Judge Steve Power avoided cheesy vampire puns while writing this review.
Our reviews of Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) (published April 23rd, 2002), Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) (published November 2nd, 2009), and Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) (Blu-ray) (published October 30th, 2009) are also available.
She is the last remaining original!
Blood: The Last Vampire hits high definition, courtesy of Manga home Video. Is it worth the effort?
Facts of the Case
Saya is a hunter in the employ of an undisclosed shadowy American agency. Her purpose is to find demonic vampires called Chiropterates and snuff the life from them. It's a skill she excels at, given her physical gifts. Saya, you see, is the last remaining original! Based on the title, I can only assume that "original" alludes to "Vampire."
It's the fall of 1966, and Saya finds herself undercover as a high school student on an American air base in Japan. Her mission is to uncover some Chiropterates who may be posing as students, and separate their blood from their bodies. Also along for the ride is the school nurse, who does a lot of screaming in terror.
Blood: The Last Vampire more or less exists to give people an idea as to what acclaimed studio Production IG (Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade) was capable of producing around the turn of the 20th Century. There wasn't a huge budget or a lengthy schedule, just a few months to generate a technical demo meant to appeal to a North American audience and provide the opening shot in a Japanese media salvo that would include a new game for Sony's then cutting-edge Playstation 2. As a tech demo, it certainly succeeds. The animation is top drawer stuff, with some beautiful integration of CG graphics alongside some of the best practical cel work in the industry. Everything about the film screams theatrical feature, but in the end the work invested was more equivalent to direct-to-video, a market that doesn't have quite the same stigma in Japan that it does on Western shores.
For something with little development time, Blood feels surprisingly fleshed out, an interesting take on Vampire mythology that lies somewhere between Japanese folklore and American contemporary bloodsuckers. The lean production values actually helps the show. When viewed as a snapshot of a much larger world, the film gives the illusion of depth, like there is a much bigger picture lurking beyond what we see. It also trims the anime fat, leaving the viewer with a concentrated dose of animated action and horror without all of the quirky cultural weirdness that might alienate more casual viewers. Ultimately, it defies anime convention in favor of a more Western approach…and does so with gusto.
Unfortunately, the tactic backfired in our neck of the woods, and while anime geeks swarmed to the latest from "The people who brought you Ghost in the Shell!" The general public remained ambivalent and, despite best efforts, Blood didn't really make any inroads for the Japanese animation industry in North America. Beyond that, Otaku were put off by the show's more western feel and the lack of anime-ness.
I'm not so sure that a longer runtime would have served the picture well, judging by the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire project released earlier this year. The 48 minutes we get here plays out well and, going back to it after so long, I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed my time with this one. Sure it's light and short, but it packs a visceral punch that makes it a great choice for some breezy entertainment.
Manga's 1080p high-def transfer shines. The image quality is beautifully mastered, with every piece of digital trickery perfectly rendered. This is one of the nicest looking anime Blu-rays I've seen. The audio, a mix of subtitled Japanese and English (for the American characters), is crisp and clear, booming out of the speakers with purpose. It's an audio/visual show-off for sure. Extras on Manga's newly minted Blu-Ray look an awful lot like a certain DVD I've had in my collection for the better part of a decade. The bonus featurette exists, which is nice, but it's the same 20-odd minute novelty that it was on DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Barely missing the 50 minute mark, Blood: The Last Vampire's brief runtime certainly leaves more questions than answers. While the business at hand is dealt with assuredly, it feels more like the first part of a serialized show than a stand-alone feature. What's worse, when Blood finally did make it to series (the somewhat disappointing Blood+), the show had very little resemblance to what went on here.
Blood: The Last Vampire manages to succeed, in spite of its brevity. It doesn't stick around too long, but it manages to make an impression. Manga's High-def treatment is a joy to behold. It's a pretty safe bet for fans of the series, or to replace that archaic DVD. No one buys those anymore…
Blood is guilty of wasted potential, but free to go on the grounds that it remains technically amazing and a somewhat enjoyable to watch. Manga Video is cleared of all charges.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
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