In this installment, we look at U.S. critical reaction to the Streamline release of Toyoo Ashida’s 1985 Vampire Hunter D. Based on the novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, this feature was made direct-to-video (OVA) and originally released on laserdisc by CBS Sony Group Inc. on December 21, 1985 (with a limited theatrical release by Toho at the same time). The Streamline dub was produced in 1992 and released theatrically in March 1993.
“[…] the animation was a pleasure to see. The mood was set with dark and subdued colors in the background, with the brightest light in the movie being set around ‘D.’ The character’s motions were consistently smooth, never giving the impression of a cheap animation flick. The backgrounds were well developed. They give the viewer the feeling of a bleak, desolate world, and were not continuously reused throughout the movie. Objects in the fore-ground appeared to be a part of the events taking place instead of looking unnaturally two-dimensional. Consistent with other anime motion pictures is the use of unusual visual effect. Some of these include blurred backgrounds, long impossible angles, incredibly high jumps and slowed action during fights scenes.”
Celina Brooks, Animato!, #30, Fall 1994, pg. 63
“Vampire Hunter D features provocative characters, plenty of thrills and an exotic style of animation. Recommended.”
Best Bets on Laser, October 1993, pg. ?
“VAMPIRE HUNTER D is highly entertaining, and plays very much like a good horror movie. The characters are intelligent and well defined. The story holds your attention, unlike many American horror movies that leave you scrambling for that remote.” “VAMPIRE HUNTER D has been given a very good full frame transfer, which is rich, colorful and very sharp.”
The Cinema Laser, #7, Fall/Winter 1993, pg. ?
“Imaginative science-fiction, gothic-horror actioneer reads like a macabre variation on SHANE.” “Melding classic horror, science-fiction, western, and samurai motifs, the movie provides plenty of thrills and off-beat bits of characterization, with the laconic D coming across as a combo of Sanjuro, Captain Kronos, and Robert E. Howard’s puritan avenger, Solomon Kane. Among the memorably bizarre touches: the monster-be-gone Coleman lanterns that work on the undead populace, and D’s wise-cracking, sentient hand, which (a la OUTER LIMITS’s ‘Demon with a Glass Hand’ episode) revives him from death. The creepy-crawlies, including a missile-armed giant and trio of serpent lamia sisters, are nicely realized. Smartly directed by FIST OF THE NORTH STAR’s Toyoo Ashida, the film also boasts an effective, moody score by TM Network.” “On the whole, splendid stuff, but seeing it on the big screen, where it was shown in a subtitled print, is definitely preferable.”
Todd French, Imagi-Movies, v.2 #4, Spring 1995, pg. 36
“Laser buffs who are Japanese animation fans have reason to celebrate as ‘Vampire Hunter D’ […] arrives on the superior disc format.” “Those who love animated horror have already turned ‘Vampire Hunter D’ into a popular cult tape title, and the 80-minute laser — with its impressive colors and stereo sound — is sure to become a hot disc.”
Lou Gaul, The Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), 20 December 1993, pg. ?
“Reviews by the Animation Committee. [N.b.: The editor provides copies of videos to a 14-person committee, then writes a composite review combining their individual comments.] ‘Graphically glorious’ ‘fresh’ ‘gruesome and eerie’ sci-fi story set in the year 12,090, when vampires rule the earth. Doris hires ‘strange, secretive’ ‘very cool’ ‘Eastwood/Bon Jovi type’ Vampire Hunter D, the son of Count Dracula who ‘looks just like Michael Jackson on a good hair day,’ to rid the country of the ‘very oily’ Count Magnus Lee and his minions of demons, werewolves, witches, sirens and phantoms. ‘Let the ass-kicking commence.’ ‘The animation is terrific, the sound is great, the music is great. This makes my top ten list of animated flicks for adults, right up there with Heavy Metal, Fire and Ice and Watership Down.’ ‘Typical Saturday morning animation with a little more complex backgrounds. The ending is directly ripped off from Shane.’ ‘The actors’ voices used are weak, melodramatic and distractingly childish.’ ‘It’s annoying that the figures never look as good as the fabulous backgrounds.’ ‘B-plus animation. The plot is okay, and the animation is similar to a low-end graphic novel. Lots of supernatural baloney.’ Best line: ‘Put your tongue back in your mouth. It’s bad manners.’ Eight dead bodies. Nine breasts. Six explosions. Crawling, dismembered hand. Knife in eyeball. Exploding head. […] Translation: Wyner (‘good’). Character designs: Yoshitaka Amano (‘standout’). Overall rating: 93.” [Rating scale: 94-89 Classic. Vampire Hunter D holds the record for the highest rating given to an animated film by this magazine.]
Joe Bob Briggs, The Joe Bob Report, v.XI no.2, January 23, 1995, pg. 8
“With a full script of original storytelling that conveys a plot of considerable intrigue, this adult-oriented animation carries considerable weight.” “The graphics used in this production are fairly outstanding in their abilities to impress and certainly go beyond merely suggesting horror in an attempt to convey the vision that the writers held for their story.” “We were impressed with both this disc’s quality and its story. […] We liked the end results and recommend it unhesitatingly.”
Laser Classics, v.1 #12, October 1993, pg. ?
“While I found Vampire Hunter D extremely enjoyable overall, I thought it had several faults. They have nothing to do with the animation, but with the plot and characterization. The plot leaves a lot to be desired. After all, it’s a vampire story, and when was the last time one of those was revolutionary?” “…there are several elements that raise Vampire Hunter D from the depths of redundancy and give it a quality all its own. First of all, the animation is excellent. The fight scenes were spectacular, which is a good thing because the movie is little more than a drawn out battle. Secondly, the creators have come up with a great cast of characters. The only problem is that there’s too much action and not enough characterization. […] Finally, if you are a fan of bloody movies, this one’s for you. After all, it is a vampire flick. I haven’t seen this much blood since… I can’t remember when. […] I recommend Vampire Hunter D to anyone who wants to kick back and enjoy some great animation and some off-beat characters, for this is precisely what this video has to offer.”
John Metych III, Manga Newswatch, #2, 1992, pg. 22
“Streamline sent me a review copy of Vampire Hunter D in English and some promotional material. It was a nice surprise. So was Vampire Hunter D in English. The video is packaged attractively. A gorgeous Yoshitaka Amano painting graces the front, ironically giving the video a less horrific feel. […] I compared the English dialogue with the translated Vampire Hunter D script by Marianne Symanowicz and Richard Martin of the Dayton Animation Club. The movie is a direct translation; only minor changes were made to smooth out the dialogue. This version, though, seems to have more hints about D’s lineage than the original did. But I don’t have a problem with any of the story con-tent. In addition, the English version is the original 80 minutes long. […] Overall, the voices still seem hurried in order to fit the Japanese lip movements. This gets mildly annoying over time. […] The interminable voice-overs prevalent in dubbed anime is mercifully lacking in the English Vampire Hunter D. All of the original thoughtful moments in the movie with only the beautiful Japanese score playing in the background are left untouched. The viewer is allowed to sit back and enjoy the animation. The copy quality of the video is pristine, the most crisp I’ve ever seen Vampire Hunter D. […] Next to My Youth in Arcadia, Vampire Hunter D is my favorite anime movie. I was truly excited and anxious to see Streamline’s English version. It is a pleasant mix of Japanese animation, music, and character design, with a story I can understand word for word. After my first viewing of the movie, though, I was a little disappointed by a few things I would have done differently, but after the second and third viewing, I came to really enjoy it. For nostalgia sake I’ll pop in the Japanese version once in a while, just to hear the movie in its ‘pure’ form. But I’ll definitely be watching the English version repeatedly.”
Lorraine Savage, The Rose, v.6 #33, July 1992, pg. 6
“Wild characters, surprises galore, unexpected thrills, and (finally) gorgeous art direction make this one of my favorites.”
Robert DuPree, Subliminal Tattoos, #2, [August] 1994, pg. 64
“… a very cool, bizarre, and quintessentially Japanese exploration of the blood-sucking life …”
Glenn Kenny, TV Guide, v.42 #53, #2179, Dec. 31, 1994 – Jan 6, 1995, pg. 35
“This imaginative Japanese cartoon for adults is an atmospheric title for horror fans, imported in subtitled form for specialized bookings and a well-dubbed video version.” “D’s gory adventures are animated with gusto …” “Impressive backdrops and action scenes mark the way.”
Daily Variety, August 3, 1992, pg. 41
“This feature is a fine example of the growing number of Japanese animated films, or “Japanimation,” hitting the video marketplace.” “The quality of this animation really should be seen to be believed, and, in this English-language version, there is little or no trace of its Japanese origins. Recommend this to any Japanimation fan or to anyone who enjoys good, adult-oriented animated features.”
Video Business, May 29, 1992, pg. 22.
“Japanese animation is all the rage these days, but the quality varies. Vampire Hunter D is quite good — acclaimed in Japan, the film is in the style of the classic Hammer horror films of the 1960s.”
Seth Ross Kaplan, Video Store, v.14 #23, June 8-12, 1992, pg. 36
“Ashida’s visual flair, spiced with EC Comics-inspired gore, and a reason-ably arresting storyline help overcome some of the movie’s more banal dubbed dialogue. There are also long stretches of speechless action that require no translation.”
unsigned, The Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope, v.1 #1, January-February 1993, pg. 12
Next Week: We’re almost at the end!