Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week we tackle prolly the first for-grownups anime I ever watched and thus love even though. . . well, moving on!
The Film: Vampire Hunter D (1985)
Also Known As: Kyûketsuki hantâ D (1985)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Original series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, which feature illustrations by certifiably badass artist Yoshitaka Amano (http://www.amanosworld.com/), who in turn did the character design for the film. Japanese script by Yasushi Hirano (the Dirty Pair tv series) and direction by Toyoo Ashida (Fist of the North Star), English script by Tom Wyner (better known for his voice acting in both video games and various English dubs of anime) and direction by Carl Macek (founder of Streamline who passed away last Saturday—the patron saint of some 80s American otaku and the hated whipping boy of others). Voice acting in the English dub by Michael McConnohie (the Lich King in World of Warcraft [Molly says: OMG REALLY?! FTW!!], countless other video game and anime roles) as D, Barbara Goodson (again, lots of anime, such as Naruto, and video games, only here it’s Everquest instead of WoW) as Doris, Lara Cody—hell, you get the idea, people you’ve probably never heard of but whose work you might vaguely recognize. Head over to imdb if you’re still curious. To recreate the Small Times experience we watched it in English so we won’t bother digging up the Japanese voice actors, and we’re happy to report that the dubbing is not as atrocious as many a Streamline production.
Quote: “You and your kind should go back to where you belong! Back to the abyss! Of oblivion!”
Alternate quote: “My father was a werewolf hunter. ‘Want to know about vampires?’ he’d say, ‘ask a vampire hunter.’”
First viewing by Jesse: Early middle school—in other words, the perfect time for a budding anime nerd to experience the bugfuck insanity that is this movie.
First viewing by Molly: About the same. After I discovered—maybe Sailor Moon?—I went lookin for anime at Blockbuster. They had this, and Baoh, and some Slayers, and some other stuff as well as Wizards, which nobody hold their breath about because there’s no way I’m watching that turd-burgle again for posterity.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: I keep saying moderate for everything so I won’t say that here—embarrassing an admission though it is, this was fairly formative for young Jesse. This wasn’t the first anime I watched, nor was it the best, but it was pretty goddamn awesome for a horror and fantasy buff who was in the midst of “the change.”
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: I feel like an echo this week, but yeah. This blew my mind when I saw it. The sexy violence, the sexy shower scene (Jesse says: ask anyone about this movie who saw it as a kid and they’ll mention this, even though it’s all of one and a half seconds long), the 2001-style psychedelic ending, the design of the D character (shut up!), omg. Reared on Disney/Rankin-Bass (ok, so we will do The Hobbit/The Last Unicorn fo’ sho’) this was beyond sortakinda yeahmaybe formative films like, say, Ghost in the Shell.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Less than optimistic. Spotty as my taste is now, twelve year old Jesse was far less discerning, especially in those cold, barren days of the early 90s when anime fans took whatever they could find and said thank you. If you only got into anime post-Princess Mononoke or so you have no idea how bad it was back then, dudes all throwing down twenty bucks at a con for a badly copied vhs of the first Ranma movie without so much as fan subs, just the straight Japanese when the extent of their vocabulary was otaku, kawaii, and ecchi. And that was the early 90s—I don’t even want to imagine what things were like in the 70s and 80s, but I’ve heard stories, dark, weird, sweaty stories of desperation and Captain Harlock.
But I digress. I knew there would be a lot of monsters to keep me occupied, and maybe even enough epic silliness to blot out the memory that in a roleplaying game I was running at the time of my first viewing I quickly had Doris show up as an NPC and exit stage left with the Jesse-stand-in NPC. I was a pretty bad GM, and maybe just a bad person in general. Oh sweet internet, the confessions you draw forth from my sordid breast—next you’ll be having me admit my undying 11 year old love for Kahm from Outlanders. I issue my profuse apologies to any of my fellow middle schoolers who participated in that particular session, and to any and all Films of High Adventure readers while I’m at it. So yeah, a little nervous going in.
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I dunno. I remembered the mechano-horses and thinking the movie would’ve been better without the wisecracking demon hand (also I remember that shower scene) but other than that I’d forgotten a bunch, so I was pretty enthusiastic. “Come on,” I said, “let’s do Vampire Hunter D!” “Waaaaahhhhh” said Jesse, but I was the one to insist.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, not as bad as I had feared! This is the real shit, vintage 80s fantasy by way of vintage 80s anime, and I’m ok with that. Sure, there’s a lot of stupidity going on, but overall it was fairly painless, and in some spots a lot of fun.
That said, I think that as with a lot of the movies we’re taking on the ability to extract enjoyment from the picture is relative to having seen it earlier in life. That’s just a theory, of course, but I think it’s a decent one—the animation, while competent, is certainly dated, and the simplicity of the plot doesn’t leave a lot of room for charity unless one already has a soft spot for D. Then again, it is one stylistic beast, with the titular vampire hunter looking like Solomon Kane at a Bauhaus concert and everyone else looking equally weird/awesome—where’s the rest of Doris’s skirt? What is up with Lamika’s head? What is up with Greco, period?
Part of what makes this hold up is how different it is from the bulk of vampire stories—I tend to award a lot of points for originality where things like vampires and ghosts are concerned, and D has originality in spades. Granted, much of it is the kind of originality that consists of taking pre-existing ideas and jumbling them all together, but it’s still better than the bulk of boring, rehashed bullshit you too often see in vampire films. Rather than being a pseudo-Gothic vampire story, or worse, Anne Rice-wannabe nosfopatus agonizing over how tough it is to be a super-being, Vampire Hunter D is a post-apocalyptic western homage with hordes of mutants and other monsters filling in the vampire gaps, and bizarre flourishes like D’s talking left hand and mechanical horse.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I thought this movie was OK even when Jesse was insisting I was insane to think so (prior to re-watching), and I think it’s pretty OK now. There are weak points—the hand is annoying; the end makes no sense; the characters’ actions make even less sense (Why does Doris’s dad hunt werewolves but know nothing about vampires? Why does the dude who wants to mack on Doris try to kill vampires when he’s obviously incompetent? Why does Lamika act/feel the way she does? What is her obsession with nobility? After her dad’s a d-bag to her why would she rather die than live elsewhere? Why was she even hanging out with “Greco” (?) at all? WTF). But, still, even so, this movie holds a certain charm. The design is neat, even with the dated anime-girl hair on Doris and the stock Adorable Kid Brother Who Needs A Father Figure (Jesse says: Shane!), and the monsters are cool! Mutants are pretty rad always, and I think the cattle-eating mist-monsters were actually new and interesting, as well as some of the other little things like, say, Magnus Lee’s. . . basement o’ horrors? Because he has one?
But at the same time, I gotta say. . . I think most of my “well, what the fuck, why not?” attitude was due to (1) the childhood affection thing Jesse talked about, and (2) that essentially this movie inspired, sorta, one of the most ridiculous/fun role playing games I’ve been in. So. . . yeah! I dunno? Sure!
High Points: The overall aesthetic. The sheer insanity that governs much of the film. All them crazy lookin mutants:
Final Verdict: Molly Says: Pretty OK, especially as compared to most of what I grew up watching. Except for Sailor Moon, which I still love unconditionally. Jesse Says: Pretty OK, indeed, and better we not go into further detail regarding things from Japan I loved unconditionally when I was in middle school.
Next Week: We’ll link to Films of High Adventure up on Fantasy Magazine, woo! Check as we’ll be deconstructing Legend. I anticipate making everyone uncomfortable with what I’m sure will be a rousing discussion of certain scenes in that film that were incredibly formative for oh-so-young me.
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