Sunday, August 2, 2015

Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust

The original Vampire Hunter D was a dated and sometimes campy fan-favorite that seems to have outlived its age over the years.  On the other hand, its semi-sequel, subtitled "Bloodlust", is something else.  For one, it is a lushly animated, tightly-paced, and morally complex tale directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.  It also has the distinction of having English as its primary language, so it may not even be "properly" called a dub at all.

This dub is the work of the ever reliable Jack Fletcher, whose excellent dubs of the first three Ghibli movies for Disney remain all-time favorites of mine.  His cast for Bloodlust consist of his usual recruits, all of who provide solid performances... even though it should be noted that they had to post-sync their lines, hence the occasional stilted line.  But this flaw is avoided for the most part, and the overall effect of Bloodlust as a dub is one that suits the dramatic action of the story without delving into camp territory.

D (Andrew Philpot) — Like Michael McConnohie in the original movie, Philpot voices the title character as an emotionally distant, sometimes monotonous-speaking loner.  However, the overall quality of his delivery is much stronger, in that he doesn't come across as a cheesy newscaster, but a strongly subdued stranger with a hint of torture.  In fact, it is eerily reminiscent of Michael Keaton's Batman, which ironically enough, the character of D himself could easily be related to!  Toward the end of the film, D gets to do some screaming and provide some restrained yet intense dialogue when he fights Carmilla, and Philpot handles that very well without overacting.  Overall, a big improvement over the Streamline dub, and very appropriate in the context of the movie.

LEFT HAND (Michael McShane) — The first thing you'll notice about D's left hand is how distinctively different his voice sounds compared to his counterpart in the original.  That's because he's portrayed by Michael McShane, who brings an amusingly smug, badgering quality to the role which serves as a great contrast to his more subdued master.  For the entire duration of the movie, McShane really gets to have fun with his character, skillfully and amusingly adlibbing at every opportunity, with impeccable comic timing.  He even owns the best line in the film, which, ironically enough, is the last:  "You're not so bad after all.  You just dress bad."  One is reminded of his similarly amusing turn as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves as well as one of the pirates from Castle in the Sky from hearing the vocal tone in his voice.  He is, without a doubt, a showstealing delight.

MEIER LINK (John Rafter Lee) — After Mike, this is also one of the best voices in the dub.  Lee lends this character with an alluring charisma that works wonderfully well with the deep voice he also provides.  He mostly delivers his lines in a soft tone, with the occasional moments of powerful drama, particularly in the scene when he is literally scalding in the sunlight.  It's also interesting to note that he does a skillful job of making Meier Link sympathetic instead of a bloodthirsty villain.  That's a testament to how strong his performance truly is.

CHARLOTTE MELBOURNE (Wendee Lee) — Although crucial to the plot, Charlotte doesn't have many lines.  Whenever she talks, her dialogue is either declarations of love for Meier Link, regret over abandoning her family, and at least one shout of "Meier!" in the first half.  That makes her a tricky role to play, but Wendee rises to the task.  Although not one of her finest performances ever, she still acquits herself well, bringing a husky-sounding but fragile quality to her dialogue.  It's almost difficult to recognize Wendee, as a matter of fact, as her vocal tone is distinctively different from other roles such as Twilight Suzuka from Outlaw Star and even Kei from the redub of Akira.  Whether that's complimentary or not is up for debate, but even so, she is otherwise very solid.

BORGOFF MARKUS (Matt McKenzie) — Aside from D, Meier Link, and Charlotte, the film's other important characters are the Markus brothers, who have also been hired by Charlotte's father and brother to track down Meier Link.  Of the four, the burly, gruff Borgoff is the self-appointed leader.  To achieve the effect of having him speak with a cigar in his mouth, Matt McKenzie recorded his lines with a pencil in his mouth.  That provides an effective and realistic approach to the character, but it should be known that most of his dialogue is delivered in a low-key manner.  He has sometimes been called the least effective of the dub cast by reviewers (e.g. Ian Drury on Banon's Roar), but this is a matter of perspective.  The scenes where he comes across as effective are the ones where he gets to open up his expressions a bit more, such as when he is freaking over one of his brothers' deaths, or even in his violent shocking final scene.  Elsewise his vocal performance is appropriate if not always outstanding.

KYLE MARKUS (Alex Fernandez) — Headstrong, brash, and argumentative, the second of the Markus brothers has a much more vibrant presence, due mainly to the voicing of Alex Fernandez.  The raspy, somewhat nasal vocal tone he uses lends itself well to the character's impulsive nature, and the scenes where he gets to shout will remind viewers of his voice work in Pet Shop of Horrors, another Jack Fletcher-produced dub of which he voiced one of the main protagonists.  It is a distinctive voice, which helps define the character's nature, particularly when he yells, "Yeah!  Come and get it, zombies!"

NOLT MARKUS (John DiMaggio) — Aside from being one of the numerous roles that John DiMaggio gets to play in Bloodlust (more on that later), Nolt is the strongest and the biggest of the Markus brothers.  His face is painted with a white cross, with a deadly spiked sledgehammer as a weapon.  Since he doesn't last much longer than the first 15 minutes, he doesn't get much of a chance to show his personality.  Nonetheless, DiMaggio provides him with a deep, guttural voice that sounds somewhat African but is strangely not distracting.  Nolt doesn't get many lines, but he delivers them fairly well.

GROVE MARKUS (Jack Fletcher) — The last of the Markus brothers, frail, vulnerable Grove, is arguably the most gentle of the four.  He spends most of the time strapped to an operating table in the back of the Markus brothers' tank; on occasion he is given an injection that causes an astral apparition of his younger self to float through the air, blasting everything in his sight... at the expense of his own life.  It's somewhat amusing that Fletcher himself is voicing this character, given that he doesn't have much dialogue.  Even so, the light tone of voice he provides is very appropriate and he acts very well, making him sympathetic and tame, which makes one feel sad for him when his fate is sealed at the end.

LEILA (Pamela Segall) — Accompanying the Markus brothers on their mission is this tough-as-nails female hunter, a bazooka-wielding, motorcycle-riding, hot-tempered ball of fire who at first opposes and competes against D, but later becomes his ally.  Segall has only a couple of moments where she doesn't always nail her lines "Get up, we're going!", but not enough to the point to bring down her performance.  Otherwise I quite liked the vocal tone that she uses for this character.  She sounds tough and restrained, and her aggressive/angry scenes are handled very well.  Only one monologue where she talks about her parents' fate sounds a bit dry at times, but many other scenes Segall is in make their mark more often than not.

CARMILLA (Julia Fletcher) — It turns out that the real antagonist of the story is the bloody countess Carmilla—or rather, a ghostly likeness of the real thing who resides as a musty corpse awaiting blood.  It is somewhat implied that she was Count Dracula's wife, but this is never made clear in the script.  Ironically, Carmilla doesn't appear until the final act, and as such, she only gets, at best, three appearances.  In spite of this, Carmilla still succeeds as a terrifying villainess, thanks in large part to the sultry vocal tones of Julia Fletcher.  Her line delivery oozes with chilliness and coldness, and she even gets to cackle and scream toward the end.  Particularly thrilling is the climactic showdown where she berates D for contributing to the extinction of vampires, torturing him all the while.  It's a very memorable piece of villainess acting that holds up well even today.

THE BARBAROIS WARRIORS—BENGE (Dwight Schultz), MACHIRA (John DiMaggio), CAROLINE (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) — These three characters serve as hired bodyguards for Meier and Charlotte's journey to Carmilla's castle and are dispatched one by one throughout the show.  That makes it a bit tricky to evaluate their performances, but here goes:
Benge is the first of these villains to be encountered.  He's a trickster, a clown-like demon whose specialty is weaving spells and/or literally slithering in shadow, to the point where he can take out anyone by jabbing a lance into said victim's head via the reflection.  Schultz's sometimes nasally voice sounds a bit like a higher-pitched Mark Hamill's Joker, which, considering the appearance of his character, is appropriate.  He sounds like he's really enjoying himself in the part, considering that much of his dialogue is hammy villainy.
Machira is a werewolf, or at least a being with such features who can nonetheless transform into one.  It's almost tempting to subtitle this dub as "spot John DiMaggio" because as mentioned, he gets to do quite a lot of parts in the movie.  Since Machira is a rather minor role, his gruff-sounding voice is a bit nondescript but nonetheless fitting.  Whatever lines he has are either delivered low-key or whispered.  I'm a bit neutral about this performance; it's not my favorite of the dub by any means, but it doesn't strike me as grating either.
The last of the trio, foxy-looking Caroline, is a shapeshifting, chamelion-like enchantress; her primary attack is camouflaging herself into anything, whether it's the underside of a tank or a tree, using said objects as a target for firing projectiles and/or spikes.  Like her comrades, McGlynn doesn't have many lines, but she makes the most of it.  She provides the character with a sultry, seductive tone and a nasty vibe during her "action scenes.  It's a minor part, but it's done well.

OLD MAN OF BARBAROIS (Dwight Schultz) — The ringleader of the Barbarois is an ancient crone who balances himself on a unicycle, insistent on upholding his kin's reputation while simultaneously admiring D's will and resistance.  It's almost amusing that Schultz also plays this character in addition to Benge, but he does a good job making the two characters distinctive.  He provides the man with an appropriately creaky voice while exuding very understated haughtiness.  His is a much more low-key part and there are a few lines that can sound a bit stilted, but otherwise Schultz is fine for the part.

SHERIFF OF GARUCIA (John DiMaggio) — We meet this character about halfway through the film when our competing hunters make a quick stop at this desert town.  Aside from the Southern drawl, DiMaggio's voice is distinctively gruff and gravelly, which isn't much different from similar other roles, but luckily his appearance in the film is only one scene apart so that it doesn't come across like "talking to yourself" territory.

POLK (John Hostetter) — I've always liked John Hostetter as a voiceover artist, and it's pleasing to her him in this dub; it's a shame he's retired from voice acting.  He is very understated in his turn as an old stable owner, and it works well for the character.  He's especially poignant when he acknowledges D for a heroic deed that went unrewarded in the name of ignorance and prejudice.

JOHN ELBOURNE (John DiMaggio) — The worried father of Charlotte only appears at the beginning of the movie.  His role is to provide emotional encouragement toward getting D to accept the mission to procure his daughter… or bring back proof of her death.  DiMaggio does fine in the part, even though his performance is in neutral territory.

ALAN ELBOURNE (John DeMita) — Charlotte's emotional brother hires D to track down Meier Link, especially after the latter slaughters his initial hunting party.  He's somewhat underhanded, too, in that while he offers D a payment that the dunpeal hunter doesn't think is enough, he also gives him competition in the form of the Markus brothers.  I've always liked John DeMita's voice work, and while his role as this character is in one scene and mostly understated, hearing him is always a pleasure.  He doesn't overact, either, during his two brief outbursts.  Only in two lines does he sound somewhat similar to Kohroku from Princess Mononoke, but that's no negative.

PRIEST (John DeMita) — DeMita also voices the priest during the funeral scene at the film's finale.  My only quibble is that he sounds a bit like he's rushing some lines, but otherwise he's fine.

LITTLE GIRL (Debi Derryberry) — Miss Derryberry plays two similar characters in the film, both minor parts.  We first hear her in a tragic scene when Leila encounters her "younger self" in an illusion conjured by Carmilla.  Here, she is angry, embittered and emotionally shattered, and rightly so (because of a tragic incident that happened with her family).
At the end of the film, we meet a second little girl.  This pigtailed cutie is a much more sweet-natured character who recognizes D in some fashion.  Derryberry is fine in both parts, although the voice she uses may come across as grating to some people, she somehow manages to get away with it because it's not too artificial to be distracting.

As mentioned, Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust is not so much a dub as it is the "original language track" of the film as per Yoshiaki Kawajiri's intention, so I will not be making any notes about translation differences or script flow.  But I will say that aside from some lines that may strike some as a bit overused and cliche ("Now you die"), Fletcher and Sandy Yamamoto otherwise do a fine job of providing a properly timed, clean-souding script that doesn't suffer from any noticeable synching problems.

However, I do have two criticisms about Bloodlust's dub.  Although the sound mix comes across as much more crisper than the Streamline dub (which makes sense given that the sound effects/music/dialogue recording were all done in Hollywood), my biggest problem is that it feels unbalanced.  The voices are mixed a bit too low in the center channel, while the music and sound effects come across as blastingly loud, to the point where the viewer is required to turn up the volume on and off at the more quieter moments.  Perhaps a bit more consistency in the sound levels would have been welcomed, but it is a bit of a problem regardless.

My only other criticism is that Bloodlust is also guilty of mistranslating the term of D's lineage:  the Sentai rerelease of Vampire Hunter D was the first dub of any incarnation of this hero to properly retain "damphir."  The laughable Streamline version conned this term "dampiel", and this film, at least for keeping consistency with the first dub, calls him "dunpeal."  It's not a major big deal to me, but for first-time viewers who might be seeing this sequel after watching Sentai's newer redub, it will cause for confusion.

Faults aside, Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust has otherwise aged well since its 2001 premiere, and as mentioned, is far more listenable than Streamline's initial dub for the 1985 original.  Aside from my quibbles about the sound mix, the performances and writing are solid, the synching is seamless, and the flow of the dialogue, the occasional stilted moment notwithstanding, otherwise flows naturally.  Consider this another cap in Fletcher's underrated achievements in dubbing for Anime.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of my favorite non Studio Ghibli anime film. I was highly fond of the characters, D and the villain Carmilla in particular, what caught my attention of her was that she was based off of the blood countess, Elizabeth Bathory. I also enjoyed the Gothic soundtrack of the movie.