Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
It's rare for a sequel to best its predecessor. There are a few potential examples but far more instances where sequels virtually destroy everything good about the original picture. Here, we have a wonderful exception. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is not only as good as its precursor, but in virtually every way it bests the OVA that came before it. This is what fans have been waiting to see for nearly 17 years.
As the film opens, we are introduced to a world far in the future, where every structure bears a cross (or five or six). Evil creatures have so dominated the night that what's left of the populace lives in fear. We see a young woman, Charlotte, whisked out of her home by Meier Link, a notorious vampire...but is she a willing victim? It matters not to D, a danpiel (half-vampire half-human) who hunts down any vampire for a price. Charlotte's family is willing to pay, but they've also gotten another team of hunters, the Markus Brothers, involved to make sure they are no screw-ups. In the midst of fierce action, Leila, the only woman in the gang, makes a mysterious connection with D as they all fight to rescue Charlotte before Meier makes Charlotte his...permanently.
I've been a fan of D ever since I saw the original over 12 years ago, in the original Japanese with no translation. In that setting, the first film had a wonderful style and aura. That aura was eventually, sadly, destroyed by a lousy dub job when it came over the ocean, as well as natural aging that makes it look quite dated in comparison with modern animation. Those who had problems with the first should still take a look here, because almost all the negative elements are gone. Although there are still some problems with the English language cast on Bloodlust, they are nowhere near as bad as the previous incarnation. (There is no Japanese language track, by the way, since Bloodlust was intended for an American audience. Disappointing, but true.) Really, the acting is the only thing that holds Bloodlust back. The rest is incredible.
From the start, the animation is astounding. Though it might not be quite on the level of, say, Metropolis, it is always excellent. The original designs by Yoshitaka Amano (who illustrated the novels) are very much a part of this film, whereas the first had to forgo much of their intricacy due to budgetary constraints. Meanwhile, the film has a solid director in Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who's best known in the US for the breakthrough fan success Ninja Scroll, but also directed Midnight Eye Goku, Cyber City Odeo, and Wicked City. Without even knowing the director as I watched the action sequences, Ninja Scroll came to mind, but this handily defeats it in terms of plotting, scope, and animation. There is never a dull moment in the show. In fact, sometimes it's a little too much--it doesn't stop to breathe quite often enough to give us more characterization, but for the kind of movie it is, that's OK.
Speaking of plot and characterization, though, it's really there that this film shines. The first film was really just a series of escapes and rescues, punctuated by extremely gory battle sequences. Here, there are plenty of twists and turns as D and the Markus Brothers attempt to take back Charlotte. We get to know a bit more about D's past, and though there are many secrets left, we get more of a picture of the alienation his roots bring him.
Another striking fact is that, although there is a great deal of intense violence, the gore factor is far down. Perhaps red paint has gone up in cost. Not important--it actually helps the film become more accessible to the casual viewer. This fact also makes the piece an action/adventure instead of a horror thriller.
Excepting a couple of astonishingly dumb jokes and English language voice acting that isn't anything special, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a really good title that could stand up with the best anime films of the last few years. It's this kind of picture that makes me wonder how in the heck Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius gets nominated for an Oscar and shows like Metropolis and Bloodlust don't. No account for taste - but don't let that stop you from sinking your teeth into this one. (Bad pun - I'm sorry - I'll stop now.)
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust -- intense (and somewhat graphic) violence, mild profanity -- A