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  Vampire Hunter D D-licious
Year: 1985
Director: Toyoo Ashida
Stars: Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuyuki Sogabe, Satoko Kito, Seizo Kato, Kan Tokumaru, Kazuko Yanaga, Kazumi Tanaka, Keiko Toda, Motomo Kiyokawa
Genre: Horror, Western, Animated, Science Fiction, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ten thousand years in the future humanity has regressed into quasi-medieval communities subjugated and terrorised by feudal vampire lords. When vampire patriarch Count Magnus Lee (voiced by Seizo Kato) selects Doris (Michie Tomizawa), a Pollyanna-styled, micro miniskirted farm girl as his unwilling bride, the desperate girl turns to a mysterious cloaked vampire hunter named D (Kaneto Shiozawa) as her saviour. While the townsfolk seem willing to surrender Doris to pacify the Count, D resolves to wipe out the nest of vampires but struggles with his own problems including his constantly nagging, demonically-possessed Left Hand (Ichiro Nagai) and his own half-vampire heritage.

A firm favourite in the early days of anime fandom, Vampire Hunter D was adapted from the first in a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi who also penned such ingenious and influential horror anime as Wicked City (1987) and Darkside Blues (1994) as well as lyrical science fiction drama The Wind of Amnesia (1993). Kikuchi’s high concept was fusing Hammer horror - with Count Lee a pretty obvious allusion to cinema’s scariest Dracula, Christopher Lee though he sports a mock Bela Lugosi accent in the English dub - together with western motifs and post-apocalyptic overtones. The whole lone-hero-riding-to-rescue-imperilled homesteaders plot evokes the likes of Shane (1953), Hondo (1953) or Pale Rider (1985) and as with those films, our protagonist takes time out between battling savages to teach a small boy, in this instance Doris’ kid brother Dan (Keiko Toda), how to be a man by upholding virtue, loyalty and stoicism.

While vampire westerns had precedent in the form of Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1965) and arguably Hammer’s oft-overlooked Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972), the subgenre only truly came into its own during the 1980s with Kathryn Bigelow’s seminal, visceral Near Dark (1987) and the charming Sundown - The Vampire in Retreat (1988). By comparison, Vampire Hunter D sports a plot as streamlined as a platform game as our hero braves successive horrors to rescue Doris from Count Lee’s castle. Lacklustre animation does a disservice to the elegant watercolour chara designs by the celebrated Yoshitaka Amano, but the film remains thrilling, idiosyncratic and charming. Its vivid imagery, in particular the dashingly enigmatic D himself, fired the imagination of many including, it has been alleged, the creative minds behind Van Helsing (2004).

For what it is, the stripped down plot proves perfectly adequate and includes some intriguing asides about vampire snobbery as the Count’s daughter Lamika (Satoko Kito) objects to him sullying their noble lineage by wedding a farm girl (until a twist reveals she has something in common with D) and the hero’s conflicted feelings about his vampire heritage - spoiler warning! - derived from Dracula himself. Oddly the film casts Dracula as a seemingly benevolent moral authority with an honour code successive vampire generations have betrayed. Certainly a novel interpretation of Bram Stoker’s creation, if not especially faithful. Toyoo Ashida, whose work here bears comparison with his hugely popular post-apocalyptic martial arts saga Fist of the North Star (1986), emphasises mood and action. He pulls of some engaging visual tricks with an array of memorably gross splatter scenes and genuinely nightmarish creatures, though the film is arguably eclipsed by its sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2001). Music by legendary J-pop producer Tetsuya Komura, though often curiously at odds with the horrific events onscreen.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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