe the sequel will be better and it did get me interested in the original novels, so it deserves some credit.