Directed by: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Starring: Andrew Philpot, John Rafter Lee, Pamela Segall, Wendee Lee, Michael McShane
My Advice: Don’t Miss It.
In 1985, the original Vampire Hunter D came on the anime scene as a near-instant classic. Standing for the horror genre in the same position as Akira for straight-up sci-fi or Ghost in the Shell for cyberpunk, it set a standard for dark, gothic horror storytelling in Japanese animation. Despite the years gone by and the improvements in animation technology and technique, the film still holds up remarkably well.
So when it was announced that there would be a new movie about the exploits of every otaku’s favorite half-human, half-vampire vampire hunter, a bit of trepidation ran through the ranks. Having seen my fair share of classics spoiled by remakes, retreads, and sequels, I was one of the nervous ones. It only took moments, though, before this new entry had won me over. It not only stays true to the vision and dystopian future of the original, but it extends the mythos established by the original, improves on the depth of its leading character, and above all manages to tell a tight, well-focused story that is engaging even to the uninitiated anime viewers of the audience.
[ad#longpost]D, as he is simply known, is a half-breed, known as a Dunpeal, and has dedicated his supernaturally long life to eliminating the vampire menace from a world where bloodsuckers ruled less than a century ago. He’s no straight-shooting hero, though. D does what he does for money, plain and simple. And his work doesn’t come cheap. Add to this the fact that a good number of people don’t trust him any more than the monsters he hunts, and you’ve got a character who stands alone against the world in his own personal crusade for vengeance. The first film gave him a few noble moments of selfless sacrifice for the sake of innocents, but Kawajiri’s sequel casts D as an even quieter, Man With No Name sort of character. Despite the spare dialogue on D’s part, his character comes across very well, and the degree of subtlety possible in the animation itself makes his body language and facial expressions communicate volumes of unspoken meaning.
D is commissioned to return a kidnapped daughter to her small-town bigshot father, destroying the vampire responsible in the process. Matters are complicated by the presence of a team of bounty hunters competing for the big paycheck, and by the daughter’s own complicity in her disappearance. This sets up a wild chase through a blasted future as the vampire and his runaway “bride” flee both the unstoppable D and a team of gung-ho vampire hunters and their arsenal of heavy firepower. The story is very well-paced, and little to no time is wasted on the kinds of sidenotes and subplots that stall many anime films and put off all but the biggest fans of the genre.
The voice cast is incredible, and very well-chosen for all the major parts. Philpot’s Eastwood-esque monotone is perfect for the carefully controlled D, and Michael McShane provides excellent comic relief as the magical parasite that resides in D’s left hand. John Rafter Lee, perhaps best known as the voice of Trevor Goodchild in MTV’s short-lived Aeon Flux, makes an excellent vampire antagonist, and Wendee Lee (a veteran anime voice actress with a career stretching back to the early 80s) is dead-on in her reading of his star-crossed lover.
If you have any interest in anime, this film is an absolute must, and will join its predecessor in the ranks of must-see anime films in short order. If you’re not an anime fan, I can think of few better introductions to the form, and if you’re a horror buff, this movie has what all the recent Hollywood slash-fests and lame ghost stories have been lacking — style and story.