Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
By: Trist Jones February 11, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 97 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Starring: Andrew Philpot, John Rafter Lee, Pamela Segall, Wendee Lee, Michael McShane
Screenplay: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Country: Japan
From the acclaimed Japanese animation team that brought us the classic anime Ninja Scroll comes Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, a sequel of sorts to the original Vampire Hunter D that came out in the late 80's. Rest assured though, you don't have to see the original before this, there's enough overly expository anime dialogue to fill in the uneducated viewer (as it was, Madman released the original four years after Bloodlust was released). As it is, Bloodlust's storytelling is a bit like the Frankenstein monster; so many parts from so many places that while it all looks good, it's still a monster.

Set in a distant future, Bloodlust follows a half-human, half-vampire called D, who is, incase you hadn't already clicked on, a vampire hunter. When a young girl is kidnapped by an unseen force, her father and brother call upon D to bring her back, convinced that a vampire has taken her. D accepts, but is informed that a group of bounty hunters, the Marcus brothers are also searching for her, and they have a day's head start. So D sets out, coming across all many of otherworldly monstrosities along the way, until eventually finding himself presented with a very unexpected and slightly bizarre situation along with a battle against Carmilla, an evil and conniving vampire countess with hair rivaling Gary Oldman's in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Now, to many, this is considered a modern classic, and if you were to look at it solely in terms of it's animation it would be. The animation is fantastic, well and truly on the same level as Ninja Scroll and the Program segment of The Animatrix, particularly in the opening sequences. All the fabrics and character movements flow perfectly, very rarely cutting the corners that anime tends to, which is no meager task considering the amount of detail in just about every single character on screen. The same level of detail is retained in the background art, which is equally as impressive as the animation itself, and often employs 'deep matting', a technique in which particular objects or sections of the background art are actually computer generated objects 'painted' the same way as the actual background, allowing for seamless integration of movements and changes in perspective.

But in spite of all these magnificent artistic techniques, the film itself is a bit of a patchwork monstrosity. Characters are introduced with little to no set up, and there's no real reasoning behind particular courses of action taken, making it seem as though things are just put in for the sake of putting them in. One of the protagonists has no background information given at all, none of her relationships between any characters, good or bad, are ever established aside from the fact that 'she's there now, so is person-x, they should interact'. You don't even get her name until nearly twenty minutes of her moping around. There also is a Werewolf character that could have been really, really good, but instead became a third tier henchman that does one or two cool things and then bites the dust. His screen time as an actual lycanthropic monster clocks in at barely thirty seconds. The only one of these characters with any personality is the shadow jumping assassin. All the background information on D is given in a ludicrously elaborate story/expositional lump in a stable by an old man. There are a few moments like this where the minimal amount of dialogue spoken by particular characters is counterbalanced by random scene-fillers who don't really have any true bearing on the film's progression. It feels as though the whole thing was sort of written on the fly. Especially as things get closer to the end.
Carmilla, sort of the female embodiment of Dracula, is suddenly introduced as this superior antagonist, after the audience has likely already accepted that these three other villains (The shadow-jumper, the werewolf and some sort of catwoman who can change her molecular structure). But it gets worse, almost as quickly as the audience is punched with "Oh! This person is the bad guy now," it quickly follows with a quick left-hander of "She's sending them to the moon in a rocket! Behold!" Oh, and the giant sand-mantas? The purpose of the talking, parasitic face on D's left hand? I really wish I knew.

If you can look past the glaring holes in the script, the other production values put into this film are worth mentioning. The score is excellent, it really does reach far and above the majority of other animes in this particular genre, and while none of it is particularly memorable, it really is noticeable during the film and bolsters the power of the imagery. It does reach down into the seemingly limited number of sound effects animes have available, but they are tried and true and work particularly well. The voice work is bearable, the only real standouts being the shadow-jumper and D himself, the rest are all voices you'll recognize from other animes (depending on how into them you are), and generally suit the characters they're playing. The problem with anime in general is that the English translations of the Japanese dialogue will vary from line to line, so the actors will either have to cram the translation into a certain space of time, making lines seem unnaturally fast and poorly emoted, or they have to be completely rewritten to suit an English audience, which sometimes jars with what has come beforehand. This isn't necessarily a problem with Bloodlust, just one that occurs a lot in anime, and those who aren't quite used to it will likely find it to be a bit of a stumbling block.
For the most part, the transfer is great, but there are odd little moments were the master print must have been damaged, as a noticeable round mark will flicker through the animation, but aside from that, the print is really crisp.
As I said, the score is fantastic and the sound effects themselves are decent enough, but the 5.1 sound mix doesn't exactly blow you away, which is a little surprising considering all the sound work was done at Skywalker Ranch.
Extra Features
The disc doesn't exactly come packed, but does come with a few extras, both neat and standard. You have the theatrical trailer for the film, along with 'Madman Propaganda' (a selection of trailers for other horror animes; Helsing, Blood, etc.) but there is a really good storyboard comparison featurette and a behind the scenes featurette, which, even though it isn't necessarily structured as coherently as one would expect, is interesting to watch, giving snippets of interviews and behind the scenes footage of the Japanese crew and the American teams working on the film both separately and together.
The Verdict
Admittedly, I had high expectations of Bloodlust, considering the standards this team had maintained with films like Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, Cybercity Oedo and Program, so I was a little disappointed. It could be that in Japan this film is much more complete, and these things make more sense, given that we often get the corners cut when our versions are translated for English audiences, but then again it could just be exactly what it is and people just accept it for that.

Either way there are two ways you can look at this film. If you're looking for just some good animation without having to put too much thought into it, Bloodlust is certainly the thing you're looking for, but if storytelling issues present any kind of problem for you (no matter how good it may look), avoid it, you'll just come out confused and unfulfilled.
Movie Score
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