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Dean Talks Anime: Vampire Hunter D

By Christopher Kinsey

This story takes place in the distant future.  When Mutants and Demons slither through a world of darkness.

If you were an anime fan in the early to mid-90s these two sentences are all that is going to explain to you about the bizarre mixture of horror, cyberpunk future and all around glorious strangeness that is the Vampire Hunter D movie.  Something in this stew has struck a chord with animation fans for years since its introduction in 1992 by Streamline Pictures.  Now most features by this company was pretty cut to ribbons to a point where they are nearly unwatchable.  But the 1985 film, for all the bad voice acting, sub-par animation from the production staff (who had done much better, including Fist of the North Star), and the real feeling that you’re just missing something world building wise, is one of those OVAs that will always be re-released during every milestone anniversary.  It has that kind of Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant feel to it where this is something high fantasy and post-apocalyptic at once but the world building needs no explanation.  The aesthetic just works.

Yes, that Amano from Final Fantasy covers

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Vampire Hunter D began its life as a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi that were beautifully illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.  Since 1983 they have been tales of a half-human, half vampire Dunpeal bounty hunter in the year 12,090 AD.  In 1999 a nuclear holocaust occurred, but the secret orders and machinations of vampires kept many secrets of the old world in the hands of the undead.  As such they used bio-engineering to create mutants, monsters and many servants as well as advancing the science of war, fueling their own fights amongst clans.  Humans are nothing more than food and servants for thousands of years until little by little the vampire’s wars and the plight of humanity chipped away at their power.  It’s a world of change, where humanity is rising again amongst the strange relics of the millennia of vampire rule.  D’s adventures in this setting usually have to deal with the remnants of the old world as they struggle to remain in power.

Miroku from Inuyasha has nothing on D

 

D himself is a rather strange character.  He is insanely powerful, but merely the traveler in his own stories.  It’s a lot like the apocalyptic wanderings of Max Rocksteady, where the real stars of each story are whatever parties are in the conflict D has gotten himself into.  As a half vampire he has superhuman strength, speed, regeneration and agility of a vampire as well as some magical powers imbued by his father’s powerful vampire lineage.  D doesn’t suffer from most vampiric weaknesses such as crosses and the like, but can be susceptible to sunlight if he’s exerting himself over a long period of time.  He has a constant companion in Left Hand, a sarcastic symbiote who is older than D with a wealth of knowledge of the world’s history and it’s key players.  Left Hand also can consume matter into some sort of other dimension where it’s never seen again, but only if it has enough nutrients from the earth.  Most of D’s real weaknesses are human society’s distrust of Dunpeals and his own denial of the basic thirst a vampire has for blood.  OK, so a touch of Gary Stu, however the company he keeps is also very powerful.  Vampires have just about any overpowered advantage you can think of when you think of the tropes.  They have legions of bio-engineered monsters and cyborgs.  And they’ve been in this game far longer than D, so he’s never coming from a position of true strength.  He’s just got a lot of persistence and his own code of honor, which is standard fare for these lone wolf protagonists.

Joey? You like movies about… gladiators?

 

So back to the 1998 production.  This was at the dawn of the OVA market targeting older teens and young adults, so it made sense that this novel series combines with the animation studio in question would be appealing for a variety of reasons.  But something happened.  Being so new it was treated kind of like a film production.  Everyone seemed to get a bit of an ego.  The plot of the animation follows the plot of the first novel.  A human township is still harassed by the desires of Count Magnus Lee.  He has targeted a sister and brother ranching on the outskirts of town, Doris and Dan Lang.  Doris has been targeted by the count to be his next human bride, but Doris hires D to protect her and destroy the count.  It’s pretty straightforward, with the politics of the Count’s court being more destructive than D’s own power.  It’s one of those movies that shouldn’t have gotten popular, but between the fact it was an early American release that was well received by both anime and horror fans and it was such a new concept for the Japanese cartoon market it was a pretty big success.  But two people didn’t really like the outcome, Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaka Amano.  Kikuchi didn’t like how ‘cheap’ it looked while Amano was overridden on designs by someone on the production team.  So the pair retreated back to publishing novels of D’s adventures and it looked like that would be the only time there was a Vampire Hunter D animation.

Castlevania: Cirque Du Soleil

 

But there was money on the table over the years and sometimes both the American and Japanese anime markets converge at a good time to make miracles happen.  While the sales in Japan were merely OK and the creative teams really soured on one another, I can’t overstate how well this film did in the niche American market.  At the same time Kikuchi had worked with another anime director, the talented Yoshiaki Kawajiri, to create great adaptations of his other works including Wicked City and Demon City Shinjuku.  It took about 4 years but studio Madhouse produced Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and it is a beautiful thing.  Not only do the character designs greatly reflect Amano’s designs but there is a polish to every scene in this film that I see very rarely in any animated production.  It was released first in the United States, to six theaters about a week after the events of 9-11.  So unfortunately it wasn’t quite a box office smash, but Urban Vision held the rights to D at the time and had a huge DVD distribution.  It had its own flaws, only having the English dub available, but it was done with so much care it transcended not having the option.

Your gal doesn’t like action anime eh? She’ll watch this one.

 

The story is based off of the third volume of the D series: Demon Deathchase.  Baron Meyer Link, known to be a rather reclusive and benign vampire noble, has abducted Charlotte Elbourne from her family and is headed to a mysterious location in a dark, well armored and guarded carriage.  D is hired to retrieve or, should she be turned, kill Charlotte for ten million dollars.  At the same time the Elbourne family has hired the monster hunting band known as the Marcus Brothers to do the same.  The two groups of bounty hunters race at cross purposes to retrieve Charlotte, encountering strange and powerful monsters Meyer has employed to ensure a safe journey.  There are a lot of real, human moments in this anime that are hard to describe without giving a lot away.  It’s a lot more complicated than the first OVA.  On one hand are the motivations of Meyer, is he merely going through vampiric motions for blood and beauty or does Charlotte really love him?  The Marcus Brothers are mostly steadfast in the idea that no matter what, Meyer is a monster who needs to be put down but one of their number, Leila, has doubts that it’s so clear cut.  Her own encounters with D makes her question her own life as a hunter, how these hunts change people to be more monstrous, and how they can still hold on to their humanity.  It’s a lot to take in for an over two hour runtime and you should pick this one up sometime.

This is fun and all, but I really want to find crystals and position them in a dais in a particular way to open a hidden door

 

There have been more items released involving D’s adventures.  Since 2005 there have been dedicated translations of the original novels and that’s really great.  Around the time Bloodlust was released a video game came out and… well it tries to be an action packed melee kind of old school turret controlled Resident Evil.  It failed in almost all respects.  Such controls can never give a smooth melee experience and the only reason it has a fan following is because of the movie.  In 2007 a manga adaptation was commissioned but has been on indefinite hiatus with wrist concerns of the artist, Saiko Takaki.  It’s an OK adaptation, and has a lot of overcompensation in the fanservice up front.  Not that the series has ever shied from sexuality in its horror but something in the manga pretty much flashes “Hey, older teens and young men!  Get it here!”

D, D, D of the jungle, slaying bizarre beings

 

If you’re a fan of anime you owe it to yourself to the variety and history lesson that is Vampire Hunter D.  If you get the variety of the media and the stories behind the production you can see how the industry has changed a lot since the early 80s.  There is a lot to love about this series, even for people who don’t really like anime.  So if you’re in the mood for something in the horror and action genre you’re well set.

Dean The Adequate knows that if you like Castlevania you’ll like this series.  As such after Iga is done with Bloodstained we should petition him to make a Symphony of the Night style game based off of D.  Write, call, tweet, and perform strange rituals, whatever it takes to make this happen.  Life is hard, and we owe ourselves that much awesome.  And I don’t usually plug things, but good ol’ Diskotek media has the rights and will have a full release Blu Ray soon.  Hint Hint!