Oct 24, 2010

Anime: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is one of the first anime movies I watched when I was a teenager. Now, centuries later, I am old and wise, and yet I still have a (very) soft spot for it. There is something in it that resonates with me on a level that doesn't care about cheesy plot or lack of depth, a sign that the impressionable geeky kid has gotten something right.

Bloodlust is a sequel to the very old and moderately lame Vampire Hunter D, and they are both based on Hideyuki Kikuchi's series of post-apocalyptic novels. However, you don't need to have seen the first one to appreciate the beauty of the sequel, as it is a completely new tale that shares nothing but the main character and setting with the original.

The story is set 12 000 years in the future. Human civilization has been destroyed, scattered by the demonic nuclear winds of a long forgotten war, yet humanity itself persists. Small secluded societies manage to survive in a hostile world filled with mutants, monsters and demons, and during the day life is hard but manageable. Night however is ruled by the vampires. This immortal nobility is the last vestige of high civilization, wielding both forgotten technologies and supernatural powers, holding humans in the thrall of constant fear.

But the vampires' reign is weakening. A new caste is emerging among the mortal cattle - bounty hunters who roam the land and kill the nobles. Isolated and secluded, the children of the night fall one by one. And nobody among the hunters is more feared or hated as D - a lone Dunpeal, half-human and half-vampire, whose implacable determination is legendary across the world.

A young merchant's daughter has been kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link. D is hired by her father to kill the vampire and save her, or end her misery if she has been turned. But the Dunpeal is not alone on the quest - the Marcus brothers are also after the bounty, and they don't take kindly to competition. What's more troubling - the girl might not be with the vampire aristocrat against her will...

Bloodlust is a classic tale of forbidden love and betrayal, of epic struggle and doomed hopes. In fact, it is that very archetypical nature that prevents the movie from suffering under its action-heavy and ultimately simplistic plot. There is beauty in every single aspect of the story. D's silent determination is chilling. He cannot be stopped, cannot be dissuaded. His eyes betray no mercy or compassion. It is easy to guess that the tragedy of his origin is at the root of what he is, but that doesn't make the character any less compelling.

Being the sucker for decadence that I am though, my heart goes to Meier and his desperate nobility. A creature of elegance, intelligence and unspeakable might, he is still helpless against the tide of times that seem to deny his very existence. The world that his race has ruled is ending, their technology forgotten, their allies turn enemies, their slaves turn executioners. He has only his impossible love and a hope held within a legend that may not even be true. You have to love such a tragic character, even if he didn't look like an elvish warlord.

is filled with examples of those two characters' strengths and weaknesses. The type of examples that creates a lump in your throat if you have the sensitivity to appreciate them. A vampire walking into the sunlight, helpless and burning, reaching for the one thing he cares about as it is being taken from him. An emotionless death-bringer who - for reasons even he couldn't fathom - stops the chase to bandage the wounds of his own competition. The movie is filled with heroism in the strictest, most pure and noble sense of the word, and instead of being cheesier or cheaper, it is greater for it.

The world of Bloodlust is also very evocative. You can literally feel the ages that have gone by since our own time. In that aspect it resembles Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, even to the extent of the vampires role, so much reminiscent of his Exultants - the oldest families, most aristocratic and powerful, and yet actually the newest masters this world has known. Remnants of olden times are scattered here and there, skeletons of gargantuan machines, memories of an age of technology that destroyed its own children.

What really gives this anime its strength though, is the artwork. In a single word - Bloodlust is gorgeous. Lavish colors, amazing detail, rich character and background designs, empowered by incredibly fluent animation and some of the most staggering action scenes I have ever seen in Japanese animation. Studio Madhouse knows its job when it comes to art and action, but this movie is undoubtedly the jewel in their crown. There are so many details one could obsess about - like the fact that you only see D's sword as a flash of light in front of his emotionless face; or the dynamic of his fights with Meier - but I don't think any sort of description can do the movie the justice it deserves. You can see the two shots in this review, but you can never imagine the fluency of movement, the inevitability and energy of it.

So (wait for it) just watch it. If you like anime, you probably already have, but even if you don't, there's a strong chance that you will like this one. It was targeted at Americans, the original dubbing is in English (and surprisingly good, considering), the awesomely epic soundtrack is also very non-Japanese sounding. But above it all, there is just so much to love about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. It is an emotionally-charged tale of classic archetypes, grippingly told and beautifully animated. Give it a try.


1 comment:

  1. The world of Vampire Hunter D is pretty interesting. It reminds me of the RIFTS roleplaying game in many ways. Love the films, and BLOODLUST is just so superb and beautifully animated.