It’s always fun to go back and re-watch some anime from decades ago. This week I decided to do just that and watch the anime movie Vampire Hunter D. I’ve seen this one listed by a couple different sites as one of the top anime movies to watch from the 1980’s so I thought it might be worth revisiting and see how it holds up today. Ultimately, we’ll take a look at if it’s worth watching now.
In an effort to protect her farm from the demons and ghouls that inhabit the post-apocalyptic landscape of Vampire Hunter D, Doris ends up getting bit by a vampire. As it turns out, this vampire is Count Magnus Lee and he’s been around for about 10,000 years. After testing his strength, Doris hires D, a vampire hunter, to kill the Count. Word spreads through the town that Doris was bitten by a vampire and the townsfolk are obviously scared. The last time a girl was bitten by the Count the town confined the girl to a camp where she died. Furious, the Count killed about 50 of the townsfolk in retribution.
The Count’s daughter and one of his mutants come for the girl. D successfully holds them off and ends up being recognized as a dhampir, a half-human, half-vampire hybrid. The Count’s daughter and mutant retreat for the time being. D decides to invade the Count’s castle and manages get caught in a trap. He’s held by the Snake women of Midwich who attempt to suck his life force from him. Meanwhile, Doris is taken by Count Lee’s mutants and taken to the castle.
D eventually uses the power he received from his vampire father, supposedly Dracula, to free himself and kill the Snake women. He rescues Doris and escapes the castle, killing most of Count Lee’s main mutants in the process. Doris’s brother, Dan, is taken hostage by the last surviving mutant, Rei. Rei is defeated by D after Rei’s secret weapon for his confrontation with D gets stolen prior to their fight and replaced with an impostor. Doris ends up being captured again and taken to the castle for a second time.
Rei gets his secret weapon back and nearly kills D. D is revived by the efforts of the symbiotic hand that travels with him. At the castle, Count Lee is confronted by Rei after the Count refuses to make Rei a vampire. The Count easily kills Rei and is about to finalize his marriage to Doris when D appears. D and the Count fight with the Count getting the upper hand. D is about to be killed when he calls upon his vampire power to turn the tables. Count Lee is killed and the castle crumbles. Doris and Dan, now safe, head back to their farm and D rides off.
The main questions I want to answer in this review is “How does this anime hold up in 2020 and is it worth watching?” Let’s start with the first one, “How does this anime hold up in 2020?”
I’d say that there are definitely other anime that hold up worse than Vampire Hunter D, but it’s obvious that anime has taken a giant leap forward from the production values of the 1980’s. It’s like comparing the special effects of Dune to the modern Avengers movies. You can tell everything is dated. One part of the animation style that’s impossible to miss is the overly dramatic pauses during a scene. There will be a long pause on Doris looking down a lonely road and then suddenly we’ll switch to D slowly riding his horse. The anime will cut back to another dramatic view of Doris. Then back to D. Then back to Doris. Then to a view of a harsh landscape. You get the picture. I found myself narrating these scenes like the Old Spice commercial guy (here). I feel like this tactic was used in place of dialogue.
The voice acting for Vampire Hunter D was fine. The script won’t win any awards these days for flow. It was a bit choppy at times and more of what you expect when watching an old anime. Conversations don’t always flow smoothly and it seems like some things are forced. It felt lower quality. Again, I don’t think that was too uncommon for the time period but it’s something that doesn’t necessarily age well.
One thing that did age well was the dark and ominous atmosphere. You feel like you’re in a world filled with evil creatures. There’s danger around every corner waiting to spring into action and take your life. Doris’s failure to double-tap at the beginning of the anime is testament to that. She lost her horse because of that failure. It feels like a world where survival of the fittest is the ultimate law of the land.
So overall how does Vampire Hunter D hold up? Not great, but if you can get past some of the dated anime styles there is plenty of things here to keep you entertained. That brings us into the second question, “Is this anime worth watching?”
My answer to this question is “Yes.” You won’t enjoy it, though, if you come into it with unrealistic expectations. If you understand that you’re not going to see the quality of animation that you see today in anime like Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, One Piece, or any other modern anime, you’ll be fine. You have to take it for what it is, a horror OVA that used the standard production methods of the time. If you know that going in and you enjoy the genre, you’ll like Vampire Hunter D.
Now go watch some anime!