Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Screening Room: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

The topic of discussion in The Screening Room this week is another older anime movie, the 1985 film Vampire Hunter D.  The film was directed by Toyoo Ashida, animated by Ashi Productions, and produced and distributed by CBS Sony Group, Inc.  The anime was based on the series of illustrated novels created by Hideyuki Kikuchi.  The series of novels also inspired manga adaptations, American comics, an audio drama, and a survival-horror video game of the same name released on the Sony PlayStation.  A second anime film, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, was released in 2000.

The plot of the film differs from the original novels, mostly in regards to the behavior of specific characters and their interactions with each other.  The story takes place in the year 12,090 AD in a post-apocalyptic world in which vampires and their mutant slaves terrorize and manipulate ordinary humans by means of both special powers and advanced technologies.  Doris Lang, the daughter of a deceased werewolf hunter, is attacked by Count Magnus Lee, a member of the vampire nobility.  She survives the attack although she has been bitten by the count, and later hires a mysterious caped hunter named D to protect her from further attacks.  Doris is attacked by Count Magnus Lee again, and is kidnapped and brought to the Count’s castle.  D must attempt to rescue her from Count Lee, the Count’s daughter Lamica, the Count’s mutant servant Rei Ginsei, and various other minions. 

Various battles with different kinds of monsters and mutants take place during this rescue attempt, and both clues to the back story of the mysterious D as well as his special powers are revealed.  The powers of specific beings, the technologies used by both protagonist and antagonist, the dress of certain characters, and even the final battle scene itself have been changed from the novel to the film adaptation.  However, the story’s conclusion does remain similar to the canon story.  The runtime of the film is 80 minutes, which is similar in length to Ghost in the Shell but shorter than Akira, Venus Wars, or Lensman: Secret of the Lens.

In North America, a dubbed version of Vampire Hunter D was published by CBS Theatrical Films, with dubbing work done by Streamline Pictures.  Streamline Pictures released the dubbed version of the film on VHS in 1992.  Urban Vision Entertainment acquired the rights to the film in 2000, and released a Special Edition DVD which included the original dub as well as subtitles done by New Generation Pictures.  In addition to the Japanese and North American markets, the film has also been released in multiple European markets in a variety of languages.

Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Vampire Hunter D was one of the earliest anime titles that was brought to North America, and it was well received and is still well remembered today.  The overt gothic and science-fiction settings in the story blend well with the Wild West characteristics of the post-apocalyptic frontier dwellers and the various for-hire monster hunters.  The film is primarily an action movie that is centered around themes of sex and violence, but there is also a deeper back-story that is alluded to as the action progresses.

The film does suffer from some of the same weaknesses of character design that are found in many anime stories, although many of the characters were more well developed and complicated in the novel than in the film. The character of D himself becomes somewhat of an infallible superman in the movie, while in the novel he is capable of making mistakes and needs to be more adaptable.  Doris in the novel is more physically capable than her film counterpart.  Rei Ginsei and his henchmen are all modified heavily from their novel incarnations to their film representations.  There were even further transformations of characters from the original Japanese film to the translated English version, such as Rei Ginsei changing from an evil but honorable villain to a bloodthirsty monster.

The music in Vampire Hunter D was composed and arranged by Tetsuya Komuro, and was his first solo work.  An official soundtrack album was released by Sony Music Japan in the Japanese market in 1986.  The album contains 12 tracks and has a runtime of 44:39.  Komuro’s band, TM Network, performed the ending credits track Your Song, which does not appear on the official soundtrack album.

Vampire Hunter D Original Soundtrack (1986)

If you enjoy the Vampire Hunter D universe and want to expand your experience in the setting, several of the twenty-five Japanese novels have been translated to English by Kevin Leahy and published by DH Press.  A set of side story novels, titled Another Vampire Hunter, have also been created by Hideyuki Kikuchi to expand upon the back-story of the vampires in the series.

Vampire Hunter D was and is popular amongst anime fans due to its plot, setting, and multitude of fantasy themes.  When I originally saw it on the Sci-Fi Channel’s anime block in the early 1990s, I was a fan as well.  Having watched the film again now, nearly 20 years after its original release, I would say that I am still a fan.  There are parts of the film that are slightly action heavy but that still seem to take a while to progress, and the weakness of some of the characters is slightly more grating to me now than it was when I was a young teenager who had not seen many anime movies.  As with almost every anime I’ve ever watched, I prefer the version with the subtitles to the English dub, but if you really can’t stand to read for an hour or so then you can make due with characters whose apparent emotions and reactions to situations are not properly reflected in their voices.  To be fair, there have certainly been worse dubs than in this movie, but I’m still recommending the subtitles.  Finding a physical copy of the movie at an affordable price has become somewhat difficult, and finding the soundtrack album could also be difficult and costly.  The movie was not available for viewing on Netflix at the time that this article was written, although the dubbed version was available on Youtube.

Oh, yes.  D has a creepy symbiotic mouth on his left hand – the aptly named Left Hand – that serves as comic relief, can consume the elements, and has special powers.  It also might just eat your soul.

Vampire Hunter D - Left Hand
Sweet dreams.

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