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Technology and civilisation have advanced beyond our current situation.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

 

Related: Vampire Hunter D (alternative prequel)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Ninja Scroll the Movie

Cowboy Bebop

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Gothic Vampire Action Fantasy Horror

Length: 1 hr. 37 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • That Gothic visual style.
  • The varied and interesting vampires.
  • Fantastic animation, particularly for the plethora of supernatural abilities.
  • The tragic touch.
  • Haunting soundtrack fits perfectly.

Negatives:

  • I want more.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, one of my favourite anime. As an avid reader and painter of Warhammer Fantasy, Bloodlust is a look at what Warhammer would be like it were brought to the anime medium. This is a film dripping with style, from Gothic architecture to German classical music to fantasy lore, and I love every bit of it.

The adventure takes place in a techno-Gothic future where vampires rule the night, but their numbers are dwindling with the rise of bounty hunters after the prices on their heads. The best hunter of all is D, a rider in black with a wide-brimmed hat and a cybernetic horse, and is a dunpeal – half-vampire, half-human – for which ordinary humans fear him. He also has a demon face living in his hand that provides comedic relief to an otherwise dark tale; his snark and cowardice are entertaining. A wealthy aristocrat hires D to recover his daughter, Lady Charlotte, who was kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link, alive or dead if turned already. Also on the trail is a group of bounty hunters who drive around in a tank, hunting the undead.

The chase takes D and the hunters through graveyards, mountain passes, a monster town, and more, ultimately culminating in an epic finale reminiscent of Warhammer meets Castlevania. Bloodlust is a film that ramps up with each stage of the narrative, getting grander and more intense with each step. Where the original Vampire Hunter D had no surprises in its simple narrative, Bloodlust surprised me several times along the way, not just twists in the story, but also elements brought into play. I didn’t expect the touches of tragedy and emotion from D and Meier in a dark tale such as this. It adds an extra layer of depth that the creators could have easily ignored.

This time around, we get a few glimpses into D’s character, which not only characterises him better, but also makes him more mysterious and intriguing. In the original, he came across as some quiet guy who fights vampires and that was it; here however, the moments into his past and the prejudice he faces as a half-vampire give you something to care about, enough to make you want to learn more. Similarly, the vampire villain, Meier, is a complete character, fitting into one of my favourite character archetypes, the tragic villain. I feel it would constitute spoilers to elaborate further, suffice it to say, Meier is a cool villain with believable motivations and actions.

Another great aspect of Bloodlust is the monsters and their supernatural powers. We see giant sand rays, a werewolf with a mouth where his stomach should be, and a woman who can meld into any surface and become that substance. That’s just the start. One of the bounty hunters, a bed-ridden man, can astral project his soul to become a laser beam firing entity of doom at the cost of his health. Oh yes, the master of shadows is especially cool. Best of all however, again, is Meier with his Batman-like cape that can turn to steel, among his many gifts. Everything about him screams Gothic vampire – it’s so rare to see vampires that aren’t worthless morons like in Buffy or melodramatic saps as seen in Twilight.

Now, to avoid overhyping, I want to make it clear the Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust isn’t the greatest anime ever made. No individual part of it is bad; however, you could take each element, narrative-wise, and add more to it – even more characterisation and backstory, even more lore, even more psychology, and so on. With tempered expectations in mind, this is an easy anime for me to recommend. You don’t need to see the original, as this draws no influence from the previous. I love this anime.

Art – Very High

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust has one of best art styles in all animation. The Gothic architecture shrouded in a dark atmosphere is wondrous and the character design, especially the vampires, perfection. The animation is great as well; the opening scene where the vampire drains all life as he passes through town to kidnap Charlotte is an excellent showcase for the artists’ skill. This art makes me hungry for more anime in this style. A Warhammer Fantasy series using this Gothic goodness would comatose me from amazement.

Sound – High

The Foley sounds are great – what a difference it makes compared to the original. Also improved is the voice work in both languages. You can’t go wrong with either track. However, the strongest audio element is the music. As with the German influenced Gothic architecture, the music borrows from famous German and Austrian classical composers to weave a haunting soundtrack that enhances the tension and horror.

Story – High

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust brings several surprises to its narrative of a half-vampire hunting a vampire to recover a human lady. The small touches of tragedy and emotion elevate this beyond a straightforward action anime. Love the vampires and their lore.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must-watch for gothic fantasy fans. What more can I say about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust? I love this film’s sense of style, its action, its tragedy, its atmosphere, and its lore.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Vampire Hunter D – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Vampire Hunter D

 

Related: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (alternative sequel)

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Blood: The Last Vampire

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Vampire Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 1 hr. 20 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gross and creepy monsters.
  • Some decent action.

Negatives:

  • Age is noticeable with tinny Foley audio and cheap art techniques.
  • Other than D and the villain, the character design is rather hilarious. The countess kills me every time.
  • Several moments of cringe worthy dialogue. (“Prepare yourself for death” – a henchman.)
  • Voice work is atrocious in English, passable in Japanese.

In the distant, dark future, monsters have taken over the land, forcing humanity to live in confined communities like medieval times. Count Magnus Lee, giant and vampire, rules one such town. One day, he decides to capture Doris, a local girl with an unnaturally short skirt, after a dinosaur eats her cybernetic horse, wanting her for his next wife. Now cursed by the vampire, Doris hires wandering vampire hunter D to free her from the count’s grasp.

Vampire Hunter D’s age is immediately apparent. Even if you ignore the 80s character design, the poor sound effects and animation shortcuts keep reminding you this anime is three decades old. You have to be able to look past this if you want to have a chance of enjoying Vampire Hunter D. If not, skip this one.

With that in mind, this is a decent anime. D has to fight his way through a variety of monsters, maggoty, many-eyed, tentacle, wormy, monsters in the count’s techno-Gothic castle. There’s also the talking demon face that lives in D’s hand, which is rather creepy, I’ll admit, even more so than the spider launcher. D cuts one monster in two and his guts pop out like a piñata – the gore is nice, except when the blood spray is more comical than Monty Python.

These action moments are the most enjoyable of Vampire Hunter D, which are unfortunately distracted from by Doris’s scenes. She is useless against the count, let alone his minions, so her conflict centres on sexual advances from the mayor’s sleazy son, and getting attacked by the vampire’s henchmen, including one of the most hilariously designed characters in anime history – Countess Ramika, the vampire’s daughter. One could make a case for UN membership with such mass. Even when she talks, it’s hilarious; Doris will speak at a regular volume, to which Ramika replies in spastic, wild bursts, peppered with random laughs for the most innocuous dialogue. Her tone is so wildly out of place, I actually found it entertaining.

Even with all its dated flaws, Vampire Hunter D was an enjoyable experience for the monster slaying and action, even if brief. Then again, this film isn’t long, so you don’t have to endure the problems for long. That dome could block out the sun…

Art – Medium

Vampire Hunter D hasn’t aged well in the visual department. I like the dark style, but the use of background streaks, comical blood spray, and 80s character design does hurt the eyes. And the countess’s forehead… Still slays me.

Sound – Low

The sound effects are often bad; you can hear the Foley artist at work in his studio. Sounds like a 16-bit game. The voice acting is passable at best in Japanese and awful in English. Of all audio elements, the music is the best and adds to the dark atmosphere.

Story – Medium

Vampire Hunter D has a simple story of a vampire hunter tasked with killing a vampire count. The core of the adventure – D fighting through the count’s traps, monsters, and goons – is good, but all outside of this is weak, particularly the girl’s scenes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Vampire Hunter D’s age makes it a difficult anime to recommend today. If you can look past that, this is a decent film. Or you could watch the excellent Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Useless Side Cast

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gankutsuou

 

Similar: Gungrave

Code Geass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Drama Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A thrilling story of revenge and corruption.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo is a multi-layered and fully textured (in more ways than one) character. One of the greats.
  • That creative art style, that texturing, utterly beautiful.
  • Manages to take a 19th century story and place it in the 6th millennium without feeling out of place.
  • A soundtrack fit for the style and themes.

Negatives:

  • Some CG stands out too much.

There’s always a degree of tension when adapting a famous classic, even more so when to a medium that couldn’t be more different from the source. First, you have the fans sitting in their beds, eyes glaring over the top of novels, ears twitching as they sense someone touching “their” property. At the other end, there’s Alexandre Dumas peeking out of his grave in the Pantheon of Paris. And in the middle, you have the small crew of anime artists. It’s a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Mexican standoff, each party eyeing the others, wary of disaster. Dr Seuss in the stands screams, “Don’t let ‘em do it, Lex!” waving his ‘I hate The Lorax’ flag. Thankfully, the new team came through.

High up in a private opera box, a man, his hair like rivers of cosmic ink, his skin an ethereal blue, awards a bouquet of flowers to the opera singer. The theatre gasps. Who is this count? The mysterious figure invites young Viscount Albert and his friend Baron Franz over for dinner. He doesn’t eat, though the food is superb. He plays with fate, gambling lives – Albert sets a criminal free. Illusion of choice. The naïve, idealist Albert is enthralled, frightened, by this stranger, yearning to see the galaxy, escape his confined life of arranged marriage. His handshake was cold, like ice.

Gankutsuou is the story of a man out for revenge, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo novel. The narrative doesn’t show the betrayal like in the novel; instead, the anime opens with the first stage of the revenge, using twenty-three episodes to execute every detail of the Count’s plan. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, this adds extra layers of mystery to the plot; however, if you are familiar with the original, then fear not, as Gankutsuou has plenty of surprises in store. Everything fits to the original, yet feels fresh. They still have duels, only they fight mechs. By setting it in the distant future, the writers could incorporate several new elements like aliens instead of foreigners, some of them supernatural. The Count has a horse for a spy – need I say more?

Though we see through Albert’s perspective, the Count is without a doubt the star. He uses his unfathomable wealth, charm, and guile to play everyone like pieces on his board. The aristocrats of Paris with their decadent lifestyles, worlds of opera, flirtations, and palaces are a feast to his talents. He is a master manipulator. The way he gets into people’s heads without them realising is a delight to watch. He plays on their weakness while charming them as well so they don’t notice his ploy. Rather than outmanoeuvring them on the battlefield, he creates situations where his enemies can’t resist exposing their true natures, where people discover darkness they didn’t realise was there, and they don’t notice it was the Count who set it up.

He has a constant aura of mystery about him (as he intends, I am sure) that is both captivating and frightening. In a world of high tech cars and ships, he rides in a sleek black carriage drawn by black horses – the sort of thing Batman would have. The artists fuse high intensity orchestral pieces of heavy brass, tragic opera, theatre, and literature to create a rich world around him, both beautiful and grim. There are detailed paintings in shots that last a couple of seconds, taking more effort than entire backgrounds from other anime, all to reflect his character and those of his enemies.

A true delight is to understand the Count, or try to, at least. Which actions are manipulations and which are real emotions? Is everything he does part of the grand plan? It’s heart breaking to see a good man so consumed by revenge, as it tore me between my sense of justice for him and wish for him to find peace.

Gankutsuou is the sort of show that keeps me in anime. It reminds me that no matter how bad an anime I have seen, there will always be a few artists who can create something unique and captivating. I leave you with a quote from the Count that illustrates his complexities: “I am now no longer alone in my solitude. For I am now surrounded by the Furies, the goddesses of vengeance. In the darkness, I awaited the dawn. And once dawn came, I cursed my flesh until night fell once more. I even prayed that I would lose my sanity. But those prayers went unheeded. I even strove for death, but the Devil’s cold, pitiless hand held me back.

Art – Very High

The most unique art in anime. A kaleidoscope of texture and colour. You could take just about any screenshot from Gankutsuou and it would be a piece of art. It’s fun figuring out where you have seen that texture before. Is her hair a thumbprint? While the texturing does blend much of the CG into the scene, some of it still looks out of place when in prominence.

Sound – Very High

The voice work is great in either language; it’s a matter of preference. I preferred English for the use of French honorifics in a French setting. Strangely, they changed the French introductions from the Japanese track to English in the English track – I would have thought they would do it even better with a bilingual English actor. The count’s deep voice is suave yet menacing. Gankutsuou exhibits a fantastic soundtrack. There’s no out-of-place J-pop here, just piano, opera, harp, and a few English and French lyrical tracks. The piece used for mystery makes the heart race with excitement at the unfolding drama.

Story – Very High

This anime is excellence in storytelling with well-implemented science fiction changes to the original novel. To see the Count manipulate people in such cunning ways makes for a gripping tale.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo shows how much the anime medium can achieve when adapting a foreign literary masterpiece, maintaining the core of the source material while making it their own. From the characters to the marvellous art, every facet comes together in an unforgettable series.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueGreat MusicStrategicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Trigun – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Trigun

 

Related: Trigun: Badlands Rumble (movie side story, included in the review)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Black Lagoon

Trinity Blood

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes & a movie

 

Positives:

  • Hilarious for a good portion of the series.
  • Art that holds up well, despite the age. (1998!)
  • The episodic arcs have believable characters with interesting stories to tell.
  • A savage, lawless world.

Negatives:

  • Consequences of pacifism ideology don’t go far enough.
  • Narrative wimps out at the end for convenience when on the brink.
  • Lack of humour in the last third makes for a deceptive setup.

It feels like only yesterday I watched Trigun, laughing with a friend at Vash’s hysterics all those years ago. One of the first anime I watched, actually. Even back then, Trigun was considered old. Trigun comes from an era that dropped the hippie hairstyles and knew audiences could handle adult themes in a medium saturated with ‘he’s-not-really-dead’ narratives. Ironic, considering the pacifist theme in Trigun.

Vash the Stampede is the man with a sixty-billion dollar bounty on his needly-haired head, for everywhere he goes, nothing but destruction follows. He’s said to be a womaniser and the worst man ever. In reality, he’s a coward and a pacifist who feels queasy at the sight of blood. The destruction is a result of bounty hunters doing whatever it takes to claim the prize. So really, he does leave cities in rubble wherever he goes, just not by his own hand. Tailing him are Meryl and Milly, two insurance agents investigating monetary claims for damages caused by Vash. Meryl, serious about damage control, acts as a foil to Vash’s idiocy, whereas Milly provides extra muscle with the minigun she keeps stashed under her coat.

Vash’s policy is one of non-violence where possible and absolutely no killing, even to the point of stupidity. He gets by on skill and plenty of luck. With only rumours to go on, bounty hunters often miss Vash as he cowers behind the bar. Vash is so pathetic in person that no one believes he’s the human typhoon when they meet him, making for easy escapes.

For the first third of Trigun, Vash switches between charm and absolute silliness where comedy takes most of the screen time. Come the middle, we see a serious side to Vash, as bounty hunters get more dangerous and his past catches up to him. By the final third, humour has all but evaporated along with Vash’s lighter side. He still clings to his idealistic views, but has little to joke about. My problem is with the third section. Starting Trigun, one gets the impression of a hilarious action-comedy with a hint of seriousness; however, the later it goes, the drearier it gets. Blind turns in storytelling are great as long as what’s around the corner is awesome. In Trigun’s case, not so much. The narrative builds, showing the consequences of his naïve pacifism, and builds further towards Vash confronting his past, facing his choices. Until the final episode, Trigun is pulling back for that knockout out punch, but when it comes to delivery, it’s no more than a flick to the nose, Vash let off easy for convenience. No sacrifice made. No lesson learned.

That is not to say Trigun is bad, but it does suffer a lot because of an unwillingness to push a character over the edge. It makes me wish they had kept the comedy for longer since the seriousness delivered a let-down. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Trigun’s world of bounty hunters, gunfights, and shady business.

Trigun: Badlands Rumble

Badlands Rumble is a non-canon movie, akin to an extended episode. It follows notorious robber Gasback on a mission of revenge against his former crew for stabbing him in the back. Hundreds of bounty hunters gather in Macca City, Gasback’s next target to claim the three-hundred million reward. Vash is caught up in the affair, as always, and so are the regulars from Trigun.

Both visual and audio quality show great improvement, which is to be expected twelve years later. Even though Trigun still looks great, seeing it updated in Badlands Rumble makes a great case for remaking all art and sound in the original. As far as story goes, this won’t appeal to those who aren’t already Trigun fans. It still has the weak pacifism that castrates any lasting consequences throughout the movie.

Art – High

While the visuals look their age, they hold up because the artists put effort into the animation and Wild West style of Trigun. The remastered edition touches it up a little. Badlands Rumble shows the excellent visuals if remade.

Sound – High

Voice work is good in both languages; however, some lines in English are rushed to fit the lip flaps. A soundtrack of rock and electric guitar riffs for the action and sax solos when it relaxes. Sound effects are underwhelming, especially given the amount of gunfire. Ending theme sounds awful, like a Walkman running out of batteries or a drunkard drowning in the city fountain.

Story – High

Vash as a character is interesting, bolstered by a robust, even if at times underdeveloped, side cast. His journey fleeing from his past and his power is a mix of humorous and emotional elements. Shame the author didn’t push reality far enough.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Highly recommended to those who like emotion layered on top of action-comedy. Trigun starts hilarious before it transitions into seriousness as Vash faces the consequences of his choices, which, outside of a few stumbles, is well worth your time.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Charm

Negative: 

Weak End

Please Teacher! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Onegai Teacher

 

Related: Please Twins! (Same setting)

Similar: Midori Days

Waiting in the Summer

To-LOVE-Ru

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Romance Comedy

Length: 12 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Several genuinely funny moments.
  • The teacher is a fun character with her kind heart, ditziness, and jealousy.
  • Tsutaetai Koto ga Arunda’ is a gorgeous piano track.
  • Looks surprisingly polished considering the low budget narrative.

Negatives:

  • Suffers from several anime romantic comedy clichés, especially the ‘interrupted kiss’ a dozen times.
  • The most contrived twist occurs in the final third to force “meaningful” drama before the conclusion.
  • The teacher’s family is irritating, her sister in particular, for the few episodes they are in.

I really wanted to like Please Teacher more than I do. It could have either been a great piece of socially commentary or death-by-laughter hilarious and charming – or both. Unfortunately, it didn’t even come within the horizon of what I wished. And no, it isn’t because of the student-teacher relationship premise; that premise is Please Teacher’s most interesting aspect. In the real world, a student-teacher relationship isn’t alright because it’s a breach of trust and abuse of power (even if of consenting age, as in the case of Please Teacher). In the real world, there also isn’t a disease that comatoses people at random, halting the ageing process while unconscious. However, in fiction, you are free to explore ‘what if.’

What if your teacher was an alien? What if you have to pretend to be in a relationship with her to cover up the fact that she is an alien from your family? Then what if you have to marry her to cover up the fact that you are in an illicit relationship with your teacher from the principal, saving her job, which is a cover up for the fact that she is an alien? (Breathe!) It’s an interesting scenario, and the one of Please Teacher.

Kei is a fifteen-year-old (in appearance) high school student who witnesses the teleportation of a beautiful alien woman with pink hair to his town’s lake. I say in appearance because he is eighteen, but suffers from an affliction that causes blackouts referred to as ‘stand stills,’ one lasting three years, throughout which he didn’t age a day. The morning after the alien arrival, he is shocked to see that she is his new schoolteacher, Ms Kazami. Furthermore, she moves in next door to him. After a series of mishaps involving her TARDIS-like alien complex, resulting in a compromising situation between the two, Kei lies to his uncle about them being in a relationship with her. Kei’s uncle goes along with it (he has the hots for the voluptuous teacher despite his wife standing over his shoulder), and is the funniest character in the series.

Matters escalate further, when the school principal finds Kei and Ms Kazami locked in the sports equipment room. The uncle comes up with the genius idea that they are married, saving her job and his place in school (true age revealed to address the legality). She is a charming character.

Much of the humour comes from them hiding the relationship, especially from Kei’s school friends, and his awkward inexperience with women. Make no mistake; there are plenty of risqué moments and clever sexual innuendos, but nothing explicit. Though Please Teacher isn’t gasping-for-air hilarious, it still has a good number of gags, most of which are in the first half and the OVA (the funniest episode). Past the halfway mark, the humour declines to make room for “drama.”

This drama is utter rubbish. There is the most contrived twist with Kei in the final third attempting to bring depth the narrative. To call it a twist is generous. I won’t spoil it, but if it were spoiled, you would be dumbfounded by its stupidity. One would think that the greatest opportunity for drama in a student-teacher relationship is the illicit nature or at least the age difference. Nope, nothing to do with the relationship at all. Pathetic. I am all for drama, but this… And it came at the expense of all humour. At least the funny OVA that follows afterwards set the record straight.

In the end, Please Teacher is an enjoyable show outside of the final third’s swan dive into arse gravy. The dynamic between Kei and Ms Kazami is fun to watch as they hide their relationship. Recommended for an easy viewing experience.

Art – High

Sports surprisingly polished art and character design considering the easy-money narrative. Doesn’t feel cheap.

Sound – Medium

Good voice work in both languages and one particularly great piano piece. The rest of the music is bland.

Story – Medium

A pleasant and fun story about a boy forced to marry his teacher…until the final third that decapitates the humour for terrible drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If you want something fun to watch with an interesting premise and a good amount of polish, then Please Teacher is for you. Also, you must be able to look past the student-teacher relationship.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions)

Positive: None.

Negative: 

ShallowWeak End