(it) wrote: VAMPIRE HUNTER D has always been a cult favorite of many Anime fans dating all the way back to what historians would call the "dark days of Anime". Back then, Anime had limited exposure to American audiences, aside from the occasional showing of children's cartoons often mangled and edited. But with the release of Katsuhiro Otomo's controversially violent but nonetheless brilliant AKIRA, an interest in edgy, darkly animated, gritty features from the Land of the Rising Sun was ignited, and so it followed with several titles imported. This low-budget animated direct-to-video feature from 1985 was one of them. Based on a book by renowned Japanese Horror author Hideyuki Kikuchi sporting smoky-hazed illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano (who would later gain cult status for his work on the classic FINAL FANTASY series and later, Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman"), VAMPIRE HUNTER D aimed to be an edgy thriller, a horror movie, and even a love story all rolled in one. That said, critics were not unanimously ecstatic. Reviews were mixed, with most criticisms centered on the somewhat stilted animation or sometimes inconsistent characters. To this day, VAMPIRE HUNTER D has its share of detractors. But it also has its share of devoted fans, many of who had grown up in the West with a dubbed version produced by the late Carl Macek and his company, Streamline Pictures.Set in a post-apocalyptic future where vampires and mutants have overrun a human world, VAMPIRE HUNTER D begins on a dark night with a deftly choreographed action scene. Here we see Doris Lang, a courageous werewolf hunter's daughter stalking her gardens in pursuit of a T-Rex like monster with sharp teeth and scarlet eyes. Chasing it into the forest on horseback, Doris finds herself face to face with an even more imposing threat -- a hulking, shadowy vampire known as Count Magnus Lee. Naturally, the bloodthirsty aristocrat takes a drink from our heroine's jugular vein. The following day, Doris encounters a lone figure on a cyborg horse -- a mysterious cloaked stranger called "D." Desperately, she hires him. The rest of the movie involves D doing everything in his power to slay the evil count to save Doris from an eternal life as a walking undead. Meanwhile, Doris must protect her impulsive little brother, Dan, and fend off the advances of an unwelcome suitor, the arrogant mayor's son Greco. Matters are further complicated when D also has to deal with L'armica, Count Lee's jealous daughter, and the ambitious Rei Ginsei, a deadly noble wanna-be who will do anything to earn his master's favor. During all this, Doris falls madly in love with D -- but it turns out that her rescuer (surprise) is half-vampire himself. (This explains why his left hand has a creepy-looking face that can talk to its master or even suck up nasty creatures.)Despite its promise of multi-threads, VAMPIRE HUNTER D turns out to be a much more simplistic story in execution, even bordering on predictable. Somehow the viewer knows that the lead character is going to triumph in the end in spite of the obstacles he faces in his quest. More problematic to viewers expecting flashy visuals might be the animation. As mentioned, this is a low-budget animated feature, resulting with a cel count that borders on choppiness in places. As such, the dramatic style of Amano's character illustrations loses a lot in the transition to screen. Furthermore, the backgrounds, although dark and appropriately imaginative, lack detail at times. As such, the film can seem visually dated to many viewers. Likewise, the soundtrack shares similar qualities. Although the sound effects are appropriately haunting and scary, at times they do sound cheesy, particularly the synthesizer sound effects when Count Lee sends rays from his eyes. The musical score from TM Network's Tetsuya Komuro is fittingly epic and sometimes spooky, although it is obviously driven by synth instruments from the '80s.Faults aside, VAMPIRE HUNTER D still delivers some entertainment value for viewers willing to overlook such technical shortcomings. In spite of its aforementioned predictability (some might argue this movie was tailor-made for Western audiences), VAMPIRE HUNTER D delves into some complex issues: D's inner struggle to resist his own instincts when Doris makes sexual advances on him and his inability to express his true compassion to others results from some very understandable emotions. It is also intriguing to discover that the villainous Count Lee's actions are motivated mostly by the desire for sport rather than malice, although he still does exude evil in every scene. The action and fight sequences are also skillfully choreographed in the style of a samurai-slasher.It's also important to note that this movie has its share of graphic violence--there are quite a bit of gory swordfights, resulting with stabbing, amputating, or slicing in half. There is also one particularly disgusting moment toward the end where a character's head explodes, exposing his insides. (A character's face is also briefly stabbed in the eye in the subsequent scene.) While all this may sound pretty extreme for squeamish viewers, the cheap production values actually make the violence less gruesome and more campy, making it easier to sit through than most bloodfests. (Even so, both Sentai's release and Streamline's version are guilty of censor in one instance; a climactic character's graphic death at the end is interspersed by a flashing red cut which feels out of place and jarring.) There are also a few very inoffensive nude scenes. This is a movie best appreciated by an adult audience; parents should think twice before considering showing this to children.Perhaps it's partially because of this graphic nature that VAMPIRE HUNTER D succeeded in crossover success from its native country of Japan to the West. Dubbed in 1992, Streamline Pictures' release has been a nostalgic favorite for old school Anime fans to this day. Having said that, critics and many fans of the time still staked it with scathing reviews. I at one time appreciated this older dub, but over the years I have grown less and less fond of it. I'm not sure what it was that turned me off from it over the years, but then I figured it out: it sounds dreadfully stiff and stilted. In all fairness, Michael McConnohie, Barbara Goodson, Jeff Winkless, Lara Cody, and Kirk Thornton are all fine voice actors. The problem is that they were saddled into a production that veered on pure cheese and a lot of choppy-sounding dialogue ranging from mundane to laughable. There were also instances when Macek did a bit of tampering with the music, extending Komuro's score longer than usual sometimes sounding out of place with the visuals. Most infamously, the opening scene in which Doris is confronted by the Count has a rather corny "permit me to introduce" myself monologue which not only diluted the mood, it gave a very laughable quality that sadly would be exacerbated by phony Transylvanian accents and even a groan worthy love confession ripped off from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Doris: I love you. D: I know.) The sound quality was quite bad, too, although that may be on the fault of the equipment used at the time, so I wouldn't dock the dub against it. This same dub was retained on Urban Vision's DVD release, which likewise used Streamline's cut of the film (which aside from the aforementioned censor, was otherwise uncut), resulting in a lot of heavy over saturation and muddy images.Now, thirty years after its debut in 1985, Sentai Filmworks has brought this title back from the dead and given it a fresh new coat of paint... er, fresh blood. (Get it?) Remastered from the original film elements, this movie has never looked better. The colors literally spring to life off the screen and sequences compromised by an overuse of darkness are brighter. It really does feel like a totally new movie in and of itself. The only drawback of the transfer is the occasional sight of speckles on the print (mostly dust particles accumulated on the cel before the camera photographed it), but otherwise, the video quality is amazing with a capital "A."In what may be a controversial move to fans of the Streamline dub, Sentai Filmworks has opted not to include that version on its BD release, but instead provide a brand new version. This will likely be a point of contention, as a lot of Streamline titles which received new dubs (AKIRA, CASTLE IN THE SKY, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, NADIA--THE SECRET OF BLUE WATER, CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, GETTER ROBO, 3x3 EYES) have often been harshly maligned by old school fans, even though some might argue in the cases of some of those films, these newer versions were sorely needed, as a lot of these older dubs hadn't aged well at all.I do have a couple of minor issues regarding Sentai's newer dub, but unlike the Streamline version, this revamp, headed by Matt Greenfield of ADV fame, does a very commendable job of bringing the movie closer to its more serious intent, stripping it of much of the unintentional humor. The script is a fresh new translation of the original Japanese and sounds much better written and more natural, giving a more "adult" vibe. As far as the voices are concerned, the weakest voice of the dub is the same character that I had similar issues with in the Streamline version: that of Dan, Doris' little brother. In all fairness, Shannon Emerick does bring a bit more spunk to the role, but her voice, like her older dub counterpart, still strikes me as unconvincing for a little boy (at least she's not as distractingly feminine, though, thank goodness!). Otherwise, the rest of the cast is appropriate and well-fitting for the most part. I will always prefer Andrew Philpot and Mike McShane as D and his chatty left hand from Yoshiaki Kawajiri's later semi-sequel VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST; however, John Gremillion's performance as the title character is still a big improvement over that of McConnohie from the original, sounding far less cheesy and more natural throughout. As D's left hand, Andy McAvin, who also plays Rei Ginsei, is also thankfully less nasally than his Streamline counterpart, and even gets the best line: "This guy is quite a HAND-ful." Luci Christian also sounds much more convincing and puts a lot more emotion into her role as Doris, making her a sympathetic character and her dialogue is thankfully free of any Kate Capshaw-isms. However, it's David Wald who really steals the show; as Count Magnus Lee, Wald has a smooth, regal-sounding baritone who sounds somewhat similar to Keith David. He's also very charismatic and dripping with pure evil; a HUGE improvement over Jeff Winkless' laughably stilted turn in the Streamline dub (the fake sound vocal effects not even helping). Surprisingly, both he and his daughter, L'armica (Brittany Karbowski) are both given upper-class accents as opposed to the Transylvanian ones in the older one; frankly, though, I think it's all the better for it. It's a bit of a surprise that the people of Doris' village, including Greco, are given Southern accents until one remembers that this is supposed to be a "Western" vampire. It takes some getting used to, particularly in the case of Jay Hickman's drawling Greco, but having said that the actor does provide a bit of a slightly humorous touch to the role, giving him more character than Steve Bulen's too wispy-sounding and not forceful enough turn. The sound mix also sounds really good; not only are the voices better recorded, the music and sound effects also much more crisper than the Streamline version -- even mixed to 5.1, on the DVD it still sounded very muddy. As mentioned, Streamline's dub was not well received by the Anime community; time will tell if Sentai's newer dub gets better recognition (although Streamline loyalists will find it jarring either way), but as far as I'm concerned, this is a huge improvement over the original. (And yes, purists, the Japanese version IS still on the Blu Ray, complete with subtitles -- and for the first time, the ending song "Your Song" is translated!)The only slight negative about Sentai's otherwise stunning BluRay is that there aren't enough extras. Urban Vision's DVD has the upper hand when it comes to that; aside from the Japanese trailer (the only thing from that release which is still retained here), there was also a "making of" featurette featuring director Toyoo Ashida and members of the original Japanese cast recording their roles. That is sorely missed, as is a video game preview and a gallery from Amano. If you still have your Urban Vision DVDs, you might wanna hold onto them just for that.On the whole, though, Sentai deserves a shootout for their reworking of this fan favorite. Not only does it look amazing, it sounds better than ever. More importantly, it gives what some might consider a lesser animated feature new life. I still maintain that Kawajiri's VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST is the superior version of this tale -- much more complex and ambiguous -- but having said that I recommend this newer edition of the original. It truly prowls the night.