Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a gothic horror adventure anime film, originally released theatrically in 2001, based on the third book in the Vampire Hunter D series written by Hideyuki Kikuchi. In the dead of night, Charlotte Elbourne is taken from her bed by the vampire Meier Link. In their desperation, her family hires a team of mercenaries known as the Marcus Brothers to retrieve their lost family member. Along with the skilled team of hunters, they also contract a Dunpel(half-human, half-vampire) hunter named D to retrieve her. The first to bring Charlotte back will claim a huge reward. But Meier has many allies, and the hunters will be hard tested to claim their prize. And even if they reach Charlotte, will she be willing to go with them?
One of my earliest introductions to anime was Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. With its blending of western-style gothic tales of the Princes of the Night with the visual design and aesthetic of late nineties anime, this movie was an amazing early introduction to the medium. Now 20 years after its original theatrical release, I thought I’d take a moment this spooky season to talk about all the things that make this movie an amazing watch even after all this time.
While there are several areas this magnificent film delivers in, any discussion of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust must begin with the gorgeous visual presentation. I have rarely seen such a perfect blending of such radically different aesthetics pulled off so brilliantly as I do here. The look of the world is decidedly gothic. From the flying buttresses and high vaulted ceilings to the long tails on the gowns and the overly ornate carriages, the harnessing of the dark victorian feel is delivered perfectly.
But, like the infusion of unique spice to a classic dish, the movie invigorates the familiar feel of the gothic vampire tale with a blending of Japanese creature design. From the shadow-shifting Benge to the werewolf whose chest transforms into a gaping maw resembling a canine mouth, there is a freshness that changes the look of the creatures, yet doesn’t feel out of place in the world they are living in.
Joining the incredible world design of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is amazing cinematography. Not only does the camera always feel like it is exactly where it always needs to be, but the camera work is further enhanced by the production’s willingness to take full advantage of the animated nature of the film to add an extra layer of unsettling to the movie visuals.
Repeatedly as the camera pans between towers or treetops, the objects in the frame move in an exaggerated inconsistent way, far greater than the shifting perspective would create. These moments create an unearthly feeling to the word.
The final way the visuals triumph here is in how they further build-up and deliver the classic gothic horror tropes. From the early shot of Charollete being taken by Meier, shown through a mirror so only Charollete is seen, hanging in midair, with her arm and overly long victorian nightgown dangling toward the ground, to the grandiose bite scene at the end where the victim is slowly encircled by the long capped predator as the sharp fangs close in on the neck, the visuals glory in the gothic moments that, while familiar, are so good you never tire of them.
Along with the fantastic visual design, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust delivers a score that absolutely conjures images of horror, vampires, and terror. Choir-filled pieces bring the classic feeling to every scene, further pulling the viewer into its mesmerizing adventure.
Now, if you are familiar with my preferences in storytelling you will know that all my favorite stories feature great characters and this film is no exception. Every member of the cast is brimming with personality. Even though the movie’s hour and forty-minute run-time doesn’t leave a ton of time for delving into the backgrounds of too many characters, the film delivers so much personality in its moment-to-moment storytelling that you just feel like you understand them. And while this is true for every character in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, the movie does exceptionally well delivering on the three biggest characters in its story: D, Meier, and Leila. Let’s start with a look at our titular character D.
D is literally one letter away from being the iconic “man with no name”. An embodiment of the archetypal wandering ronin/cowboy, D drifts from place to place taking jobs saving humans from the people of the night. Unfortunately, due to D’s unusual parentage, his work is oftentimes met with scorn and hate, even though he saves everyone. This is highlighted in a particularly poignant scene when D is confronted by some bigots that want to run him out of their town simply due to his being a Dunpel and the reaction to this attempt that a former recipient of D’s work has on the matter. This constant scorn, even from those he helps, has made D into the classic stoic type of reliable hero. He rarely speaks, and then generally in barely more than a whisper, yet his actions speak volumes. If you are a fan of the “speak little, do much” style of hero D is right up your alley.
The primary antagonist for D, Meier Link has become what my mind pictures as the archetypal Vampire Lord. Supremely confident, with an air of restrained power that, when his calm is broken, reverts instantly to the animalistic side of the blood-hungry vampire’s curse with brutal results. Meier also steals the scenes he appears in thanks to the phenomenal voice acting job by John Rafter Lee. Lee’s performance grants the character a sound that manages to be both unique and familiar. It’s like I could picture any vampire nobility speaking with his voice, while simultaneously having never heard one like him. The way Lee draws out some of Meier’s words gives the vampire a supremely tired sound to him. He is just over so much of this world.
The last focal point of the movie is Leila. Prior to the movie’s events, Leila joined up with the Marcus Brothers to get revenge on the monsters that took her family from her. Leila’s path through the story repeatedly brings her into contact with D, who helps her sort through the long-festering feelings she has about her life and the scars she still carries from her parents’ deaths. Leila is a complicated character whose time in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust ranges from moments of pure rage to self-retrospective and even glimmering hope. Happily, Leila’s voice actor, Emmy winning Pamela Adlon(Boby Hill-King of the Hill) is more than up for the challenge of delivering this nuanced and constantly evolving character.
All of the elements I previously praised: gothic tone, visuals, sound, and character all come together to full realization in the film’s final act. Taking place in the castle of the vampire Carmilla, this portion of the movie takes everything that up to this point was great about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and ratchets it up to twelve. This is largely due to the hostess of the castle Carmilla herself.
Perhaps the most often used vampire personality after the Count, Carmilla has been portrayed numerous times in fiction. From her original creation, which actually predates Dracula, to the most modern of representations, Carmilla is almost always portrayed as a force to be reckoned with. Here, Carmilla appears as a ghost. Having been slain centuries before by Dracula himself when her insatiable bloodlust became too much for him to handle, Carmilla, and by extension, her castle is the ultimate blend of victorian elegance, power, and gothic nightmare all rolled into one.
While I have nothing but love for Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, it isn’t without some setbacks. As the warning at the top mentions, several fights sequence fall back on the harsh strobe-lighting that 90s animes are notorious for using. Also, as the movie seeks to adapt a full book with a complex background history within its relatively short runtime, it forgoes most of the explanations of the hows and whys things are, and leaves the viewer to simply accept and come along for the ride. If you are ok with taking things at face value this won’t be a problem for you.
So, there are my thoughts about why Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is the greatest gothic horror movie you probably haven’t seen. If my description makes you want to check out the film for yourself I hope you enjoy your journey into the dark world of D. While I couldn’t find the movie on any streaming services, a cursory google search brought up several places where one can order it. Also, to note, there is a previous movie in the series titled Vampire Hunter D. This movie was released in the 80s and has no direct connection with this film, nor does it reveal anything about D that isn’t given here. If you want to check out the previous film it does stream on Crunchyroll.