The world is a dark, brooding place populated by humans, but ruled in reality by powerful beings known as the Darkstalkers, and there is constant conflict between them as they try to determine who is the most powerful of them all. Zombies, vampires, werewolves - all of them compete in contests of strength and sheer will to attain their own personal goals.
All of this becomes moot when a race of Aztec robots called the Huitzil decide that humanity isn't worth saving, and start waging war on the world, while in the sky, a solar god from outer space plots the conquest of Earth. And the Darkstalkers must become unwilling allies in order to save the world.
Vampire Hunter is the animated version of the 2D fighting game by Capcom of the same name, perhaps better known as Night Warriors: Darkstalker's Revenge. It seems to be targeted, as most such anime are, to fans of the original game, and, as such, seems to take it for granted that the public has some knowledge about the characters, their backgrounds, and the overall back story.
As I'm not an aficionado of the games myself, having played them only every now and again, it's somewhat difficult for me to say whether or not the anime really ties into the games, so this review will mainly focus
on the OVA as is.
As might be expected from an anime based on a fighting game, the story is the weakest point. By and large the main plot consists of a human world that has been ruled for some time now by monsters and creatures of legend called Darkstalkers (mainly Demitri Maximoff, for those who know the games) having evolved too much, giving rise to an invasion of robots (Huitzil/Phobos) that are programmed to wipe out advanced civilisation, while at the same time some universal overlord (Pyron) descends on the world to find someone who is strong enough to oppose him. As could be guessed, this someone of course shows up, in the guise of a man tormented by his being half human, half Darkstalker (Donovan). Or, to put it even more simplistic, it boils down to "Hero battles Villain".
Moreover, the plot takes itself far too seriously for something based on what is in fact a somewhat goofy, over-the-top series of fighting games, resulting in overly dramatic scenes tied to a plot that is paper thin and clichéd at best.
In the meanwhile, a few other characters from the game appear with their own back stories, which are touched upon and sometimes played out for a bit, but these stories are only very loosely, if at all, tied to the greater plot. This in effect means that the story becomes a garbled mess, with many a character running around seemingly without a purpose.
On the other hand, the presentation of the characters themselves is not half bad. Most anime based on fighting games opt to pick one main hero and one main villain and have them duke it out, with all the other characters dropping in for a cameo at one time or another to please the fans, leaving the uninitiated utterly confused as to who this or that new guy that never reappears was. Vampire Hunter, on the contrary, picks up about half a dozen of the characters, and expanding a bit on the background of each of these. Running for 4 episodes with a total length of about 160 minutes, Vampire Hunter seems to have found the ideal length for its approach: each of the characters is given a fair amount of time to be introduced and play his or her plot line, while none of them are given too much screen time. Characterisation itself is based heavily on the snippets of information given in the games, making the characters have somewhat distinct (even if largely clichéd) personalities, and having them act on these.
What makes the characters all far more interesting is the way they are portrayed. Now, the art is without a doubt the high point of this OVA. Like in most OVA's of the time, backgrounds range from quite good to simply gorgeous, often giving the impression as if they were hand-drawn. The setting in general shows quite a few distinct locales, and the colorisation is very good: as could be guessed, use is made mostly of the darker colours of the palette, with much of the story taking place under a darkened sky or in the shadows. Brighter colours are generally more subdued, with the occasional dashing reds if the situation warrants it.
The characters are all very well animated. Not only do they move fluently and have a wide range of facial expressions, they all follow the designs from the game very nicely. Not only are all characters very different in basic design, but many of them sport different styles of drawing and animation, again following the differences in style from the games closely.
This being a fighting series, it should come as no surprise that the main attention of the show, and thus the art and animation, is on the fights. These are done very well. As far as I can say, the animators have copied many of the fighting styles and moves from the game, making each fight and each fighter distinctly different. This not only applies to the special moves, or whatever name you would give those, but also, and perhaps even more successfully, to the basic attack patterns, many of which are a joy to watch, being far more interesting than the special attacks, in fact. I'm sure the real fans will notice differences between the anime and the games, but for the rest of us it seems as if the anime follows the games closely.
Being generally cautious of animated versions of fighting games, I have to say this one is by far one of the best I've seen to date. The story is ridiculous, pompous, and far to self-important, but this major downside is more than offset with the fairly decent character introduction and development and the more than decent art and fighting direction.
Most games never survive the transition to another medium. They are usually universally terrible and this would be the first adaptation I've seen that I liked. I was surprised when within the first few minutes of watching I thought "hey, this doesn't completely suck..." By the end I had concluded "yeah, that wasn't bad". I'm not a huge Darkstalkers fan, but I played enough of it to think "ehhh, what the hell, why not?" I think even if I wasn't vaguely familiar with the characters I would've still enjoyed this. I watched all 4 eps in a row fairly painlessly and could've easily watched more
(see Characters below).
Make no mistake about it, this is definitely a show for people who like shows about fighting. If you don't like fighting games or shows like DBZ or Yu Yu Hakusho or Kenshin or even Bleach/Naruto then... I have no idea why you are even reading this. Otherwise I thought the story was about as good as anyone could expect for a show about a fighting game. To try to criticize the story beyond that misses the point and does a disservice to its accomplishment.
There's a lot of repetitive use of the word "dark" (you could make a deadly drinking game out of it) and the general setup is fairly generic, BUT, the OTT plot is perfectly suited for the show, considering fighting games are OTT by design. I've seen much worse excuses to get characters to come together to beat each other up.
In fact, I thought the premise that ties them together was actually pretty good as far as these kind of shows go. They actually make some kind of effort to explain the presence of "the dark" and make interesting use of what would otherwise be a cliche mix of "something from space", "an ancient race", and "something from another dimension". Which was already a lot more than I was expecting.
I actually liked that it kept itself kind of serious (I'm tired of anime with goofy/wacky sight gags and comic relief). It gave it a dramatic feel but not so much that it lost sight of being an anime about people fighting.
I really liked how they centered the story around Donovan/Anita. They could've gone many ways with this: It could've been another ambitious story about an overpowered vampire and his quest for domination or some trumped up tournament to see who is the worlds strongest. I feel their choice in a "protagonist" was probably the best one they could've made of all the characters available. Sure the "half-demon" thing is overused, but in a world where humanity is being devoured by darkness, something about the virtue of a man who is constantly at war with his (literally) inner demon and the traumatized little girl he has vowed to protect just seemed right.
The ending was a little disappointing, mostly because I think it crossed that line of cliche over-the-topness, but eh, I've also seen much worse and more frustrating endings, so...
The characters have some questionable dialogue sometimes, but otherwise I thought it was surprisingly solid if not pretty good. Again, experience had me already expecting much worse. I thought they captured the characters unique personalities pretty well and didn't go too overboard with any of them. I thought they did a good job with introducing Donovan, Anita, Demitri, Morrigan, Huitzel, Pyron and the sisters. Felicia, Talbain and Bishamon showed promise. Lord Raptor was pretty much just an odd cameo, so aside from him, I liked how they were handling use of the characters and not just rushing/stuffing everyone into the story in some contrived and insipid manner. For this reason I actually felt the story was too short. I would've liked to have seen this as a series and see them try to include all the characters and somehow tie them into the epic confrontation with Pyron.
I actually didn't think the art was that great for an OVA. I did like how they didn't get overly retarded with the designs and stayed mostly faithful to the game (both in characters and combat). So for that it still ranks high with me.
The sound was fine, more surprisingly however was that the dub didn't make me want to gag. Considering how cheesy and potentially disastrous the dialogue probably was, I thought they delivered it well. I assume the dialogue was cheesy only because I've watched enough fighting anime to tune out all but the worst of hammy speeches.
There's this odd tendency to turn fighting game franchises into films, anime and even western cartoons. Usually with less than stellar results. What is it about fighting games specifically that results in all of these adaptations? Is it that most fighting games have little enough in terms of story and characterisation that studios figure they'll be easy to adapt without fan backlash? If that's the case you'd think they'd have learned their lesson long ago. Even before this was made. In any case, it's time to take a look at Madhouse's Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge and see where it falls on the adaptation spectrum.
story opens with Demitri planning an invasion of the demon realm. He's stopped by Morrigan who challenges him to a match because she's bored. Yes, really. Their fight is interrupted when a legion of Phobos robots appear. They spread across the planet seeking to exterminate all life forms. Meanwhile, Donovan, a half-vampire vampire hunter (How very original,) is on a journey of self-discovery when he encounters young Anita, a girl with a mysterious power who decides to follow him. While this is going on Felicia is going on tour, Lei-Lei and Lin-Lin are on a journey to save their mother's soul and... Yeah this OVA has a ton of sub-plots. I know that there are a lot of characters, but maybe it would've been a good idea to just stay focused on a small group. Especially when you've only got four episodes to work with. Most of the important plot elements revolve around Donovan, Anita, Lei-Lei and Lin-Lin anyway. Felicia's subplot in particular ends up being entirely pointless. Morrigan and Denitri ultimately contribute nothing either. They're pretty much only included because the fans love them. Now, I do understand wanting to make your fans happy, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the story. Honestly though, the story wouldn't be good even without the tangled mess of sub-plots, just less cluttered. It would still be largely derivative with too many flashbacks. The story mainly serves to take the characters from one fight to the next. That being said, a lot of the moments are kind of enjoyable just based on how over the top and cheesy they are. The ending in particular.
As much as I enjoy the Darkstalkers games, most of the characters aren't very well used in this. Part of the problem is that the focus is on Donovan, quite possibly the dullest, most generic character in the franchise. There's also Anita, who has little personality in this and ends up serving as a maguffin rather than a fleshed out character. The only major characters in this I kind of like are Lei-Lei and Lin-Lin. They do get some really good moments and they have a lot more personality than Donovan or Anita. Morrigan, Demitri, Felicia, Zabel Zarock and Gallon could have been interesting but they're barely in the OVA and their appearances don't really contribute much. Speaking of under-used characters, Anakaris, Rikuo, Sasquatch and Victor all appear in this for a few seconds before being unceremoniously killed off. That doesn't seem like a very good idea when trying to appeal to your fans or were they deemed unpopular enough that no one would care?
The art is rather varied. They incorporate a lot of the fight mechanics from the games into the actual battles, which usually leads to some strong, fluid action sequences, but there are some moves that just don't lend themselves well to animation and end up looking stilted and awkward. Particularly Morrigan's drill kick attack. Madhouse also does an excellent job drawing the characters as they are in the games. That being said, a lot of the designs were just poorly done to begin with. So, while I'm not going to fault the OVA for it, I am going to take a moment to rant about the designs in Darkstalkers. For example, why is Felicia largely a normal looking woman with cat elements while Gallon is more of a humanoid wolf? We've also got Donovan who just looks incredibly silly. We also have Zabel Zarock who brings some of the worst part of 90s comic design to mind He just needs a bunch of random pouches and shoulder pads to make the look complete. We also have Demitri's hair that is overly-gelled to make him look as much like a conehead as possible. Yeah, as much as I like the games the character designs leave much to be desired. That rant aside, the art in this is pretty solid. The only real issue, aside from the occasional stilted fighting move, are the facial expressions. Anita's nose disappears in a lot of shots, Morrigan's eyes get crossed a few times and her hair turns purple once, I think they're doing shading effects at the time but it just looks odd.
One thing that's a bit odd is that the vocal cast from the games don't reprise their roles in the OVA. Still, the cast they did get does a good job. Miyamura Yuko does well as Lei-Lei. She may also be familiar to fighting game fans as Chun-li in the Alpha/Zero games and Seung Mina in Soul Edge. That's a strange coincidence. Okamata Maya and Yukana are both really good as well. The music in this is just great.
The yuri factor is a 1/10. There's no yuri here.
So, how is Darkstalkers' Revenge? Well, it's a goofy little OVA with some unintentionally funny moments, a story that's complete pants and well done fight scenes. It's certainly not good, but I wouldn't call it bad either. My final rating is going to be a 5/10. If you're a Darkstalkers fan you'll probably enjoy it well enough if only for the fight scenes. Otherwise I could really only suggest it if you just want some mindless action or if you have some friends over and want a good series to watch MST3k style.
The first time I discovered this anime I was excited. The main reason is because it had Morrigan Aensland on the picture, and I really like her on Marvel Vs. Capcom (the game). Also it have only 4 episodes, which is great for me (I really hate long animes. I'm in pain with Naruto, 17/220). Of course, having only 4 episodes makes it an OVA, and as some people say, OVAs have better drawings. In this case it's true, the drawings are really god. The story too is great. It really caught my attention.
I think in the end I could compare it to the Streeth
Fighter series. It's not that kind of regular anime we have at bunchs. Even the animation looks different, like with some american influences (very similar to Street Fighter II). The characters are serious, you won't find any jokes or comedy like most of animes have. And it's a great profit.
If you're expecting a serious, short anime, with a good story then I recommend it.
[Please send me your impressions about this review; critiques or notes about my english.]