Blood: The Last Vampire
I love appetizers. Girth that I have, you might guess it if you saw me, but there's nothing better than a great plate of potato skins or nachos to start off a meal. (The local Ruby Tuesday's just brings me a sampler platter, no questions asked.) With all the thick cheese and sour cream, I could sometimes say that the appetizer is the best part of the meal. However, eating appetizers all day long on SuperBowl Sunday tends to make me sick and makes me long for something more substantial. In the same fashion, Blood is possibly one of the best anime appetizers I've seen in a long time. With lush, rich backgrounding, a brooding, intense story, and great action sequences, Blood pleases the senses. At only 45 minutes though, without characterization or even a grasp as to the lead character's real identity, the viewer will be searching for more at the end that just won't be found.
Blood introduces us to Saya, a mysterious girl who starts off the show slicing through a man with an ancient sword in an abandoned subway car. She's quickly apprehended by two mysterious handlers who get rid of the evidence and send her on her next mission. In search of Chiropterans, strange demon-like creatures bent on destruction, Saya is sent by this shadowy organization to a military compound where unusual deaths have occurred. She becomes a student at the on-site school, and a friendly nurse attempts to reach out to her. However, Saya is beholden to no one, wearing nothing but a scowl even when others mean only to understand her plight. As the story unfolds, we watch as the nurse becomes an unwitting target as she foolishly tries to help Saya, who reveals the beasts on campus for what they are in a spectacular fight on Halloween night.
Blood has been touted in anime circles due to its prestigious lineage. Directed by Hiroyuki Katakubo of Black Magic M-66 and created by Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii, there are a lot of well-known names behind it. Blood is also the first animated feature film from Japan to have all of its artwork digitally scanned and then colored; although this process has been used for over 10 years by Disney, it's new for anime. Blood lives up to its reputation too, in that it contains some of the best artwork seen in a recent feature. At times, there is a mysterious question as to whether or not what we're seeing is hand-drawn or actual photography. These spots are few, but they are impressive. The animation slips a level in the slower sequences, and because the work is so good otherwise, it's more noticeable here than in other titles under a harsher budget. However, most will be too awestruck overall to notice. The story is taut and exciting; the action codas, quite possibly the best-animated sequences in recent anime memory, will excite even jaded viewers. The text switches between Japanese and English intentionally--something used to try and give the feel of an American air base on Japanese territory. (In the Japanese version, the English was subtitled.) The voice acting is surprisingly good in spite of it, though the two characters who speak in both languages aren't quite up to snuff, possibly because English is obviously not their native tongue but more likely due to a real attempt to match lip flap.
As impressive as the whole thing is, Blood nevertheless has two problems that keep me from giving it a really high grade. The first is that the film is too cryptic to be entertaining on its own. Saya is the anti-protagonist. With her fierce frown and look of hatred, one would not have been surprised to find her the villain of the piece instead of its heroine. If we knew why she was that way, if we knew whether or not she actually was a vampire...if we knew anything at all about her at a deeper level, it might be more meaningful. The show is more concerned with style than substance however, and as such we cannot care about Saya. The second problem lies within its running time and conclusion. Clocking in at three quarters of an hour, Blood cannot even attempt to scratch the surface of its backstory, as I discussed. At this point though, there is nothing more available to complete the storyline--no manga, no book, no other anime. Blood could get an A rating as a pilot to a spectacular series, but as a one-shot, standalone film, it sags under its own weight. I suspect most viewers will be enthralled at the proceedings, but disappointed at the lack of closure. Even X-Files viewers get more answers than Blood is ready to impart.
Like a plate of chicken fingers and honey mustard, Blood delivers a pleasing, tasty combination of unique flavors worth eating. Problem is, there's just no main course, and be warned--you will be left hungry here. Does that make it bad? No. Just be ready, and you'll probably enjoy this otherwise tantalizing otherworldly experience.
Blood: The Last Vampire -- violence (some graphic), profanity -- B+