Thursday, December 07, 2017

Goth(ic): Vampire Hunter D

He stalks his prey in a post-apocalyptic landscape and his wardrobe is very High Plains Drifter, but you cannot get much more gothic than the protagonist of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s franchise of horror novels, manga, and anime. From the standpoint of the ancient vampire “Nobility,” he is a particularly dangerous hunter, because as a half-human, half-vampire dhampir, he is practically one of them. In fact, he has quite an illustrious lineage, but that will only be hinted at in Toyoo Ashida’s anime feature Vampire Hunter D (trailer here), which screens as part of the ongoing Goth(ic) film series at the Metrograph.

It is the year 12,090 AD and humanity is not doing great. The spawn of the few humans who survived the nuclear Armageddon live under the heel of the undead Nobility, who trace their blood line back to Dracula himself. Ten thousand-year-old Count Magnus Lee is especially powerful, but he is prone to boredom, so he decides to take pretty young orphan Doris Lang as his bride. Having marked her with his fangs, he leaves her to twist in the wind for a while, but she manages to recruit “D” to hunt the Count and hopefully free her of his influence.

Naturally, the town shuns Lang and her young brother when they learn she is marked, except for Greco Roman, the lecherous son of the sheriff, who hopes to exploit her condition. (The jerky Roman is suspiciously like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, but he predates the Disney character by six years.) D is a tough customer, but he rather rashly lets the Count’s various mutants and familiars get the drop on him. Fortunately, he is supernaturally difficult to kill.

Hunter D was one of the first successful crossover anime films and it still holds up quite well, even though subsequent mature anime releases dramatically upped the ante in terms of violence and supernatural horror. Watching it thirty-some years later is like going back to basics. Anti-heroic good dukes it out with arrogant evil in a savage wasteland that really feels very 1980s, in a good way. Plus, longtime illustrator Yoshitaka Amano’s design work is truly archetypally iconic. Frankly, you will recognize D, even if you are completely unfamiliar with the franchise.

Ashida maintains a brisk pace, showcasing a number of pleasantly gory fight scenes. Screenwriter Yasushi Hirano’s adaptation of Kikuchi’s first novel hits enough traditional vampire bases to satisfy western audiences, while introducing a good deal of the distinctive series mythology. Yes, there is even some brief fan service for horny teens.

There are western and science fiction elements in Hunter D, but it is still a natural fit for a gothic film series. Those blood moons and creepy castles still set quite the macabre mood. Nostalgically recommended for anime, horror, and spaghetti western fans, Vampire Hunter D screens twice tomorrow (12/8) as part of Goth(ic) at the Metrograph.