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Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust UK Anime DVD Review

11 min read

The return of the classic…

What They Say:
“The enigmatic Vampire Hunter known only as D has been hired to track down Meier Link, a notoriously powerful vampire who has abducted a human woman named Charlotte Elbourne. D’s orders are strict – find Charlotte, at any cost. For the first time D faces serious competition. The Markus Brothers, a family of Vampire Hunters, have been hired for the same bounty. D must intercept Meier and conquer hostile forces on all sides in a deadly race against time. Despised by Vampires for his profession and by Humans for the blood in his veins, D relentlessly pursues his prey, little expecting where his journey will ultimately take him, as long buried secrets resurface once more.”

The Review:
Audio:
A very rare release as this has only an English track – 5.1 and 2.0 for hard of hearing with subtitles. This is actually legitimate as well as despite the obvious Japanese production Vampire Hunter D was actually more popular in western audiences (similar to shows like The Big O) and originally got released BEFORE the Japanese one (and when it did, it had Japanese subtitles and originally no Japanese track – there is one now though so still surprised it didn’t get it). So whilst can understand still surprised the later track wasn’t added even to the Blu-Ray release – that said, the quality is superb as no adjustment needed with the 5.1 release and ready to rock, and one of the few English only releases can understand to a mild extent but knowing the Japanese track is out there, feels a bit of a waste.

Video:
Despite it being an older release, the video is presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format making it a true surprise transfer and making the clarity of the animation come through and it makes it look fantastic combining the dark gritty atmosphere with the vampiric themes (especially when changing to light scenes, the real goth atmosphere really comes through) combined with no repeated animation, therefore it still transfers well onto the screen, with no real noticeable issues. This definitely feels like one of the better older transfers – the only gripe is that sometimes it can look a bit gritty when it gets too dark – I didn’t notice any delay when pausing the show which is a common gripe from older releases onto DVD format – but not wholly distracting.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release.

Menu:
The menu is very basic with D overlooking and dominating all of the background with bats hovering across a full moon – the selections are below him in a red text of Play Feature, Scenes, Set Up and Extras. It doesn’t delay when selecting so feels more of a Blu-Ray in that respect and no issues returning to the main menu – standard but effective.

Extras:
We have a few extras for this special release of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. We have some standard ones of the US Theatrical Trailer and Television Spot (which again, are a bit more unique as this aired in the US before Japan), the Japanese Theatrical Trailer (in English but with Japanese subtitles), Japanese Television Spot and also the Korean Theatrical Trailer.

The more unique extras are that we have a behind the scenes featurette – which combined the Japanese staff working behind the scenes with the work of the English dub which again, was done BEFORE the Japanese release. So we see some of the cast working behind the mic, an interview with Yoshiaki Kawajiri (director), Hisashi Abe (animation director) and cutting back to the English side of things, with the English VAs working behind the mic, Yasushi Nirasawa (Conceptual Designer), Jack Fletcher (Dialogue Director), Mike McShane (voice of Left Hand), Ellen More (English scriptwriter), Terri d’Ambrosio (Audio Post Supervisor) see work between sessions in Muir Woods, San Francisco, (which includes the Japanese director watching the English production), Yutaka Minowa (Character design/Animation director), Marco d’Ambrosio (Composer/Audio Producer), Matt McKenzie (VA Borgoff) and Mataichiro Yamamoto (Producer) all showcased whilst we watch some of the recording in Spark Studios, California – it was a huge production back in the day and glad we got some insight on how it all came about.

We get a section called Storyboard to Screen, where we see the rough sketches of three of the segments with the music/vocals in the background (Abduction, Where The Heart Is & The Ring) so just still sketches but with the movie atmosphere there ready to turn into animation.

Lastly, we have an art gallery, which is set to some atmospheric music, flowing throughout the gritty images.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Retro or older releases seem to be coming back in a big way thanks to some cheap licences by Manga and Anime Ltd – recently reviewed Chrono Crusade, Kinos Journey and Peacemaker Kurogane from the classic range of Anime Ltd and now this classic comes back on Blu-ray and DVD – this did originally get a UK release back in 2004, and originally released in 2000, this was one of those rare franchises that seemed to do better in the West (Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Big O) than in the East to the point the movie actually got an English dub ahead of a Japanese one – this rectifies in this release as we get just the English dub release, though not necessarily a bad thing considering how much care this got in comparison to other ones – the behind the scenes show this was done like a proper theatrical release for example. However, with nearly 20 years since it came out, does it hold up?

The good thing is that if you aren’t up to Vampire Hunter D lore, the movie is good enough as a standalone film without going into the deep history – granted you may be confused about the symbiote that he has on his hand but it isn’t a huge deal as the story is easy enough to figure – D is a vampire hunter but is also part vampire, and has to deal with urges and control combined with morals and conflictions with his job as we see in this stand-alone case.

The story as mentioned is quite straightforward – we see a young woman named Charlotte is apparently kidnapped by a vampire named Meier Link, a nobleman/Baron of the underworld. What is unusual about this is that he is not known to attack humans so this is unusual to D, who is hired by Charlotte’s father and brother, to either rescue her or if she has been turned, kill her. D agrees (albeit with a high fee) but is also been told that others are also working for them, a group of vampire hunters named the Marcus brothers – all with unique skills but the main one that is focused on is the lone female Leila, who is different to the rest as she seems to have a motive to kill the vampires rather than just for money.

We get the clashes between D and the Marcus family, with D being very stoic and not wanting to get involved whilst the family want to use D and then get ahead of him to get the money, though Leila definitely seems intrigued by him, both positively as a hunter and negatively because of his part-vampire stats. It becomes a race but there is a pit stop and a half as Meier is not dumb and has hired some mutant bodyguards, with three in particular a shape shifter, a shadow users and a werewolf causing major problems for the group…

Indeed, most of the Marcus family slowly get killed as Leila continues to interact with D and even separates from them during a sequence when D appears to be under the sunlight too long and even saves him by getting him to ground (not helped by his snarky symbiote called Left Hand calling him out on it) – however the truth was also learned by D as he overheard Charlotte call out Meier’s name when he was first fighting him which is later confirmed that Charlotte left willingly as the two are in fact in love, with the obvious concerns with a vampire/human relationship show-cased – indeed, there is at least one occasion where Meier weakened, is tempted to bite Charlotte but does actually withhold his urges…which of course means there must be something deeper with this ‘abduction…’

From this, Leila and D learn about each other, specifically that Leila kills vampires because a vampire killed her mother – her mentality being an only good vampire is a dead one. The contrast between her and D is interesting as he tells her that he basically has no choice because of his half-vampirism and longs for the life that she could have, just as a normal human which Leila denies due to her work. The two actually make a pact that if either of them survives, the survives will bring flowers to the others grave…an interesting thing considering D is pretty much non-aging yet can still be killed via vampires weaknesses and suspects he may not live through this fight…

It leads to the finale, where Meier and Charlotte go to a castle where his superior Carmilla, a countess awaits. With D eventually killing all his bodyguards, Carmilla is a spirit of the past who materialized in physical form, she was killed by D’s father so promises the two that they will be free to love each other in the City of the Night, a vampire haven of sorts via strangely, a space-ship like travel underneath the castle (with all the gritty realism for what is a fantasy story in terms of vampires, this one does come out of left field) – Carmilla does explain this saying this was common back in the days when vampires were at their most common and powerful so it is a risk considering it is dormant but offers it to them…

Leila becomes the only one who survives of the group as D separates and travels on his own with Carmilla playing a few tricks on them to screw them over, with Carmilla trying to manipulate D which visions of his mother but D rejects this, knowing his mother is dead – because it turns out Carmilla is betraying Meier and Charlotte as well. Carmilla in fact trapped Charlotte in an area where her blood is being drained, as her virgin blood can be used to bring her form back to life. D is forced to fight Meier because he doesn’t want Charlotte taken away (not realising what Carmilla is doing) and D realising what is going on doesn’t kill Meier, yet Charlotte sadly passes away despite D defeating Carmilla’s ghost, so he takes the ring off her as proof to her family, and leaves with Leila whilst Meier lives on to leave with Charlotte’s body to the City of the Night. The final scene of the film reveals that the promise they made was kept by D, as in the future D meets Leila’s granddaughter at her grave as the film ends in a surprising positive note as D puts aside a worry Leila had when she thought no one would mourn her death…

The movie, in essence, is a race to ‘save’ Charlotte, because D and the antagonist hunters with one of them getting more airtime and development as the movie will allow. The fact that Charlotte and Meier want to be together seems to be an inconvenience for the hunters (albeit that maybe because of the reward money) yet D’s willingness to let Meier live and Leila managing to let go her hatred of vampires are points that develop throughout the movie and it is commended how well it does to do that. Leila doesn’t have the strongest bond with the group (only her disabled brother seems to be the only one she truly cares for) so her interactions with D are key to her slowly (very slowly) getting off the vampire hate to the point of the promise made by her to D. D himself is categorized as very stoic, and not showing much emotion, but hidden beneath that exterior which is very money focused, is one that definitely has a hidden heart. You don’t get much interaction with Left Hand, but the powers and dynamic are very different, and it contrasts well with the character.

The Charlotte/Meier twist that she wasn’t kidnapped as well adds to that dynamic and despite everything the relationship was definitely there, albeit not as expanded to as I would have hoped. That said, the fact Meier is incredibly strong and D spares him shows via the future that nothing untoward happened to D and we assume he lived out his life in the City of the Night. The issue is that the relationship is scuppered by the true antagonist in Carmilla, which comes a little late and the twist of her betraying them does feel a tad rushed and a bit anticlimactic, though I will say that the ideas were there when she manipulates the last brother and he gets turned, and then the visions of both D and Leila. The problem was as a boss character, she herself was defeated quite easily and went back to the feud between D and Meier – which in turn pretty much turned Charlotte’s character to pretty much set in stone.

That said, it is a nitpick as if it had expanded maybe 10 minutes longer with more detail of her history this would have been perfect. As it is, it is still a great movie and the gritty atmosphere hasn’t aged it too badly – the dark series are still out there and still enjoyable and intelligent. D is still a catalyst for a vampire character – powerful but still with traditional weaknesses and also thoughtful morals vs. personal benefit. Add to that an interesting relationship with Leila, complicated antagonists, and a sweet finale, certain not bad especially at the price.

In Summary:
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust has aged 18 years in terms of production but not so much in terms of quality. An excellent film – D is a character that, forgive the joke, hasn’t aged in that time and the switch between his stoic persona vs. Left Hand gives it a timeless feel that even if you haven’t watched or read any VHD material beforehand you can still get into the movie. Whilst felt it could have benefited from a bit more back-story with the Baron, Charlotte and the true villain, it was still an interesting and above all, intelligent film that brings out a gritty finale. Definitely one for the money.

Features:
US Theatrical Trailer, US Television Spot, Japanese Theatrical Trailer, Japanese Television Spot, Korean Theatrical Trailer, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Storyboard to Screen, Art Gallery

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

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: July 16th, 2018
MSRP: £14.99
Running Time: 101 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Review Equipment:
PlayStation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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