Vampire Hunter D (1985) – The Quintessential Classic Horror Anime Film

Vampire Hunter D (吸血鬼ハンターD) is an anime film that originally released in 1985 and is an adaptation of the light novel series by Hideyuki Kikuchi, with illustrations from the esteemed Yoshitaka Amano. Epic/Sony Records, Movic, CBS Sony Group, and Asahi Production produced the film, while Toyoo Ashida directed. This is a cyberpunk, supernatural, horror franchise and the films are some of my favourites of all-time.

The Vampire Hunter D film follows Doris Lang, who is the daughter of a late werewolf hunter. One evening while she’s making her rounds in the countryside, she is confronted and assaulted by Count Magnus Lee, who is a vampire noble—presumed to be long dead—and one who wishes to make Doris his new bride. A few days later, Doris meets a mysterious stranger on cybernetic-horseback, who she comes to recognise as a vampire hunter. This enigmatic man, known simply as D, shows great strength, so Doris hires him to protect her by killing Count Magnus and saving her from her dark fate.

Vampire Hunter D’s beauty lies with its ability to be unapologetically original. For starters, it is one of the most brutal anime films I have ever seen, never shying away from stunning sprays of scarlet and beautiful broken bones or decapitations. It displayed itself proudly without reservation. This happened in the mid ‘80s, where it was virtually unheard of to be able to showcase that sort of viciousness on-screen, specifically in animation. I still remember the very first time I watched Doris destroy a monster, the bullets plying through its neck and red liquid spurting out everywhere. It was a gloriously, jaw-dropping moment, one that I was able to relive while re-watching it after many years. By seeing it all again, I appreciated it all the more because it, honestly, is something that you do not get to see in mainstream animation today.

I recently began watching an Online Net Animation (ONA) called Calamity of a Zombie Girl, and while it has graphic scenes of blood and guts, it’s laced with an overarching comedic effect that softens that intensity and stomach-churning qualities that would normally make that sort of thing so disturbing. I felt rather disappointed and disheartened with continuing with the episode. Those thirty minutes are akin to virtually the majority of anime films or media with violence: it must be cushioned. There are exceptions, of course, as there always are, such as with Tokyo Ghoul Season One and Hellsing Ultimate. But these are just a minor handful out of the sea of hundreds. In that sense, the gratuitous violence offered in VHD is remarkably timeless.

In addition to the violence, VHD also never shied away from being really fucking bizarre with its use of monsters. The choice to be so unapologetically strange was a brilliant move as B-grade horror films in the West were on the rise with classics such as Friday the 13th, The Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead 1 & 2, Hellraiser, & Fright Night. Vampire Hunter D was a phenomenal addition to these masterpieces of cult horror, adding to the collection with a distinctly Japanese-infused horror aesthetic—such as the scene where D is walking through a dark hallway that is packed from floor to ceiling with demented and deranged monsters of various sorts—that, again, is disappointingly rare in contemporary animation.

Ambiance is another facet that encapsulates the audience with spine-tingly fear and the uncomfortable anticipation of what the bloody hell will happen next. The scenery that is shown is drenched in shadows and black silhouettes amid vibrant crimson backdrops. The use of otherwise miniscule details, like crumbling ruins, cemeteries, and looming castles, are crafted so well as to create a deeply psychological effect, enveloping you in Gothic excellence. When you remove all dialogue and have barest minimum instrumental complements to such scenes, it really sets the tone and mood for the next hour and a half; perfect escapism.

As a fan of science-fiction and horror, it blew my mind to have a film that took the best traits from both genres and brought them together so fantastically. The cyberpunk qualities are more inferred rather than blatantly expressed or described, such as the laser weapons used and the fact that D’s horse is cybernetic. You see just as much of the futuristic technology as you do of the Gothic scenery; they are equally balanced and flow nicely to develop a twisted and fucked-up world that you can’t help but be more curious about.

The creation of Vampire Hunter D, with its uniquely ‘80s style animation, and everything else that I have mentioned make it a classic in terms of cinematography and production, but then you also have the characters. Doris Lang is a female who isn’t afraid to fight back. She doesn’t allow herself to be victimised, which was a norm in many mediums during the time period, and that set her apart. Does she succeed? Not always. Nevertheless, it never stops her from trying. Lang is also one of the first depictions of consistent fanservice throughout an entire episode or film with a severely short, asymmetrical dress and a few scenes of pure nudity. Even today, there are a lot of shows that do panty shots or have ridiculous emphasis on large cleavage, but rarely will you see full on bare breasts. A part of the charm for the fanservice in Vampire Hunter D is that it never makes a big deal out of it. Doris never flips out or gets embarrassed when she’s naked or flashing her rear end. It’s just a tiny little after-affect in the midst of the rest of plot. When a film/series can refuse to acknowledge that these things are happening and just treat them as normal occurrences—no pointing fingers or having exaggerated responses—it makes it easier and more comfortable to watch. I would say that it even adds to the risqué aspects that it may have been vying for.

Then we have D himself, the very first quintessential strong, quiet, badass. His entire persona is built on indistinctness. His name is D. His past, aside from the revelation of what he is and who his parents may have been, a giant ball of unknown. Even his appearance, aside from the occasional glance to his face, is unfamiliar and ethereal. It all contributes to allure of D, while complementing the world-building as it plays parallel to the vagueness of the realm.

There are many more things that I could mention about Vampire Hunter D, but honestly, the best way to experience how extraordinary it is, and why it is considered to be a timeless classic in Japanese animation, is to watch it for yourself. I would go into it with a grain of salt if you’re a newbie otaku because, admittedly, the animation may not hold up well for many people who are used to—or only familiar—with modern anime, where everything is neat, crisp, and shiny. Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, that is part of its inherent allure. If you want an authentically Gothic, bizarre, and violent-as-fuck cyberpunk watching experience, then I highly recommend you watch Vampire Hunter D.

8.75 serpents outta 10!

A very special shout-out to one of my closest friends for having a discussion with me about the film. I probably wouldn’t have been able to write this review without your help. You’re the best!

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me today! Until next time, happy reading and happy otakuing! 💙

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20 thoughts on “Vampire Hunter D (1985) – The Quintessential Classic Horror Anime Film


    Dude, I hella wanna fucking watch this now. AH!! Everything you said about it absolutely fucking correct! They really don’t make anime like this anymore. The most violent anime nowadays have been Beserk, Hellsing Ultimate, and a couple others, but they’re mainly serials, and even then, they have their limitations. But an anime film? Nuh-uh. Have you seen Bloodlust? It’s the sequel to this, much better, and so beautiful. You should do a review on that one too!

    Also, hi, I miss you COUZ!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lmao, you are such a dweebo and I love you for it. Do you have e-mail alerts or something? Haha.


      Bloodlust is on the watchlist for Filmi Fridays, so sometime during the summer I will watch it! I did see it a loooong time ago, but I’ve seen the first one so many times, so it’s more prominent in me brainz. My friend just told me about Gantz. I have to see that before the year is up. Watching VHD has made me want to go back and watch all the violent and gory stuff I can, haha.

      I MISS YOU TOOOO!!!!


  2. I remember always seeing this at my local Blockbuster as a kid but never had a chance to see it being a kid and all lol. Would love to watch it now. You captured a lot of what most likely makes this so great and really piqued my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Have I ever told you that I totally love classic anime? And that this is one of the titles that I haven’t seen from the 80’s era?? It sounds great, and of course I have heard of it….but it kind of dropped off my radar ages ago. But…that doesn’t mean I can’t watch it. I’ve been toying with an idea to cover a classic 80’s anime each month on my blog…maybe this is a good one to start with. Loved reading your review! And I am defnitely not worried about the old school animation look. I just love that stuff😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have been wanting to watch more 80s anime as I have not seen nearly as much as I’d like, and I love the older animation aesthetic! So if you have recommendations for any of your faves, I’ll gladly take them! 😀 But if you like older anime, then this one is something I highly recommend. 🙂 Also, Thank you so much!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I truly love 80’s anime, there are so many older series that I would love to rewatch at some point. One of them is a comedy called Urusei Yatsura. It is to date the only anime comedy series that I really enjoyed. Then there is the orginal Macross series, which is also amazing. As for more horror, you might like the Monster City movie (or Demon City Shinjuku as it is also known). And for Cyber Punk you will probably love Bubblegum Crisis. Just some that spring to mind. If I remember a few others I will let you know. And I will definitely watch this one as it sounds like a series I would highly enjoy 😀😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Demon City Shinjuku is awesome except for one part I don’t like at all and you won’t either 😦
    But awesome review! Thanks again for discussing it with me!I love Bloodlust best though it improves on everything that made this film so great!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, dude! Can’t wait to watch Bloodlust! It will be part of my Summer Filmi Friday’s series for sure, maybe in a couple of weeks. I’ll have to check out Demon City Shinjuku; I don’t think I’ve heard of it before. 😮


      • Great! I look forward to your thoughts on Bloodlust and what you think of Demon City Shinjuku when you do watch it. It is based off a book by Hideyuki Kikuchi and was made by Yoshiaki Kawajiri who made Wicked City and Ninja Scroll. Oh that’s another movie you might like if you haven’t seen it before! Ninja Scroll is super dark and violent though I haven’t seen it in a long time so I dunno how it holds up.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh man, I haven’t seen Ninja Scroll in hella long either. I will have to add that to the list as well. 😀 And, oh yeah, if Hideyuki Kikuchi wrote it then I expect it to be dark and twisted. Thanks!


  5. Pingback: July’s Blogsphere Highlights #2 (2018) | BiblioNyan

  6. There is so much great anime from before 2000! I kind of think of it as a Golden Age myself.

    When Doris offered her body to D, it never occurred to me to consider it as fan service. It fit the plot perfectly. It wasn’t shoehorned in, it was a natural action, My definition of fanservice requires it to be gratuitous and this wasn’t gratuitous.

    Wife and I saw this at a science fiction convention in the late 80s. They called it Japanimation at the time and they were projecting 16mm film on a folding screen. I was instantly addicted to anime.

    The art doesn’t bother me for a bit. It is a relief from the sterility of much modern anime. One should judge an anime by the standards of the day it was made. By that measure, we have one of the finest animes ever made. I watched the sequel too and while technically better I didn’t enjoy it as much. The art needs to support the plot, not the other way around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes!! That scene with Doris didn’t feel gratuitous to me either, just a natural evolution of the story. And as you mentioned, it fits the fantasy narrative style of the 80s quite perfectly.

      Yeah, I always love to watch older anime and really think about the era it was released in and what that title meant for the industry during its release. I’ve read some reviews of older anime done by newer otaku and a lot of them spend so much time complaining about the animation. Unfortunately, Vampire Hunter D is one of the ones that gets a lot of shit for the animation, but it honestly was quite spectacular for the era.


  7. Pingback: Filmi Fridays #2: Vampire Hunter D (1985) – The Quintessential Classic Horror Anime Film — BiblioNyan – This is my place.

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