Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust Review
With a review on the site for quite some time now based on the Region 1 DVD offering from Urban Vision, I have updated the main text here and followed this with a look at the Region 2 DVD release from Optimum Asia.
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.
Picture and Sound
Presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen the transfer here essentially mimics the R1 offering. Taken from a film source the print features some occasional white speckling and a natural level of grain which lends the proceedings a hint of gothic authenticity. These points aside the source is in pristine condition allowing for the dark settings to be reproduced admirably on DVD, with high detail levels, deep contrast and natural colours the transfer is only let down by some instability in the background hues which result in a minor shimmering effect.
Where the R1 boasts an aggressive, balanced and above all engaging 5.1 mix with enough bass to bring the walls down around you the R2 receives a crushing blow with what can only be a serious oversight in the mixing process. Incredibly subdued the 5.1 mix is several decibels too low, something I tried to cure by my turning my system up as loud as the speakers can handle, but even then dialogue was crippled and the soundstage simply un-involving and downright depressing in comparison. A 2.0 Stereo mix is also present and by all accounts, is the better option simply because its mixed to the appropriate levels, but on a film that is so dependent on sound design the 5.1 option is completely necessary, and a major letdown here.
No subtitles are provided on the disc.
NOTE: Having checked on the 5.1 issue with Optimum their authoring house assures me there are no problems. As with most reviews we use pre-retail copies so it is feasible the retail discs feature the 5.1 mix in all its R1 glory, but until I can experience this first hand or you, the reader can comment on your findings I will assume the 5.1 mix I heard is the one anyone purchasing the disc will hear. Because technically, the disc I have is free of authoring faults, it just has a sub-par audio mix.
Licensed from Urban Vision we have a similar set of bonus material as found on the R1 equivalent. The best of a small bunch is the 22-minute Behind the Scenes Featurette that sees several of the US and Japanese crew members discuss the films conception before moving 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.
We also get the Storyboard to Screen feature which allows you to view three sequences from the film via a multi-angle setup, with both the finished animation and storyboards on screen at once or separately. The only other extra to make it over is the rather pointless Fans Favorites (with "favourite" spelt the American way) which has the '10 best scenes' according to an online poll. Presented in a window boxed frame they don't even look very good so its unlikely you'll bother with this.
Rounding out the bonus material is an Optimum Asia trailer reel which includes everything they've released to date with a hint of what is to come.
Bloodlust is a fine feature-length anime production with enough thrills and bloody spills to satisfy both old-school and newcomers to the genre alike, and after having taken way to long to reach these shores the dodgy 5.1 mix is a serious kick in the teeth. If as I am told, this has been rectified for the retail release then the Optimum Asia DVD comes recommended, if not then I suggest you consider the R1 or R4 alternatives.
Comments from anyone with the R2 would be most appreciated...
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