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I am never going to get tired of what I’m about to say, and I will warn you right now that when I see situations like this, I’m going to bring it up again. A movie based off a property like a book, comic book, or whatever should be a good movie first and foremost. This is an argument I hear all the time when people are defending movies like Ratchet & Clank or old school anime films like Akira, in which I am told that I should read the source material first, or they let me know that I just don’t get it. It’s such a flimsy argument that should never be taken seriously. It also doesn’t work as a counter-argument towards criticism aimed at a movie based off a source material, because there are so many movies that are based off source material that are amazing. Do I need to know about the original books to enjoy How to Train your Dragon, Ernest & Celestine, Mary Poppins, The Rabbi’s Cat, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Dark Knight, and The Prophet? No! I can watch those movies because they were adapted so well into a movie that I could show these films to anyone, and they would be able to enjoy it without having to read the source material. A movie should be able to be well told and fun, and not require a moviegoer to do what is essentially hours of homework to watch a two hour or so movie. It’s backwards logic, and something that hinders my enjoyment of today’s review, Vampire Hunter D. This was a film released back in 1985, directed by Toyoo Ashida (1986’s Fist of the North Star film, Ultimate Teacher, Grenadier, Batman: Gotham Knight’s In Darkness Dwells section), and was brought over to the states in 1992. One of the more interesting facts about this movie is that the character design was done by Yoshitaka Amano, the same illustrator who has worked on the Final Fantasy franchise. Sadly, a good artist can only go so far in the animation scene. If you don’t have anything else, then what’s the point? Let’s get started.
The plot is essentially Castlevania, but I’ll explain it anyway. An evil vampire has taken the reins in ruling a land that includes a small town. A lone wanderer named D, voiced by John Gremillion, wanders into town, and decides to help the town get out of the evil grasp of the intimidating Count Magnus Lee, voiced by David Wald. Can D stop the evil vampire, and make sure no one is hurt?
I want to be kind to this film, so let us talk about the good elements that this film brings to the table. First off, the character designs. While some of the side characters have that stale anime look, the rest are diverse and memorable. I really do think having such a unique artist like Yoshitaka Amano does give this film some levity. When the film decides to be atmospheric, it really does give you a small chill, with the calm surroundings, dark colors, and super-natural fiends looming around the night sky. For the original release of the film from Streamline to the Sentai Filmworks release, the two English dubs are both pretty solid. I think the Sentai Filmworks release is a tiny bit better, but I’m sure you won’t really care, since the dub for an anime of this time period (1992 for the USA) could have been so much worse.
Now that we got the positives out of the way, let’s breakout the Vampire Killer whip, and take down the negatives that this film offers. First off, good luck enjoying this if you didn’t know one thing about the series, because this film doesn’t ease you in at all into the universe. It really doesn’t explain how this world has old world outfits, use of horse and carriage when combustion engines are around, robotic horses, werewolves, dinosaurs, and so on. There is really no reason this couldn’t have been late 1800s-early 1900s. I think the one element that cements this criticism is this weird hand thing D has. I’m sure the face he has on his hand probably has some kind of explanation, but if this was your first time watching the film, you will be confused and horrified by that thing. The film is also inconsistent with its rules at different points in the story. For example, there is a villain in the film that can bend space and time to avoid damage, like say, getting stabbed by a sword. Well, the villain uses this ability once, and never again. It makes it out like the writers wanted an “oh, snap” moment, but then forgot that the individual has this ability and just let him get his arm cut off, and then his head blown off by the big bad vampire. Some scenes are also not explained or executed well. Like later on in the film, the bad guys obtain a special candle that is dangerous towards vampires. Well, the bad guy that can control space and time attempts to use it on D, but realizes that it’s not the candle that he got in the first place, but a fake. It then turns out another crummy individual in the film somehow swapped the real candle with the fake one. They don’t show how or when he did it, so it means you add another unexplained element to the pile of other unexplained plot elements in this movie. Even on top of all this, I found the film to be boring. You would think this would be an entertaining film with D being a vampire slayer, and taking down a horde of monsters to save a town from Dracula, but it’s not. It might be only 80 minutes long, but it can drag in a lot of places. The characters are also not worth writing about. They are all cookie cutter, and D isn’t even that interesting of a lead character. Sure, there is intrigue in terms of who he is, but I don’t really feel invested to watch him succeed, since he can sometimes come off as too weak in terms of being the lead. Once again, it shows how infuriating the animation industry can be when they decide to take an idea that should work, but screw over the execution and make it a boring pile of mud.
In the end I think Vampire Hunter D suffers from being a bad adaptation with too much of a focus on the fans. While it might be amusing for fans of the franchise, it isn’t an enjoyable sit for the rest of us. I would rather a film be enjoyable to all, than make it for one small group of people. Still, I have seen worse, and Vampire Hunter D might be bad, but it’s not in my top 10 worst animated films bad. I can totally see why people would love the franchise, and think if you are going to check it out, read the manga, and then watch the film. Luckily, we will take a look at the sequel in the near future that definitely does everything better, even if it still falls into a few traps. Well, we have some time before Ghost in the Shell comes out, how about we take a look at Lionsgate’s newest animated offering with Rock Dog? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!