Urban Vision Entertainment announced back in April 2000 that "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust," an animated horror film based on a series of popular Japanese novels, had been completed but was still seeking a distributor. The company was determined to get "Bloodlust" an extensive theatrical release -- a rare feat for an anime film in America. Seeing the movie, it's easy to understand why it held out for theaters, and why distributors were leery. The latest gore-spattered visual wonderland from director Yoshiaki Kawajiri ("Biohunter," "Wicked City") certainly demands to be seen on the big screen, but it just as certainly doesn't demand to be seen by all audiences.
Like the 1985 anime classic simply called "Vampire Hunter D" (based on a different installment in the book series), "Bloodlust" follows an emotionless, soft-spoken vampire hunter who's half-vampire himself. Promised a vast reward by a rich and grieving family, "D" (Andrew Philpot) attempts to chase down an aristocratic, soft-spoken vampire lord (John Rafter Lee) who's kidnapped a beautiful young girl (Wendee Lee). Along the way, he encounters a never-ending assortment of aggressively murderous semi-human creatures, including a werewolf, a shape-shifter, a phantom queen and a subculture of human-hating monsters. He also repeatedly runs into his competition, a pack of rough-and-ready bounty hunters, who, in spite of their extensive equipment and superlative fighting skills, mostly serve as cannon fodder.
Like Kawajiri's other movies, particularly the fan favorite "Ninja Scroll," "Bloodlust" mostly consists of clashes between super-powered beings whose methods of killing each other are endlessly creative, messy and visually astonishing. The story is simple and predictable, though the characters stand out for their failure to fit into the simple good/evil paradigm of comparable American horror films. But the animation is spectacular.
The digital production work gives "Bloodlust" a full range of rushing, kinetic motion, laid out in dark, saturated colors that look overripe to the point of bursting. No corners appear to have been cut: The elaborate Gothic setting is meticulously detailed and fully lives up to the character designs by "The Dream Hunters" illustrator Yoshitaka Amano. "Bloodlust" is both an animation landmark and a beautifully realized film. It's a pity its subject matter couldn't be a bit prettier, as well.
This review was reprinted with permission from the Onion A.V. Club