When Doris Lang is chosen as the next bride for the vampire Count Magnus Lee, she will hire a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D in an attempt to escape her ill-gotten fate.When Doris Lang is chosen as the next bride for the vampire Count Magnus Lee, she will hire a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D in an attempt to escape her ill-gotten fate.When Doris Lang is chosen as the next bride for the vampire Count Magnus Lee, she will hire a mysterious vampire hunter known only as D in an attempt to escape her ill-gotten fate.
Thousands of years in the future, the Earth has crumbled into something of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world, with human culture having fallen apart and somewhat regressed while supernatural terrors roam the land. After headstrong teenager Doris Lang is attacked and bitten by the Vampire Lord Mangus Lee while patrolling her property, she seeks the help of a famed and mysterious bounty hunter known only as "D" to protect her and her younger brother Dan- knowing this dark lord of the shadows seeks to make her into his newest bride. And so, the three will have to band together to fight off Lee's mutant assassins, corrupt townsfolk who now fear Doris, and the dreaded count himself to survive!
While the plot line is a bit simple and is comprised of mainly the most basic of cliché and trope, I find it actually works quite well thanks to the wonderful use of atmosphere and the very likable characters. Despite showing its age, this is still very much a beautiful film and the immense talent of all involved (including director Toyo Ashida, original novel illustrator Yoshitaka Amano and composer Noriyoshi Matsuura) is on full display. It's got a great, grand and very captivating mixture of both Gothic and Sci-Fi design philosophy, in addition to keen character and setting design that sets up such a delightfully dreary mood from the opening frames to the end of the climactic battle. It sets just the right tone from which it builds its thrills and chills upon.
The characters are very archetypal and highly enjoyable. D makes for a wonderfully moody anti-hero. His classic design of long flowing black robes and pale skin evoking a wide spectrum of feelings in the viewer. His lack of dialog and crytptic backstory also help us view him as something of a blank slate, where we can put ourselves in his shoes and get sucked into the story. Doris and Dan make for a great sort-of foil to D's simplicity, and both are infectiously likable characters that you just can't help but root for. And Lee makes for a very fun villain. Obviously inspired by a famous actor with the same last name and was famous for playing a certain vampire in a series of films, Lee's just pure, old-fashioned Universal monster-movie cheese and contrasts wonderfully with the Japanese sensibilities of the storytelling and character design.
However, part of both the biggest strength and weakness of the film is its fun but very uneven sort-of episodic approach to storytelling. It both does and does not adhere to traditional three-act structuring, with some sequences (particular in the middle section of the film) that begin to feel more akin to volumes or chapters or even video-game like "levels" than thought-out scenes there to develop the plot line. It's all in the spirit of giving D and the others increasingly fierce opponents to fight, and it is a lot of fun in a sort-of schlocky way. But I find it distracts from the overall narrative. It leads to too much of a disconnect to the story, and eats up a bit too much screen time, making you lose focus of just what's at stake. Yes, it's fun seeing D battling various monsters... but not at the expense of the basic storytelling. I think this style of story structure was a fun experiment here that didn't quite work, but lead to future films perfecting the concept, including notably the second film in this franchise, "Bloodlust", which had more of a "road-trip" quality where the episodic approach worked significantly better.
Still, despite this quite severe blunder to the narrative structure of the film, I can't condemn it too badly. Because it's still great fun. It's still very moody and sometimes spooky. And it's still wild and thrilling entertainment that should leave most audiences satisfied. Not only is it an important film in the grand scheme of anime's history... it's just a really good, solid film in general. I know plenty of non-anime fans who have seen it and enjoyed it for what it is. And I'm still waiting for more feature-length adventures from this character. It may not be a perfect film. But it's perfect entertainment.
I give "Vampire Hunter D" a very good 8 out of 10.
- Nov 13, 2016