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Vampire Hunter D Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Vampire hunter D BD Cover FrontA hard, cruel world.

What They Say:
For 10,000 years, Count Magnus Lee has walked the night, sustained by an unholy thirst for blood and an unending lust for human women. But when he tastes the sweet nectar running through Doris Lang’s veins, the Count knows he has found more than his next meal: this is the woman he intends to claim as his next vampire bride. As the daughter of a werewolf hunter, however, Doris Lang is less than willing to step into the thrall of evil. And if she is unable to defend herself from the Count’s nightmarish powers, she is fortunate enough to have found someone who can: the Vampire Hunter known as D. But D is no ordinary man, and signing up for his protection may carry a price of its own.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and a newly created English language track, both of which are in stereo and encoded using DTS-HD MA’s lossless codec. The feature is one that is certainly a product of its time and it’s hard to give it grief for that, but it does work fairly well overall, all things considered. There’s some decent dynamics across the forward soundstage, small as it is, and there come some moments where the impacts or the slices of the sword works well. But it’s not a mix that really jumps out at you, especially not like it did back in the day. But what we do get brings out the best of what it is. The English language track is something that has me uncertain in a sense because I’ve so long associated the original language track, which is unavailable for use here, and hearing it with different actors just has it feeling very not-right in a sense. They all perform well and the technical side is spot on, but I ended up too distracted by it being not what my mind kept telling me it should be.

Originally in theaters in 1985, the transfer for this feature film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Ashi Productions, the transfer here is obviously vastly improved over previous editions released in North America. I still remember my VHS tape and being in awe of how the film looks, and enjoying the previous DVD release. While there’s certainly film grain alongside the expected bits of dust and other elements that are in the film at this point, the transfer as a whole is vastly improved in color definition and clarity. The result is that the film takes on a brand new life here, seen in a way that I don’t believe that I’ve seen it before. Colors are strong throughout and there’s some great smoothness to the animation in the high-quality scenes that comes through beautifully here. The animation may be showing its age here on its thirtieth anniversary, but everything comes through in a really great way here.

The packaging design here is fantastic overall as we get a standard-sized Blu-ray case to hold the single disc. The draw, of course, is the lushly detailed illustration that we get of D and the woman he rescues here. It’s got a lot of darkness to it with all the black space, but that draws the focus in towards the character artwork. Which is quite beautiful and makes me wish we could get some high-quality modern day made posters for it. The logo is kept to the lower left with blood splattered of it while there’s a decent line or two above the top as a selling point. It’s the artwork that really gets you though. The back cover is traditional with four quadrants of shots from the show presented to it and a solid depth summary of the premise that captures the concepts behind it well enough. The features are listed clearly and we get a solid production and technical grid. I do wish that it made it clearer that the original English language track isn’t here, but I’m not surprised that it’s not mentioned. No show inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release goes simple but with some good in-theme elements to let it stand out more. The idea of using the artwork from the cover is a given as it zooms in and uses some brighter tones to it, which draws out some of the details and colors more. It takes up the bulk of the screen and the logo is mostly well placed to add a little more weight to it. The left side goes for the approach of a kind of gothic style navigation design where it’s like a mirror almost that juts out while holding the navigation itself inside. It uses a good bit of font design to add more character while also being rather good as a pop-up menu to add to the moment sometimes. Everything loads quickly and cleanly in both forms, making it a very easy to use menu for what little is here.

The only extra included here is the original Japanese trailer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the first of many, many novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Vampire Hunter D is one of those important parts of the early domestic anime industry. Originally released here in the late 80’s through Streamline Pictures in dub only form, it introduced a generation of fans to the dark action/horror genre with some good tastes of romance mixed into it. While it didn’t represent all 80’s anime by a long shot, it was what dominated what anime was brought over here at that point for the most part. The film eventually spawned a sequel and now a new TV series is finally in the works, but it’s the kind of thing that’s felt like it’s taken far too long to get there. With twenty-six novels out there so far, there’s more than enough material for it. Revisiting this film after a long time just reinforces that more needs to be made.

The premise of the film is straightforward enough as a young woman seeks the help of a mysterious stranger to help her escape the cruel deeds of a dark master of the lands. In essence, you can track the entire film from just that one line with its plot. What makes it work are the trappings of the film as that gives it some intriguing weight that you wish we had more time for it to be explored. The film takes place in the year 12,090 where the world is in ruins after a nuclear war some time ago, one that may have been triggered by the vampires that now control humanity. Known as Nobles, they have their little fiefdoms and rule them in just the way you’d expect. We’re introduced to the air that’s controlled y Count Lee, a vampire who has been alive for over ten thousand years.

While there are all sorts of ways someone of this age might amuse themselves, he goes for the base amusements of picking a human woman every forty or fifty years to be his bride and distract him for some time. His focus now has turned on the seventeen year old Doris, a local villager with a younger brother. She’s your strong type overall but she can do only so much against a Noble, particularly once he bites her and bides his time until she’s under his thrall completely. Doris comes across well overall from what we see of her as her focus is on protecting her brother and making sure things don’t go badly for him, especially with the Count’s enforcers who want to make things problematic when they come to collect her later. Doris doesn’t have any richness of character unfortunately but it’s largely expected in a world where it’s all about survival. And she’s definitely about that as she protects her lands and her family pretty well when you get down to it. If not for the Noble, at least.

While Doris provides a lot of the dialogue for the film in explaining various things, as does the Count, the character that garners the most attention is that of D. D is your classic spaghetti western man with no name that wanders the lands and deals out justice. With few words in general and cloaked in a way that makes him even more mysterious, he works very well in this regard. At least until Doris’ please end up drawing him into the dangerous situation of dealing with the Count. D’s the kind of character where you know there’s more to him from the start and it’s easy to surmise that he’s the Sacred Ancestor that’s talked about as it progresses. The obvious guess that he’s Dracula is one that can be made, though it’s a little more than that which makes it a bit more interesting and open to really telling its own tale. One that I believe comes from novels other than the one this is based on. What we get from D though is that he’s a dhampier, a half of man and vampire, and one that is dealing with the elimination of vampire-kind that acts wrongly in the world. Which is most of them as one might guess. With the weakened mankind unable to do so, he fills the role that’s needed and does it with style and some really creepy and clever tricks – notably with that special hand he has.

Vampire Hunter D is something that is definitely of its time but is also the kind of property that can be fleshed out in some great ways to be very relevant. I suspect that the novels are a bit more involved than what the film is, as what we get here is very straightforward, and with twenty-six of them out there and still ongoing it’s a vast world to explore. But like a lot of starting points, what we get is familiar and predictable. That doesn’t equal bad, however. What this film does is establish the world that the characters inhabit and the kind of social structure that exists. It’s one mired in the past and it’s easy to see the cyclical aspect happening, especially in a world ruined like this and with beings like this having all the power. It’s certainly sufficiently creepy, though it’s also a film that doesn’t stand out like it once did as times have changed so much.

In Summary:
Vampire Hunter D is one of those early works that was my gateway into anime. There’s a certain nostalgia to it be sure but also the understanding that it can be viewed as somewhat quaint these days, from story to animation and to some of the structural aspects of it. But it’s a solidly put together movie through and through and it’s the kind of work that should have launched a generation’s worth of films that followed in the way that the Lupin movies and specials happen. This new release brings the classic back to the market in the best way it’s ever looked and sounded over here and is definitely shelf-worthy for fans of it and for those curious to try it out. Some aspects are certainly dated and I’ll miss the original dub for it, but Sentai Filmworks has added another of the classic anime release jewels to their crown.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Trailer

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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