Now we have finally hit that anime portion of this marathon. I have quite a few other anime films/series in other brackets, but this is the only time I know for certain that I will view one. The thing I have the hardest time being sold on in anime, is often horror to me. I have watched numerous horror series or ones that have a tense atmosphere throughout due to its horror roots. It would be too easy for me to put in Shiki into the pool, since I already really enjoy it. Can’t review anything I know I like for this marathon, right? So instead I have yet another vampire film to watch, and hopefully Vampire Hunter D does not disappoint.
Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust is first and foremost an action horror piece drenched in fabulous gothic imagery and style. The animation quality and designs are distinct enough to say that Madhouse knew what they were doing when adapting its world from the page to the screen. It almost reminds me of an over the top gothic version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which in and of itself is quite visual in its approach. This is a very cinematic and picturesque anime, one that carefully plots out many beautiful still shots and some fabulous imagery. When the final act arrives and each character enters into a vivid dream sequence of their past or desires that is where we are treated to some of the most beautifully animated sequences in the film. Seeing D’s dream sequence as a world drenched with bright red blood and a woman clothed in white in the middle was quite striking and that was only one of the variously different toned scenes.
Carmilla’s Castle, the ruins of the church, the sand manta rays, the forest shrine, the graveyard all of these various places are brought to life with excellent setting shots. The film’s shot composition as a whole is elegantly displayed even while during some of its fight sequences. The opening scene is arguably one of the best scenes I have seen put into anime. The sweeping shots of the gothic village, the crushing of the crosses that adorn the houses sets the mood perfectly for the abduction of Charlotte Elbourne by the vampire noble Meier Link. When we enter into her home, we are graced with a picture of her face and the opening of the window slightly as the flowers begin to wilt from the presence of Meier. The final shot of Meier snatching Charlotte and his reflection not showing in the shattering mirror is accented by this beautiful dutch angle. Her floating in midair is what essentially sets the stage for this world, one where vampires roam free unabashedly, and only those brave enough to face them dare try to hunt them down (even if it then decides to reiterate it seconds later).
While it is absolutely stunning, Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust is exceptionally hollow and lacks weight behind its central themes of grey morality on both the side of the hunters and the vampires and D being stuck in the middle. D as a character is actually quite bland and often told through long bouts of exposition from random people, and some events in the film are only there to give you that one tidbit of who D is (for example the part with the shopkeeper and the sheriff). The visual imagery at times depict him as this lone wanderer of the world, especially when you see his dream sequence, yet there is never a moment where you feel truly connected with his sorrow. Sure you are told numerous times by various people about who D is, yet those felt like tacked on stories for the sake of adding character to him as many of those scenes could be removed and the film can go on very easily.
Having grey morality in stories can be done well, when you care for those on either side. While one could argue about D and the subtlety we see in some sequences about the difficulty of his life and what he might’ve had to give up, there is very little characterization done for the demons who assist Meier Link or the vampire hunters. The vampire hunters all have one personality trait that is driven into the viewer’s head: Nolt is the dumb brute, Grove the peaceful nuke of a spell user, Kyle the cocky scumbag, and Borgoff is the determined leader. Then there was Leila who had some good visuals to tell some of her story, yet the story felt it needed to explain her pain prior to her snow covered dream sequence showing us the pain she felt as a child. The film unfortunately needed to tell us over and over again about specific details whether it is through its visuals or its dialogue, driving into our heads the tragic nature of our cast. Visual storytelling only truly works the best when we have an inkling of what is going on and then the pain comes through either its characters emotions or the scene of events shown. To me, when you are already told the whole spiel beforehand it loses that impact.
Meier Link is an interesting one in the sense of portraying grey morality, since he is not quite the evil stereotypical vampire Carmilla is portrayed as and is actually a more romanticized version. A tortured soul who does not revel in immortality he is someone searching for love even if it is for a short while. There is this natural chemistry between him and Charlotte that is nicely explored through some very visually powerful sequences throughout the film. It helps to show the pain of a vampire without going far too over the top with cheesy melodramatic lines (though there is one cheesy moment that kind of makes you facepalm). Very easily these two are the best part of the cast to me, as it actually goes somewhere with the whole grey morality angle of it all. The demons who assist him on the other hand are only meant to be there for cool fight fodder and nothing more. Not much else to say about them really.
Interestingly enough, Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust had me with a lot of its visuals. The problem truly arose when it tried to tell its story without characters that had good execution or even full characterization. It lacks characters on both sides to fully sympathize with, as I never considered Leila the layered protagonist and instead had only a few moments of intrigue beside the tragic backstory. She is the classical heroine who disliked but came to understand the dark brooding hero in the end and everything is peachy. There is very little deviation from norms to truly call her a worthwhile take on the archetype. There isn’t enough there from the character or story perspective to add to the nuanced animation directing, and that is a shame in my opinion. I’ll chalk it up to yet another style over substance piece that is too formulaic in its execution to really bring the depth of narrative it desired. Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust wanted a dour and sorrowful film with a hint of hope, and instead we got endlessly beautiful animated sequences with little character or story complexity to it making for quite the boring ride overall.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – If you are looking for another impressively visual vampire piece than look no further than this iteration of Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the classic vampire is certainly a treat for those who like different visual and narrative takes on the old tale. It unabashedly doesn’t hold anything back, and easily is something that is not as picturesque as Bloodlust but certainly is just as visually impressive for its vibrancy and designs.
Ninja Scroll (1993) – If over the top action is your thing, and maybe Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust didn’t satiate that thirst for it, Ninja Scroll is well worth the watch. Yes a lot of its ideas by today’s standards are archaic, but if you are looking for yet another visual feast along the same lines as Bloodlust in the anime form it fits the job quite nicely. It certainly isn’t a film for everyone, especially due to some of its content, but its visceral fight sequences and beautiful action certainly are worth watching if you find that your thing.
I’m going to start running out of recommendations for vampire films soon! Three vampire flicks in one marathon is quite crazy in my opinion. Especially since I’m not usually one to watch them normally, but that is what I guess is fun about this marathon. Have you ever watched Bloodlust or even the original Vampire Hunter D film? Is this a good representation of the material? Leave a comment down below and have yourself a great day!