Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

It shouldn’t work as well as it does.  Not with its heady mix of what would seem incompatible elements:  space stations, vampires and a stage coach; science fiction, gothic horror and even a Western.

And yet, there it is, one of the finer examples of the art of Japanese animation, a dark action film with strong characters and non-stop suspense.

It certainly is miles better than the 1985 cult favorite Vampire Hunter D.  

I found the earlier film visually impressive, but ultimately let down by a story that dragged on too long – something that is far too often true of Anime.  One suspects that their frequent origin as adaptations of Manga has a lot to do with this.

But Bloodlust not only avoids this pitfall, but it represents a huge visual leap forward, with vast Gothic castles, tracking shots through the crosses on the roofs of a dense city, impressive vehicles and weapons, far better character animation, and best of all, a Gothic spaceship and space station.  It looks, in fact, like the illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano that accompany the original “D” novels, and it does a far better job of the creating the mood of those stories than the first movie did.

It is intriguing to note that D falls neatly into the mold of the classic Gothic hero – flawed, and warped by the dark secrets he’s forced to carry – and at the same time is also a classic hero from Westerns like Shane – the man whose violent past and nature will never allow him to live at peace among the people he has to protect.  It was hardly obvious that the two had so much in common.  And, with the greater emphasis on characterization and story in this film, we get to see (particularly in the final scene) just how heavy his burden really is.

It is also worth noting that the English language version was far better than one usually gets from a non-Miyazaki anime, as it was done at the same time as the movie itself.  One does wish that would happen more often.

All in all, a rare treasure of a film.  We’re just being greedy when we wish all Anime were this good.

Although I would settle for half.

(For a look at other movies that combined SF and Gothic horror, see this essay at Clarkesworld.)

(For more films by Yoshiaki Kawajiri see here)

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