Monday, July 20, 2009

Vampire Hunter D – review

dvdDirectors: Toyoo Ashida & Carl Macek

Release date: 1985

Contains spoilers

This was one of the first anime’s I knowingly saw (series such as Battle of the Planets were not billed as anime when they first aired in the UK and some were severely cut). I was lucky, therefore, that my introduction was with a film deemed as one of the finer examples of its genre. That said, looking back, has it stood the test of time?

The film opens with a message that we are in the distant future and the world has been taken over by mutants and demons. Indeed we are in the year 12090 AD – some 10,000 years following a devastating nuclear war. The world was conquered by vampires who split the lands into fiefdoms where they rule.

Doris LangDoris Lang (Michie Tomizawa/Barbara Goodson) is making the rounds of her farm at night. In an orchard she sees some kind of mutant beast and shoots at it. It flees and she whistles Luke – her horse – to chase it down. She fires a killing shot eventually but, as she checks the corpse it rears up and latches on to Luke. She manages to use her electro-whip to get it off her mount and then kill it.

Magnus appearsPoor old Luke hasn’t got a chance in this film, to be fair, for suddenly a giant werewolf rears out of the dark, catching the horse in its fearsome teeth. It reaches a claw out and removes the cross from Doris’ neck. Suddenly she is faced with the imposing vision of Count Magnus Lee (Seizō Katō/Jeff Winkless). The name Magnus Lee was an amalgam of Count Magnus from the story by MR James and Christopher Lee. Doris shoots at him but he is protected by some form of force shield – he opens his cloak to her.

D on his cyborg horseOut of the wasteland a figure rides – it is D (Kaneto Shiozawa/Michael McConnohie). Hideuki Kikuchi, the author of The Vampire Hunter D books, states that he gained the idea of D’s image having seen Phil Collins in a video, dressed as a gunslinger with samurai gear. From such an ignoble start a character was created, and subsequently a world that does seem to amalgamate the Wild West (a favourite post apocalyptic look, to be fair), Japanese culture and the Hammer vision of an Eastern European village. D reaches a point in his journey where he is confronted by Doris, who attacks him with her electro-whip. When he rebuffs the attack without even moving she begs for forgiveness and asks to hire him, she was checking that he was no coward and can offer him three meals a day and her body.

MagnusShe lives on the farm with her little brother Dan (Keiko Toda/Lara Cody) – who doesn’t know she has been bitten. They head into the nearby town for provisions and Doris is confronted by the mayor’s son Greco (Yūsaku Yara/Steve Bulen). He wants Doris for himself and is willing to use his influence to help her – if she agrees to be his. She (physically) rebuffs him and so he tells the town that she has been bitten. The town turns against her and the mayor wants her sent to an internment camp. Friendly Dr Fehring (Motomu Kiyokawa/Steve Kramer) suggests this would be a mistake. The camp was not fit for human inhabitation when it was open and has been shut 50 years after a girl in Doris’ position was sent there and the Count gained retribution by slaughtering 31 villagers. Meanwhile D has a man to man chat with Dan.

Left HandWhen alone a voice asks what is going on with D. Whilst we do not see it at that point it is actually his left hand (Ichirō Nagai/Kirk Thornton). Left Hand is one of the more intriguing aspects of the film. D’s left hand seems to be an independent creature with thoughts and abilities, as well as a face. This film does not explain it further (though the next one does to a degree and the books might further) but it gives him offensive and defensive advantages as well enjoying verbally baiting him.

D always returns to his fangsI don’t want to go much further into the story. D is convinced the vampires will come for Doris that night as it is the Blood Moon the following night – a night on which vampires believe the blood of a woman will be unclean. When Lee’s daughter Lamika (Satoko Kifuji/Edie Mirman) and henchman Rei Ginsei (Kazuyuki Sogabe/Kerrigan Mahan) turn up at the farm we discover that D is a dhampire (or dampiel as it seems to be pronounced) – the child of a vampire and a mortal. There are hints through that D is the son of Dracula. In this Dracula is painted as a far more benevolent creature than perhaps other versions and D believes his father would have thought the vampires have lost their way and are wrong to treat humanity like cattle. As Left Hand points out, when the chips are down D always returns to his fangs.

vampire's castleThe story itself produces plot and counter plot as characters feel they are betrayed and betray back – though at its most basic level it is fairly simple – storm the castle, rescue the girl and destroy the Count. There is a candle whose incense will paralyse any with vampiric blood. Clearly crosses and garlic should be an issue but the vampires have plenty of henchmen to remove such obstacles. D is partially, at least, immune to the effects of sunlight and thus can function during the day when swaddled in his cloak and hat – the cloak can actually do neat things like cling onto pit edges for him.

The animation feels a little bit of a let down now, mainly because it hasn’t aged that well. There is a remastered version (not the version I have) and I do wonder whether that would improve things. However the story lifts above the animation and it would be churlish of me to turn on the film simply because it looks a little old now. This is a great little piece of anime – but it has been surpassed. Nevertheless it deserves a strong 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Kuudere-Kun said...

For some reason, the way the main vampire of this movie looks when we first seem him in the opening sequence makes me thing of how Jesus looked at the end of Omen III The Final Conflict

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Jared

I'd have to rewatch to look at what you mean, to be honest