This Ain’t Your Great-Grandson’s Post-Apocalypse: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

A lot of science fiction stories have this problem where, if they’ve managed to stay relevant long enough, the year in which they are set starts to sound silly. To Clarke ‘n’ Kubrick, 2001 seemed like an impossibly, incredibly futuristic date, while it’s now better remembered as “when it used to take 20 minutes to download a song on Napster.” In Akira, World War III begins in 1992. Space: 1999 is set in… well, you get it.

Vampire Hunter D does not have this problem, because Hideyuki Kikuchi, the author of the D novels, set them in 12,090 AD. This ain’t your great-grandson’s post-apocalypse. Kikuchi’s post-apocalyptia is a mish-mash of gothic horror, spaghetti western and sci-fi where vampires own space ships, fire lasers and ride around on robot horses.

If this doesn’t sound cool, you better stop right here.

The first D novel was published in 1983. Shortly thereafter followed an OVA adaptation (directed by the late Toyoo Ashida) which, released in these United States theatrically in the early 90s by Streamline, is remembered fondly as a prime example of that blend of blood, guts and tits that endeared a generation of university-aged males to Japanese cartoons in the first place.

Perhaps that’s why when Madhouse announced plans to produce a new version in the late 90s, Urban Vision (who picked up the license to the original D in the post-Streamline years) got in on the production in a big way. Bloodlust has an American composer, its post-production work was all completed in California, and its official language track is in English. (Though a Japanese track was done for the DVD release, the film was shown theatrically in Japan in English with subtitles.)

Bloodlust was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, an official Colony Drop Dude and director of many of the aforementioned blood-guts-and-tits “classics” of the 80s, including an adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s own Wicked City. Kawajiri’s such a perfect fit for D that it was only due to his own relative inexperience at the time of the original, no doubt, that the producers didn’t immediately think, “we need that guy.”

It worked out, because Bloodlust had the budget to do things the original couldn’t. Where the original was about D storming a castle, here he (and rival hunters the Markus Brothers) chase a vampire noble through different environments, making for a kind of post-apocalypse road movie. The film wisely tells us very little about how and why earth has come to be a horrifying shambles, instead simply moving though the story with the world as backdrop.

There are no Tina Turner-style beneficiaries to this apocalypse. Vampires, we’re told, are dying out, hunted to near-extinction. Humans live in small wild west towns, weary of outsiders, or work as bounty hunters (which, judging by the body count of this film, is a pretty short career). D, a half-human, half-vampire Dhampir, has no place in either world; he’s clearly on Team Human, though the feeling’s not exactly mutual. He appears to be motivated by the memory of his human mother, but like any good western anti-hero, he remains largely mysterious.

D has two interesting relationships in the film. One is with Leila, the only Sister in the Markus Brothers crew (played by Megumi Hayashibara in full Faye Valentine mode in the Japanese version). Hating vampires, she’s saved by D early in the film and resents him for it, but their mutual respect evolves as they meet later on. D’s constant companion, and the only other character to appear in both films, is a symbiotic face lodged into D’s palm. He helps D out sometimes, usually by sucking in objects with incredible force (where do they end up? D’s bowels?) but his true purpose is to shed light on the stoic D. He’s a bro.

This film really succeeds because it’s essentially a high-gloss, well-animated version of the 80s OVAs we hold so dear. Kawajiri is in top form as a director. Each of the battles, which make up a large part of the film, feel distinct, are well choreographed and don’t drag. The characters have enough quirks to rise above two-dimensionality. And even though sentences can feel either stretched or compressed, as if the lip-flap is timed for Japanese sentence length, the English track is pretty good. My favorite part of the film, though, are the glimpses we get at Kikuchi’s post-apocalypse rendered in some really beautiful backgrounds and animation.

12,090 AD is a date so far in the future you’ve gotta assume Kikuchi either a) invented an elaborate, Tolkienesque multi-millennium backstory to serve his work, or b) is being kinda cheeky.

My money’s on the latter. Vampire Hunter D, while not outwardly humorous, does have a certain tongue-in-cheek (mouth-in-hand?) quality I really enjoy. It’s a lot of fun for the 16-year-old boy in all of us, and is given great treatment here by Kawajiri and Madhouse.

11 Comments

  1. “Though a Japanese track was done for the DVD release”

    You mean the R2 DVD release, since UV never lived up to its promise of bringing that version here.

    Oh, and don’t forget to add that Blade 3 almost ripped off the story, Blade 2 recycled some of the characters, and 300 ripped off the arrows scene.

    Anyway, I agree about your review of the flick, and really wish it got nominated for Best Animated Film by the Oscars. But UV didn’t have Disney’s pull, so it got denied.

  2. I love the D anime, the original was the first thing I bought on DVD and snapped up Bloodlines the second it was out. Vampire Hunter D, maybe a little Armitage/Iria too, is probably responsible for my love off Japanese cartoons today.

    It’s too bad about the novels Dark Horse published though. I heard that even though they were competently rewritten for the translation they’re incredibly dry making them kind of boring. I would have loved to read them, probably still will some day.

  3. A friend loves the novels and apparently Kikuchi’s exaggerated sense of scale and numbers is in full effect there too. Multiple adversaries and monsters are described with increasing hyperbole (“As long as a million football fields” and that sort). That could be just an established trope within the genre, or he’s totally taking a piss.

  4. karobit: There was this younger female fan at the AX Kikuchi panel a few years back. She was probably more likely to be in a demo interested in Twilight than VHD, but she seemed to be such a fan of the franchise that she even dug the 80s movie! Though, ironically, she had never heard of Kikuchi’s other stuff, like A Wind Named Amnesia, even in anime form.

    BTW, I asked Kikuchi, and he said it just ended up being a coincidence that Kawajiri was involved with so many of his adaptations. He actually had nothing to do with the decision-making process.

  5. I spent a long while trying to track this anime down on DVD without paying too much for it. Lets just say i “rented it” from a blockbuster and told them i forgot where i put the thing. Paying 8 bucks for loosing the copy is still cheaper than what the DVD goes for on ebay now days, last time i checked.

    I have both movies, and the first and third manga that was published that i haven’t had the time to read yet. If more vampire movies and shows were like ol’ D here, I would be into the whole vampires thing than that Twilight BS out there. D made vampires cool long before the craze became the meme.

  6. I forgot the dvd of this did not have the Japanese audio track, was a little disappointed in that. Movie was decent, though. The video game would have been better if the movement/combat was a little less clunky, still an interesting game for at least allowing you to use D’s powers and what not. Big fan of Yoshitaka Amano’s style and can’t wait for Deva Zan.

  7. >Groove-A

    I do have that game. From what I remember that game did have some bad movement controls, but its still pretty cool to have. Its not all that terrible of a game to be quite honest, but your inside the castle the whole time from what I hear. At least that animated intro was cool though.

  8. I loved this movie, but as dated and grainy as the first one was I still love it more (see nostalgia). My only complaint is the way Madhouse cops out on the violence. You see a black screen with a white sword slash then somebody dies. It’s a staple for them even from their earliest animes. Who ever came up with that needs a blackscreenwhiteswordslash across his balls. It’s almost as bad as when still frames are substituted for animation (I’m looking at you M.D. Geist 2).

  9. I remember seeing BLOODLUST when it premiered in NYC back around 2000-2001…and being blown away by it. I had already seen the first VHD film, but this one was just a quantum leap over that (plus, Kawajiri is a fave director of mine).

    After it was done, my friend turned to me and said, “That was better than AKIRA!” His words, not mine, but honestly, I was impressed by the film.

    Granted, there are some changes from the original novel, but it works.

    @Hums: Read the novels. Kikuchi’s writing style for them is rather terse and action-driven, but the translator, Kevin Leahy, is not only a fan of D, but he also knows Kikuchi as well (Leahy is an American living and working in Japan). The novels are great stuff, and they are still being translated into English. Read them.

  10. This movie was one of the first if not the first anime movie I ever saw.(I only see anime for things like this) It really sucks that movies like Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust will never be made again

    As I have said I am not into anime(can’t take the stuff from today) but old stuff like this is golden

  11. I’m not into vampires myself (the opposite is also true), but I happened to own one volume of the novel series a while ago, and while it’s certainly no Asimov, it makes for a pretty amusing fantasy/sci-fi reading. If it’s got anything against it, I’d say it’s that Kikuchi seems a little too much intent on letting us know just how beautiful and elegant his protagonist is, and also that the script is kind of light on D’s motivations. Sure, it was a volume from the middle of a long, ongoing series, and the mystery around D is part of his appeal – but I cannot help thinking that whatever story D has, it’s just secondary to him being a TOTTALY BADASS BISHOUNEN.

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