The first Vampire Hunter D movie came out in 1985 and is a big deal in anime history, but not actually that great. I've watched it, but I don't remember much about it. I believe the technical term is "forgettable". It has an imagination-grabbing setting, but otherwise its significance mostly lies in the fact that it was groundbreaking at the time in its use of gore, action and violence. It was one of the first anime to be made not for TV or cinemas, but for Japan's emerging home video market.
This sequel, made fifteen years later, is much better. I liked it.
It's set in the distant future, which the first movie nails down to 12,090 AD. It's a post-holocaust Mad Max world, with vampire aristocrats and a human populace. This is pretty cool and easily the best thing about the franchise, since neither the characters nor the plotting are anything particularly special. All at the same time, this world will remind you of:
1. Traditional Victorian vampire stories, with cobbled streets and characters you could imagine stepping from the pages of Bram Stoker. There's even an explicit reference to the 19th century classics and Sheridan Le Fanu, in the form of a vampire countess called Carmilla who ruled for 5,000 years.
2. Westerns, with bounty hunters in the desert.
3. Science fiction, with spaceships like ancient relics and surreal defence systems that make eyeballs materialise in the sky and shoot you with lasers. At one point, as a random throwaway, we run into Sand Mantas big enough to swallow you and your horse in a single gulp.
4. Weird dark fantasy, with freaky monsters that beyond the usual horror stereotypes. I'd guessed that the werewolf was a werewolf, but I hadn't expected him to take that form. There's a living killer shadow (I think) and a buxom woman who can melt her body into inanimate objects and make them shoot spikes. I also liked the weird old dude on a unicycle.
These films are based on a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, with this being based on the third in the series: Demon Deathchase. So far the series contains 35 individual books and also has other related Vampire Hunter series, novellas and short stories. Its world is thus well fleshed out. It has geography, cities and history. It's also developed since the previous film. Then, vampires were in control. Now they're being hunted by mankind and in danger of being wiped out, although this seems implausible given their power levels. "When the last vampire is extinct, who will mourn our passing?" This is crucial for the movie because this time, the vampires are the underdogs. They're being hunted down and killed by bounty hunters. Half-vampires ("danpeal") like Vampire Hunter D himself will be hated by bigots, even from communities that he saved generations ago.
This is a story about intolerance and the persecution of minorities. Admittedly this could have been the usual "boo hoo, pity me and my immortality and superpowers", but in fact the film makes it work. It has dignity and power, thanks to strong vampire-human relationships. I liked it a lot.
What's less impressive is the voice acting. It's in English. The completed film was only released theatrically in English and so in Japan, was subtitled in Japanese. I don't know if that's also true of the VHS release, but it stopped me watching this movie for years because obviously I'd sooner watch a Roger Corman marathon than anime in English. This was silly of me because the movie's rather good, but still the English voice cast are even worse than I'd expected, seeming to think that being an impassive badass bounty hunter means you shouldn't do any acting. Andy Philpot's voice as D is boring, although that said I got used to him. The women are particularly bad, except for Julia Fletcher as Carmilla. In fairness all this is merely poor rather than annoying and so I should be counting my blessings, but even so it's hardly praise to say "the film's still watchable."
Footnote: there is apparently a Japanese dub. All that remains is to track it down.
Incidentally the writer/director is an important name, Yoshiaki Kawajiri. He's famous for titles like Wicked City
(another Hideyuki Kikuchi adaptation) and Ninja Scroll, while of the things I've seen, I'm fond of his work on X.
He also did a segment of The Animatrix.
To be honest, I wouldn't particularly recommend the 1985 film, but this one's good. The story has a point. I like the themes and I was impressed by the emotional weight of moments like Baron Meier Link in the sunlight or the understated epilogue two generations later. However at the same time, there's plenty of action and violence and the animation is always lovely to look at even when the subject matter isn't. ("We were ambushed." Ewww.) Hideyuki Kikuchi has apparently been compared with Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, which doesn't in itself mean very much, but he's a very successful horror author and a skim through outlines of his novels made some of them sound good. I was tempted by Pale Fallen Angel, for instance. If they made another Vampire Hunter D movie, I'd buy it.
"Because I'm a dunpeal. I don't get to have a life."