Mark Batalla of PixelDrip Gallery returns to discuss the influx of great animation that hit our shores around the turn of the millennium, and where the industry stands today. Plus, vampires.

When I wrote about Invader Zim in a previous 10YA post, I briefly mentioned the state of the animation industry during that period. Anime in particular was becoming very prolific across the globe, with numerous licensing deals on television and theatrical releases outside of Japan. Creatively, there was something for everyone. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was one of the gems to come from that era.

Similar to Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star, the Vampire Hunter D franchise is a type of Space Western. It takes place in the technologically advanced future but the various locales that the characters go through feel very antiquated. The orchestral soundtrack composed by Marco D’Ambrosio keeps the futuristic setting grounded to the gothic atmosphere we’re so used to for vampire stories.

Bloodlust‘s animation direction and character designs are handled by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Yutaka Minawa, respectively. I happen to be a huge fan of their work on titles like Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, and Demon City Shinjuku. Their titles tend to focuse on very dark and mature themes. Their characters visually and emotionally break from what you typically expect to see in mainstream anime. Back then, that was all I needed to watch and enjoy the movie.

Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?

I’m going with better, in the sense that I can fully appreciate Bloodlust after learning more about film and animation in the years since my initial viewing. The reason I saw it back then was because I enjoyed watching the 1985 Vampire Hunter D anime when it aired on the pre-Syfy Sci Fi channel. In my opinion, that was also a great time to be into vampires. Anne Rice’s work was still relevant, the Blade franchise was pretty fresh, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer hadn’t jumped the shark to UPN.

D can easily be thought of as the typical stoic bad ass. There’s much more to him than that and it’s what makes him a compelling character. Being a human/vampire hybrid prevents him from living a normal life as either of the two races. In this film and other entries in the series, D is conflicted by the nature of being a Damphir hybrid. He knows that humans and vampires can coexist, but he’s not absolutely sold on the idea of the breeding between the races. D also tends to be more violent towards vampires as opposed to humans. Carmella even calls him out on it. D states that he believes that the vampire race has lived past its prime and its eventual extinction is the way of nature. So now we have a possibly racist protagonist? Amazing. However, D does show sympathy. He chooses not to kill Meier or take Charlotte away from him. He even shows up to Leila’s funeral after she dies of old age in order to honor a promise he made her. As Left Hand tells D, “you’re not so bad after all. You just dress bad.”

The other main characters in this film have pretty complex motivations as well. Meier and Charlotte are not only attracted to each other, but also concerned about the gradual extinction of the vampire race. And even though he has plenty of opportunities to turn her, Meier chooses not to drink Charlotte’s blood. The Marcus brothers are driven bounty hunters with fierce loyalty to each other. The exceptions are the one dimensional villains that are Carmella, Caroline, Benge, and Mashira. The vampires and and Mutant Barbarois are merely there in order to create visually striking fight scenes. During this viewing, I actually started to sympathize more with the Marcus brothers. They serve as really great foils to D in this film. They ride that line of being antagonistic rivals without crossing over into villainous territory. It’s more of a competition between the characters to see who is better at bounty hunting.

Going back to the state of anime and manga, it’s a much different story these days. The last theatrical anime releases I can recall were Ponyo (2008) and the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy (2009 for the first film and 2011 for the second film). Ponyo is a Studio Ghibli film and has the benefit of Disney’s distribution. The currently-in-production Evangelion movies are like the George Lucas-tampered Star Wars re-releases. There has been a steep drop off in the quality and quantity of new anime properties being exported out of Japan. Much like the vampires in the Vampire Hunter D franchise, Japanese anime and manga are in danger of dying out overseas.

Free Floating Thoughts

D clearly struggles against certain foes and obstacles in his path. This subtle aspect gives each fight scene an element of danger while still keeping D’s combat prowess within levels of believability.

D’s Left Hand is a great character. He (it?) serves as the obnoxious troll to D’s straight man. Left Hand also reveals important expository info when necessary.

The English dubbing is pretty spot on in Bloodlust. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have veteran voice actors. There are two very familiar voices from Fox’s animated programming block! John Di Maggio (Bender from Futurama) plays Nolt Marcus and the Sheriff. Pamela Adlon (Bobby from King of the Hill) plays Leila.

I like how Meier reveals pretty early on that he and Charlotte are in love with each other. It would have been a pretty weak and clichéd twist if that was revealed towards the end of the film when the characters finally catch up with the pair.

I always find Japan’s concept of the loud, musclebound, volatile Westernized or American character hilarious. In this case, it’s the Marcus brothers.

Meier ventures out into direct sunlight so he can save Charlotte. This is way before Bill does the same for Sookie in True Blood.

Mashira is and interesting werewolf. A giant wolf snout emerges from his chest when he transforms.

Meier and Charlotte plan on taking a rocket ship to the City of the Night? What is this? The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Bloodlust is a great example of an anime with crossover appeal. The plot is based around a straightforward chase. There are rotating conflicts between D, Meier, the Marcus brothers, and Carmella that keep their interactions interesting.

Another interesting thing about this movie is that it was worked on by Japanese and English crews. The English-language track was actually completed before the Japanese one was completed. While the majority of the animation was done in Japan, the post production work was done in the United States.