Vampire Hunter D is a really long running novel series, starting way back in 1983, about a half-vampire who hunts other vampires in his ridiculously wide-brimmed hat. It had a movie adaptation way back in 1985, which was a cult hit back in the day (or so Wikipedia says) but has been all but forgotten nowadays. The 2000 adaptation Bloodlust is generally considered to be far better. It has 15 years advantage in animation technology. It has the acclaimed director Yoshiaki Kawajiri being given an absolute monster budget with Madhouse doing the animation, who were on serious top form in this period. And it shows. Oh boy does it ever show.
Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust is gorgeous. When it comes to sheer detail, I can’t think of a single other anime that matches it. Maybe Akira? For all the detail Akira puts into its cyberpunk setting, Bloodlust puts even more into being as gothic as possible. It’s the kind of movie that an angsty disenfranchised teenager with no friends would go crazy finding desktop wallpapers and making t-shirts from various screencaps of, possibly covering his walls in pictures from the movie and thoroughly worrying his parents, and maybe even wearing a wide brimmed hat to school and then getting it stolen by the football team. A younger me, being one of those football team bullies, would probably have been put off by something so unashamedly soaked in gothicness that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it, but an older me found how dedicated it was to this tone quite enjoyable and refreshing.
The movie is set sometime in the distant future in god-only-knows-where-land. By removing themselves from any kind of timeframe or specific culture, they’ve allowed themselves to drape themselves in whatever type of set dressing they feel, giving the movie eclectic imagery that still all ties into the gothic tone it’s going for. It’s a movie you let yourself soak in as you get wrapped up in its world, even if it gets really cheesy sometimes. Heck, that cheesiness just adds to my enjoyment, because is shows how dedicated they are to this tone that they’re willing to put in the slightly dumber stuff associated with that tone. It has an air of self-awareness to that sillier side too. For example, the vampire queen had a giant portrait in her house where she has one of the most ridiculously elaborate hairstyles, to which one of the bounty hunters remarks under her breath “nice hat”. It’s that same kind of tone Lord of the Rings has. It knows some of this high fantasy stuff is nonsense and a bit silly, but it’s so dedicated to presenting that tone that you allow yourself to be swept along with it.
I can’t say I’ve ever been that big on Kawajiri stuff in the past. While they sure look nice, they’ve lacked any sort of soul to the characters or the story. It’s just a bunch of fancy looking dudes and women that all have the same hairstyle swooping around looking cool under fancy lighting, like the Cyber City Oedo OVA. Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust…well now, don’t get me wrong. It’s hardly Ghost in the Shell in terms of character depth or philosophising or anything, but it’s got enough to it to keep me interested beyond the pretty pictures. There’s no clear correct side to the war between vampires and humans. On the one side the humans look like bigoted ignorant morons who have hunted down vampires to the point that they’re nearly extinct. On the other side though, the vampires terrorise humans and kill them, looking down on them as merely cattle.
That said, for the most part I was just allowing myself to be swept up in the tone and the set pieces of the movie rather than pay attention to the plot. This doesn’t just mean that I was being over-awed by pretty pictures, although they are undoubtably pretty. It’s how everything, from the setting to the way the characters act, to their dialogue, to how they dress, to how everything ties into this gothic tone it’s setting. It’s really masterfully crafted, with the possible exception of the dialogue between the vampire they’re hunting and his lady friend, which were so full of “oh my dear how sweet are the petals that grace your vagina” and stupid sappy stuff like that. They were eyeroll inducing.
But yes, for the most part I was just allowing myself to be swept up in the tone and the setting, paying rather little attention to the plot details. It’s the mark of a good movie, though, that you find yourself caring about all the characters without even realising it. Right at the end of the movie (spoiler warning here, but honestly this is a movie I could spoil from here and back and it would have no effect on your enjoyment of the movie)
Also in Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, when a vampire goes out into the sun, he doesn’t sparkle. He starts to catch fire in little separate parts of his body as though he has patches of oil splashed over his skin that are spontaneously combusting with every second he remains in the sunlight. Really enjoyed this movie, highly recommended and guaranteed a high place on my Best of 2000 list.