Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust Review
A sequel of sorts to the 1985 original Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust sees the highly skilled 'D' take on another mission that involves hunting down the breed he despises so much. Written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the man behind such fan favourites as Lensman and Ninja Scroll one thing was assured from the moment Bloodlust went into production, and that was a film that should easily match the quite average originals action sequences with any other benefits considered a bonus. Fortunately Kawajiri and his team at Madhouse Animation Studios delivered and in this reviewer’s opinion, bettered the original.
Set in the distant future the world of Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust is not that of the sprawling metropolises seen in most anime but instead a desolate wasteland littered with remote villages where people live in constant fear due to the recent rise and superiority of the Vampire breed. Fortunately there are many bounty hunters who delight in ridding the world of these creatures (at a cost of course) and 'D' is one such individual. There is however something unusual about the dark brooding signature character, who we discover is a Dunpeal, a human/vampire crossbreed who benefits from many of the Vampires' strengths, but few of their weaknesses.
Bloodlust opens with a young lady by the name of Charlotte seemingly being kidnapped by the powerful vampire, Meier Link. 'D' is summoned by the ladies father to take on the mission of rescuing, or should he arrive too late, killing her. Taking on the mission 'D' soon finds he is not alone in the quest to save Charlotte as a family of Vampire Hunters, the Markus Brothers, are after the same bounty hence a little healthy competition ensues as does an uneasy relationship between 'D' and Leila, a member of the Markus Brothers family. As both 'D' and the Markus Brothers hunt down Meier Link (who is on a journey to an unknown destination) they have to overcome many enemies, deal with issues from their past and consider the possibility that Charlotte was not kidnapped, but instead went with Meier of her own free will.
Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri has succeeded in creating a fine action adventure title that delivers in all the areas you might expect it to. From the very first signature shot of 'D' on horseback, cape flowing with the moon in the background you understand that this is a film designed to look good as it proceeds to entertain you with sequence after sequence of inventive action as 'D' and the Markus Brothers encounter a number of strange foes. Indeed the character design from Yutaka Minowa is often simple yet effective and allows the bold action sequences to stand out while the sound design seen in this release is as important as anything to have come from Hollywood in recent years as it really is part of the films impact and when viewed on a standard set-up would no doubt detract heavily from the films overall effect.
At times the animation on show is simply breathtaking with several sequences (including the aforementioned signature shot) requiring repeated viewing but it has to be said for the most part the actual look of the film has not progressed a great deal from the 1985 original. One area that I challenge anyone to walk away from and not be impressed though is with the powerful original soundtrack from Marco D'Ambrosio who utilising a full orchestra has created a score that really draws you in and keeps you enthralled as the adventure continues onscreen. Continuing with the audio side of the feature anime purists are challenged by the fact Bloodlust was a collaborative effort, with all the story and animation being solely the work of the Japanese studio while the audio production took place in the US which means the original dub track is English. Fortunately the success of this collaborative effort extends beyond the score and effects, as the principal English dub cast are generally good with the most important character handled with ease by Andrew Philpot who delivers a subtle yet appropriately deep voiced 'D'. As was to be expected though not all the characters are blessed with equally strong voice-acting performances as many of the secondary characters are quite mediocre and even a few main characters (such as the Markus Brothers) are merely adequate and uninspired.
Sadly like many action adventure titles Bloodlust falls down in the scripting area which although on the whole is fairly tight does fall into the trap of having characters over-explain things. This is not only insulting to the viewer but tends to make several scenes feel a little laboured, hurting the films pacing. Along with the aforementioned voice acting quibbles there is little else to tell, for what it lacks in depth Bloodlust more than makes up with entertaining action set pieces, an interesting view on the Vampire mythos and slick production values. Ultimately this mars repeat viewings but providing you’re not looking for anything more then you should be pleasantly surprised.
Finally, for anyone concerned that Bloodlust is a sequel you need not be. Beyond the themes explored and characters involved there is no continuation from the originals storyline, Bloodlust simply has 'D' take on another mission with its own unique conclusions. The only warning I will give to those with a severe dislike of spoilers is that Bloodlust does give away the main revelation that occurs in the final minutes of the original film. I do not however feel this is anything to be concerned with, as its fairly obvious anyway.
Both the packaging and menu system deserve praise as Urban Vision has done a fine job in both areas. The DVD is held in a red Armaray case, while the front cover sleeve artwork is pure black with only a blood red cross present. The Armaray case is then contained within a cardboard slipcase that features a superb piece of artwork that is in the fashion of Yoshitaka Amano's original 'D' design.
Moving onto the menu system you will find it is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with DD5.1 Audio while each page features various pieces of artwork from the film, making it a genuinely interesting menu system to browse.
As you might expect for such a recent release Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is presented at its original 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio and features Anamorphic Enhancement. The print used is mostly in very good condition but surprisingly there are several occasions where specks of dirt and scratches are noticeable, while grain is also present but fortunately is kept to a barely noticeable level. The transfer is very pleasing with detail levels that bring out everything the animation has to offer while colours are vibrant and blacks deep and bold. Any compression problems you might associate with animation on DVD is kept to a bare minimum, with no sign of colour bleeding or line noise present while the only slight problem stems from the presence of film grain, and results in some slightly unstable night skies. Despite this one very minor flaw the transfer here is absolutely stunning and it is such a joy to see anime presented as it is here.
Bloodlust is a rare anime title in that the original dub track is English and as such there will be no complaints here due to the lack of a Japanese dialogue track, although as there is one available it would have made a fine inclusion on this disc, but it was not to be! What we have then is the original English language dub presented in glorious Dolby Digital 5.1 that was mixed at the Skywalker ranch and to say it will open your eyes to how anime can sound on DVD is an understatement. From the very beginning your room will be engulfed in the wonders of surround sound as the films dynamic score is lovingly recreated across all four primary surround speakers. Dialogue is clearly presented through the centre speaker and is also given some directionality when required while sound effects are carefully placed to create a superior sound experience. Your subwoofer too will be given a workout as the film is not short of impressive action sequences that delight in taking advantage of the LFE sound channel.
Urban Vision has collected a reasonable selection of extra features for your viewing pleasure that range from the informative to the plain useless. At the informative end of the scale you will find a 22-minute Behind the Scenes Featurette that sees several of the US and Japanese crew members discuss the films conception although it soon moves on to focus on the Japanese/US co-production and in particular the audio side of the film which from dialogue to sound effects to the original score was entirely created in the US. Here you get to see each of these audio segments in the making but sadly due to the running time this featurette is a little light on information and unsurprisingly left me wanting more, what is here though is certainly worth your time.
The next interesting extra is a Storyboard to Feature Comparison section where you can view 3 sequences from the film presented in three angles, Storyboard, Final Feature and both Storyboard and Final Feature onscreen at once (the final feature is seen in a window). This feature is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with DD5.1 Audio and offers you a great opportunity to see how close to the original storyboards the final feature is.
Moving on to the more standard extra features you will find three Theatrical Trailers, and two TV-Spots. The US & Japanese Theatrical Trailers are presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with DD5.1 Audio while the best of the bunch, the Korean Theatrical Trailer, is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with DD5.1 Audio. Both the US and Japanese TV-Spots are presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen with DD2.0 Audio. Urban Vision has also kindly included trailers for 13 of their DVD releases.
Somewhere between the interesting and the mundane is a Merchandise section that showcases some gorgeous Vampire Hunter-D Statues (with a price-tag to match!), some not so interesting T-Shirt designs while a separate Original Film Cells section acts as a Gallery of original artwork.
Finally we move on to the one useless extra feature which turns out to be a Fans Favourite Scenes section that showcases 10 scenes ranked according to an online poll. Not only is this feature merely padding out the disc but the scenes are presented inside a window diminishing their quality, and the number one choice is just plain wrong!
If you are looking for an action packed title that is also an audio/visual feast then look no further than Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust which manages to deliver in its own shallow way, as does this fine DVD from Urban Vision that provides fans with an anime the way it deserves to be seen.