The original Vampire Hunter D OVA, based on the manga series by Hideyuki Kikuchi, is considered a classic by fans of animated horror. However, twenty years after its release there is no denying that it is looking a little dated now and the depth of storyline leaves a little to be desired. Just well then that Yoshiaki Kawajiri, director of the gore-filled action fest Ninja Scroll, directed an animated adaptation that brings D back to our screens, and it soon becomes clear that he’s looking better than ever.
Using the third manga novel rather than the first for inspiration as the OVA was, Bloodlust is a sequel of sorts; it’s pretty self-contained though so past experience of D and the world in which he lives are not essential. In fact, the setup is fairly similar: the half human, half vampire hero is given the task of rescuing a girl from the clutches of a vampire who has kidnapped her as his bride; this time things are made more complicated by the fact that the vampire Meier Link is a particularly formidable adversary and Charlotte, his supposed victim, might not want to be saved at all. In addition D also has to contend with the Markus brothers, vampire hunters who have also been sent by Charlotte’s family and are rivals for the bounty on Meier’s head.
At first the film makes little effort to do anything out of the ordinary: the Markus brothers are the typical tough, muscle-bound action types and the whole affair feels like a retread of the OVA. Once the action gets off the ground Bloodlust really comes into its own: having not one but two parties after the vampire and his victim adds some variety to the mix and Studio Madhouse have once again delivered the goods in the visuals department. Every scene in the movie looks superb: the characters and backgrounds are drawn with attention to detail and the action is fast and slick. As expected D runs up against plenty of imaginative and suitably gruesome supernatural creatures and even Meier Link is more than a bloodsucking monster. After all, it’s not often that a vampire is portrayed as having an emotional side!
In contrast D is still a bit of an enigma. The OVA hinted that he has something of an interesting past but it did not go much further: even here this issue is not really addressed and by the end of the film we do not learn much that we did not know at the beginning. Of course he is still the ultra-cool, almost invincible half-vampire with a wisecracking, possessed hand that swallows souls but his motivations extend far beyond financial gains and it might have been interesting to learn more about him. On the plus side we are left with an iconic figure that retains much of his mystique, which is one of the main reasons why D has such a loyal following.
It is also important to note that this release has no Japanese language dialogue option. Fortunately it was originally produced (unusually) with the English dub in mind so the film is none the worse for it. Although the spoken lines are rather low in the soundtrack mix the cast pull off some convincing performances and a film that relies so heavily on visuals and action scenes is always going to be fairly light on dialogue anyway.
As both an action film and an atmospheric thriller, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust succeeds in a stylish and spectacular fashion. The futuristic setting blends well with the gothic imagery and the occasional Wild-West feel and has much more to offer than the apparently simple premise suggests. Those somewhat disappointed with the OVA will be pleased to know that in this case the sequel is the superior film: if you are looking for blood-soaked action with top-notch animation, look no further.