Made 15 years after the original, “Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust” is the follow-up to the 1985 cult film “Vampire Hunter D”. The story is adapted from “Demon Deathchase”, the third novel in Hideyuki Kikuchi's long-running series, and the plot follows D as he's hired to rescue (or kill if she was bitten) the daughter of a rich man. She was abducted by a vampire named Meier Link during the night, but as it turns out, they’re in love and trying to escape to a place where they can live alone and in peace. As he hunts them, D and his left hand find themselves racing against another group of hunters called the Marcus Brothers. All of this eventually leads both teams of hunters to the Castle of Chaythe, where Carmilla, a powerful demon vampire, resides.
To begin with, the animation in this film is fantastic. It’s the most notable improvement over the original. The film was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (“Wicked City”, “Ninja Scroll”), and his style perfectly suits the dark and gothic tone of the D series. D has never looked better, and everything within the film is more reminiscent of Yoshitaka Amano's original designs. The environments are incredibly detailed and varied, and the film's plot covers quite a bit of ground, so we get to see a lot of the bizarre landscape of the franchise.
There are many fascinating locations depicted in this movie, and the mutant city of the Barbarois is one of the first memorable settings; surrounded by giant walls and literally crawling with bizarre and grotesque creatures, it's a prime example of the strange world of the series. There are also beautiful and colorful locations too, like the forest next to the ruins covered in water where D battles one of the mutants. Both of these locations are literally dwarfed by the Castle of Chaythe, however. This place is a gothic nightmare and the inside is a mixture of beauty and illusions on a massive scale. The imagery is both mesmerizing and fascinating at the same time.
Despite the superb animation and style, the film suffers from a few problems. First of all, the voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag. It was originally dubbed in English, which is an odd choice for a Japanese series. Andrew Philpot does a good job voicing D, providing just enough emotion to keep from sounding robotic. Meier Link, voiced by John Rafter Lee, is also one of the better actors, though I can’t place the accent he uses. Some other highlights include Julia Fletcher as Carmilla and a few of the extras.
The worst of the voice acting comes from Matt McKenzie as Borgoff Marcus, whose voice never really matches the character or the animations. I just couldn't buy that this huge beefy guy talked like this. Another weaker performance comes from Pamela Adlon as Leila, which is a shame since she's such a major character. She voices her to have little emotion, but it comes across as sounding off-key. This is particularly noticeable when she and D have a quiet moment together in the rain. She sounds tolerable at best and like she's reading at worst. Speaking of audio and perhaps this is just a problem with the U.S. version, but a lot of the voice acting is significantly less audible than the sound effects. This sort of disrupts the flow of the film when the audio needs to be adjusted based on whether or not it’s an action scene. If you have a chance to see the film with the Japanese audio, I highly recommend it. It's just better all around.
Another problem is the romance. The romance between Meier Link and Charlotte is kind of uninteresting in terms of character development. While thematically its important, in terms of what we get onscreen it leaves a bit to be desired. Aside from knowing that each would be willing to die for the other (because they say it a few times), their love is basically just presented very directly. It’s more to explain and move along the plot than evoke actually sympathy, and this eventually leads to some serious melodrama and a fairly sappy ending. It doesn’t have the subtly or the complexity of the romance from the previous movie, but its presented much sleeker and sexier here under Kawajiri’s eye.
It’s true function in the story is also what it does do really well, and that is to is blur the line between heroes and villains. D is ruthless and being paid to save Charlotte against her will while Meier Link, her captor, is genuinely in love with her. This is also an interesting twist in the vampire character, placing Meier Link at odds with not only the audience's preconceptions, but with those of the characters in this setting as well.
Another of the strong points is D himself. This time around, there's a much more somber tone added to the way he views the world and what he does. Though he remains mostly expressionless, there's a clear sense of depression attached to the character, and this is particularly clear when he explains why he does what he does. Everyone hates him, human and noble alike, but to him, he feels as though there's no choice for the way he must live and pursue his goals. And he's uncompromising in this.
Though in slight danger of being style over substance, but I must admit the style is pretty impressive and I genuinely enjoyed this movie. There are some truly great moments, especially with D when he's traveling and fighting. The fight scenes in this film are very well staged, and the action is big when it needs to be, but also concise and to the point. They never feel like they go on for too long and the visuals make nearly every scene captivating.
Overall, I would recommend this film, particularly to fans of the series. I will say that it helps to have seen the first film, or to at least to be familiar with the character, but if you're not, while this film could serve as a good introduction, it may be a bit too bizarre for some. It combines several genres into one, seamlessly integrating sci-fi, western, gothic horror, and action.