Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic horror anime film that was released in 1985. Toyoo Ashida directs it; you might know him as the guy who directed Fist of the north star. It is based on the novel of the same name and tells a story of a vampire hunter named D. Who roams the post-apocalyptic world and hunts the vampires known as Nobels. This movie is very violent and also contains nudity, so keep that in mind. If you have read some of my previous reviews, you would know that I am a big fan of the boomer cel animation. This movie is animated the same way, and it looks marvelous. Also, the gothic atmosphere is unparalleled in terms of quality.
Review – Story and setting
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and that, by default, makes it quite interesting for me. There is much more freedom in terms of lore, and the environment can be portrayed accordingly. And there is always an element of suspense because of that as well. As the name of the movie suggests, we follow the protagonist named D, who is a vampire hunter. He roams the desolate and gothic world in search of vampires. And the sci-fi gothic atmosphere of this movie gives it its personality. The world feels beautiful and melancholy at the same time. You will automatically be drawn to it. And it contains enough details that you will be able to imagine what the world used to be like. Well, one more thing about the world, it is technically post-post-apocalyptic.
Actually, what happened was that the earth was destroyed by humans. After that, vampires started ruling the world, but now, in the current time period, the vampires are losing their power, and humans take back control. And that is where vampire hunters come in. The narrative of the story is made to flush out the world out, but it’s not like the other things suffer because of it. The actual plot of the story is actually exciting and fits the dark fantasy vibe perfectly. The pacing is also excellent; despite the runtime being only about one and a half hours, it conveys a lot about the characters and the world. But it was a bit predictable as well, though that didn’t ruin my experience a bit.
The movie is based on a long-running series of novels written by Hideyuki Kikuchi. This movie covers the first volume and does a great job as an introduction to the world.
Animation and Sound
What can I even say that hasn’t been already. The animation of this movie is gorgeous, like any other cel-animated movie from the ’80s. The gothic sci-fi atmosphere wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as it is if the animation was done in any other way: the dark color pallet, the hand-drawn blood splatters, the detailed decapitation of demons. The animation of the movie sets a mood. It makes violent scenes look elegant. The character designs are also gorgeous. There is not much movement, though, but that doesn’t essentially make it bad. Like in Berserk 1997, every scene is like a painting, and to achieve that picturesque quality, the anime emphasizes quiet moments. Like when D is introduced, his silhouette is shown only. Then the shot focuses on his sword and that gothic attire. All the while, the wind rustles his cloak.
It feels like you are reading a novel (which is exactly how it should be). And the same goes for the world. There is a town in the movie, which is like a blend of gothic & rural-western architecture, and strangely it doesn’t feel out of place. Then there is the castle of the noble, which gave me hard Castlevania (games) vibes.
The sound design is fine. I mean, when it works and syncs, it’s perfect. Sometimes, there is no sound to complement the action being performed, and sometimes the music is so loud that it muffles the dialogues(maybe this is where Nolan took inspiration from). The Japanese voice acting is fine, except for some characters who just sound weird. As for the English dub, it is atrocious. There are much anime where the English dub is better than the original voice acting, like Space Dandy, Cowboy Bepop, Monster, Gungrave. But this is not one of them.
The characters in this movie range from stoic badasses to flimsy dummies. On the one hand, we have D, who, on the surface, is just another antihero. But as you spend time with him, you will realize just why antiheroes were fun in the first place. It’s easy to make an edge lord of a character but giving actual depth makes them endearing. And then, on the other hand, we have one-dimensional villains who scream “eeeeekkk” before attacking D.
But talking about how deep the characters are in this movie is rather unfair. Because that is not what it is about. The most important one is D, and he is one hell of a character. He has that “more than what meets the eye” aspect about him. And despite being a man of few words, wherever he speaks, it is not some depressing one-liner. His dialogues actually make him feel like more of a traditional hero, notwithstanding his appearance. His actions are also that of one.
The other characters are fine, too; they are not exceptional. Serviceable is an ideal word to describe them. However, to my surprise, the main female lead was competent enough. She is no damsel in distress. Well, actually, she is plot-wise but what I mean to say is that she can hold off on her own.
I highly recommend you give this movie a try. There is also another part that got an anime adaptation called Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, an article for another day. This movie covers the first volume of the series, and it works as a great introduction to the world and the main players. I am intrigued enough to read the later parts and will definitely give them a try. It is a violent movie but not too much, so even if you are put off by that kind of stuff, I believe that there is something you can enjoy here.