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Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Sentai Filmworks
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/25/2015

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/6/2015

While it's not the most popular form of entertainment, anime has a very large following which has grown over the years. In the 70s, we got poorly dubbed and often watered-down versions of Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Starblazers. Today, Adult Swim features a regular block of anime and Netflix has many selections. If you go into Hot Topic, you'll see tons of merchandise from Attack on Titan, Death Note and Black Butler. During the 1990s, before the Internet changed everything, those who liked movies which were different and obscure began to hunt down certain anime titles, one of which was Vampire Hunter D. Now that the film is available in America and anime is ubiquitous, does the movie retain its mystique.

Vampire Hunter D is set in a distant future where vampires rule the land and humans cower in fear. Doris (voiced by Michie Tomizawa) wanders into vampire territory and is bitten by Count Mangus (voiced by Seizo Kato). The next day, D (voiced by Kaneto Shiozawa) comes to town and agrees to protect Doris, and her brother, Dan (Keiko Toda). D begins to investigate the local vampires and learns that Magnus is a very ancient vampire whose roots go back a long way. He also learns that Mangnus is protected by Lamika (voiced by Satoko Kito), who is Lee’s daughter, and Rei Ginsei (voiced by Kazuyuki Sogabe). Meanwhile, Greco (Yusaku Yara), the mayor’s son, plots to expose D and Doris to the town and gain favor with the vampires.

Released in 1985, Vampire Hunter D gained a cult following and was viewed as a “must-see” for Americans who were curious about just how crazy anime can get. (I used to get a newsletter from the late Chas. Balun listing import movies which he had for sell and I clearly remember that Vampire Hunter D was one of them.) I can see how the film would have had some appeal at that time. In the grand scheme of things, it is pretty wacky, as D must fight various mutant creatures when he visits the vampire’s castle, and there is a truly weird seen in which D battles a monster which is like a hydra made of topless women. The final battle features some mild gore with at least one head exploding. However, when viewed today, Vampire Hunter D comes across as somewhat tame. Yes, there is mild nudity and some blood, but it is no more shocking than many mainstream television shows.

In fact, the entire affair feels quite dated. While the character and creature designs are interesting (what is up with D’s big hat?), the animation sorely lacks in detail at times and feels quite choppy as some of the movement isn’t very smooth. We get the stereotypical anime touches, such as strange background patterns when a character leaps into action or uses of “glittery” lighting, but, and I hate to say that this looks like an old cartoon, but this looks like an old cartoon. (When D encounters the mutants in the castle, some of them look as if they were quickly scribbled on the cell.)

The biggest problem with Vampire Hunter D is the story. I don’t know if we were expected to be familiar with the source novel, but the story is incredibly vague and it feels like a sequel at times. We learn next to nothing about how and why vampires rule the world. We don’t learn anything about D and I noted that somehow Doris knew D’s name, although he never told her. We do learn that D has a mouth in his hand which talks to him (and narrates the story), but we don’t get a clue as to why this phenomenon exists, as it just suddenly shows up in the second act. The story is very episodic and its often hard to discern the character’s motivations. I can say that I learned that Dracula’s last name was Lee, which is something that I did not know.

Having seen Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and enjoyed it, I expected something similar from Vampire Hunter D. While the movie had some interesting ideas, the execution was all over the place and it ran the gamut from frustrating to boring. Again, I can see why this was revolutionary in 1985, but today it feels very stale.

Vampire Hunter D also doesn’t explain how Doris and Dan are Japanese names on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sentai Filmworks. The film is framed at 1.33:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but it does reveal flaws in the source materials. Mild grain and odd lines in the animation are very obvious in this HD transfer. The colors look fine, but like a lot of anime from this era, the color palette seems oddly random and things look washed out in some shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some notable stereo effects here and the score sounds fine, but the track sounds somewhat flat at times.

The lone extra on the Vampire Hunter D Blu-ray Disc is a TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long