What are the problems in adapting a video game into anime? And how did Amuse Video bring the Demon World come to life? Takayuki Karahashi finds out the dark truth in this interview with Darkstalkers director Masashi Ikeda. (This interview is excerpted from a longer piece printed in Animerica Vol. 5, No. 10.)

 

Animerica: Unlike your previous works such as Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors) and Gundam Wing, Vampire Hunter (Darkstalkers) is based on a video game. How is it working with an established game world?

Ikeda: Well, it's tough, to summarize it in one word. I'm sure most other people had the same problem when they had the task of animating a story based on a video game. But especially for a fighting game, every single one of the characters is the main character. That's because each player of the video game would have vested sympathies with the character he uses. So the maker of the video game gives all characters enough back stories so they could all potentially be the protagonist. But when you animate that, you can't just make everyone the protagonist. So rectifying that discrepancy, for this project, it's a four-volume video. Deciding on the protagonist and still coming up with a work of entertainment that doesn't just borrow the title from the video game&emdash;these are the inspirations for the story ideas. There are so many ideas to choose from, which is both good and bad.

Animerica: So how are you handling it?

Ikeda: Well, my first impression was that it'd be a challenge, but worthwhile because of that. It's a fighting game, so each character would have different poses for his weak, middle, and strong punches, which might all be named, and I hoped all those enjoyable details could be put forth on screen. I wanted to fully grasp the video game's world view and be able to translate that to animation.
In
Vampire Hunter, there's Donovan, who evolved from being a vampire into a "Vampire Hunter," and the sisters Lin Lin and Lei Lei. I figured these two parties would be propagating the plot, so I made these two sets the protagonists. Then when you look across to the Demon World, there's Morrigan, who'd been a popular character since the original Vampire game, and the Demon World exile, Dimitri. So there's a fight between those two. And then, there's the extraterrestrial lifeform Pyron, whose involvement makes you wonder if the story can actually wrap up. Those three plots will intertwine throughout the four volumes, and each will conflict will have its victor and its defeated, a reason for fighting, and what happens after their fight.
I previously mentioned that in the video game, all the characters have back stories. They aren't meant to fit into one coherent story, but are there as parallel developments to each other. If you wanted to put them all together, there are probably only a few ways to do that, and the process of finding a solution to that&emdash;as I'll show in the video series&emdash;was my work. I found this the only way to do it, as I sorted out the material.

Animerica: Are you going to present on screen the origin stories of each of the characters?

Ikeda: Well, this is Vampire Hunter, from the second video game, so Lin Lin and Lei Lei and Donovan aren't the narrators, but since they're almost always on screen, theirs calls for an explanation. So I have the origin stories for them.

Animerica: How are you accommodating the viewers who don't play Vampire Hunter or who are watching the video because they are fans of Shuko Murase's work?

Ikeda: I am a director after all, so I haven't forgotten to make a work of entertainment. Vampire Hunter already has a video game market, and its characters already have an established base of fans. So when this is translated into animation, I hope it's something that fans of the characters from the video game, as well as those who see them for the first time in animation, can find appealing (although I do think most people are familiar with these characters by now). I asked Murase to refine the appeal of these characters and their movements into animation, and it'll be my job to support him by giving them interesting situations to fight in and juicy dialogue to exchange. That's how I'm working on it. So, it should also be an enjoyable video to watch just as a piece of animation, but if you want to enjoy a deeper understanding of the characters, you can find rich back stories in the various publications about the game.

Animerica: What is the "Demon World" where the Darkstalkers live, and what is it like?

Ikeda: The Vampire Hunter video's version of the Demon World is a straight copy out of the video game version created by the game designers at Capcom, so if you have their layout map drawing of the Demon World, that's exactly it. In fact, I use Gamest's Vampire Hunter book almost like a textbook. It mentions the balance of the three great rulers there breaking and the great Demon doings and whatnot.

Animerica: Who is your favorite character in Vampire Hunter ?

Ikeda: In sorting out the characters to make this animated series, I found this character who's lost all her emotions&emdash;she doesn't fight but is with the fighting DonovanÉI've given thought to Anita, not necessarily as a favorite, but as the character who is a challenge to give good presence. Since she's without emotions, what lines should I give her? Since she's without emotions, how should she get involved in any drama? So when I thought about who she must be, I was really intrigued.

Animerica: Who is the easiest character to animate?

Ikeda: Easiest to animate! There are plenty of difficult ones, but easy onesÉ! Lin Lin and Lei Lei and Donovan are closest to human society, and you can envision their daily lives. You can apply regular animation portrayal techniques there. Everyone else is beyond normality, and their lives are in fighting. You could say it's tougher to animate these other characters, in that when they have any action, they're always fighting.

 

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