Judge Brett Cullum discovers a Japanese schoolgirl who can take out vampires with her sword and wonders where the U.S. educational system went wrong. Buffy only used wooden stakes.
Saya the vampire slayer!
Back in 2000, a feature-length stand-alone anime was produced called Blood: The Last Vampire. Taking place in 1966, at the time of the Vietnam War, it was about a mysterious girl named Saya who takes out brutal vampire demons because it is her destiny. The anime was praised for blending 2D and 3D elements seamlessly, representing an artistic leap forward that garnered many Western fans. Yet the film was a scant 48 minutes due to budget constraints and promised more things to come since it was only the middle chapter of a planned trilogy. Inevitably, in 2005 a series was produced by Production I.G. (the people behind Ghost in the Shell) from the source material called Blood +, which continued Saya's story long after the events in the movie. It ran on Sony networks in Japan and even made an appearance on the cable channel Cartoon Network's Adult Swim here in the United States. Now Sony is offering a double release of a box set of the first 25 episodes as well as a single traditional Volume 1 single disc containing only the first five installments. This review is based on the box set release of Blood+: Part One, which contains six discs. Five of them are episodes and one is reserved for extras. This one's a solid and well-done anime series that should garner a lot of attention.
Facts of the Case
The plot advances the setting of the original theatrical movie forward nearly 30 years. The familiar heroine Saya Otonashi has been asleep since the events of the film, and she wakes up not knowing who or what she is in Okinawa. She lives for a year with an adopted family as a normal schoolgirl who just happens to have a mysterious case of amnesia and is anemic, needing frequent blood transfusions. One fateful day, a vampiric shape shifter named a Chiropteran attacks her at school. A mysterious man hands her a katana (sword) and she slays the beast handily in seconds. Now Saya must learn who she truly is and deal with the fact she may not be the only one of her kind. She's torn between warring military interests and the mythical global battle of the Chiropterans, which has lasted for centuries.
Blood + is a solid series that offers everything anime fans are familiar with, and it is designed to be a traditional action story of the Seinen variety. This means it is aimed primarily at men ages 18 to 30 and contains some graphic violence that may make it not suitable for young viewers. Most of the fighting is done with swords, so limbs fly fast and furiously when the action kicks in. Most of the carnage is aimed at the demonic beasts, but certainly some humans become victims of their vicious attacks. There's no questionable sexual content, but it is a very gory ride with some dark disturbing imagery.
Usually in the vampire genre, we get either suave immortal humans or vicious demonic animals. Blood + gets to play it both ways, as the Chiropterans are shape shifters that transition from human to demon during battle. In their beast form, the Chiropteran are giant hematophagous bats with talons and tons of teeth. They can heal immediately, and little can be done to slow them down. They all come from a direct line or "queen," and only a queen's blood can be used to create or destroy them. In Blood +, there's an added danger of the U.S. military's experiments with an artificial strain of the queen's blood to create their own Chiropterans. In the series is a struggle between science and the supernatural, as well as a mistrust of the military when the two collide.
The story unfolds at a satisfying pace and doesn't meander like some genre pieces have a tendency to do. Each episode provides the right mix of exposition and dramatic setup, then concludes typically with a rock 'em, sock 'em action sequence that leaves you hanging for the next installment. The mythology is based on Blood: The Last Vampire, but it is not crucial for viewers to have seen the feature first. One of the best things about the series is it has a chance to develop intricate histories and many plots to juggle simultaneously with the relentless action. Blood + adds many dimensions to the original material and takes off on its own direction quickly.
What should interest some viewers is the incredible score of the series, written and produced by noted film composer Hans Zimmer and musician Mark Mancina. Mainly it is Mancina who executes most of the music, but Zimmer did contribute quite a few themes and served as executive producer. In Japan, four volumes of the soundtrack were released as CDs with the orchestral and electronic works these two men came up with for the show. The opening and closing themes are typical J-Pop, but during the dramatic battles and scenes, the score is amazing and adds a lot to the tension. The chevalier character Haji plays Bach on the cello throughout the episodes, and these recordings are impressively rendered. They were released as a CD in Japan as well as part of the soundtrack offerings. Blood + benefits from the musical contributions of great musicians and raises the bar on scoring for anime.
The extras are all contained on disc six of the DVD set and will not be available on the individual volume releases. There are five featurettes, which include two interviews each with the Japanese cast done during the recording of their voice sessions. In an unusual, move you can choose to either listen to the interviews in Japanese with English subtitles, or you can select an English voiceover. The interviews are insightful as the Japanese actors talk about what makes the show culturally relevant in their own country, and we get firsthand stories of what they think is important about the show. These segments were released on the original Japanese editions.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
About the only gripe I can come up with for Blood + are two aspects of the technical presentation. First up is the choice to produce it in full screen rather than wide. The series begs to be cinematic, and this screen ratio makes it look more like television. The visual presentation is executed extremely well, with bright colors that pop and no compression artifacts to be found. The series is dark, and some strategic grain seems to seep in rather purposefully to create murk. Second on my technical list of gripes is that sound is a simple stereo track for both the Japanese and English versions. This is surprising since the series has so much action that it could easily be mixed in surround. We lose some of the immersion that a five-speaker treatment could offer. Again, it's a case of the series seeming to demand cinematic value but being stripped down to television level.
Sony is offering the series either in a box set or single disc volumes with five episodes each. The box set is not the entire series, but rather takes you to the halfway point of 25 of the 50 episodes. It also includes a t-shirt and a small sample manga inside the set. There is a lot of extra space in the box once the swag is out, and I wonder if that is meant to be filled up with the next five discs after episode 25. The price points are pretty similar, so if you want to sample the series, purchase the single disc volume at the lower price. The only downside to this is the show starts off slowly, so it's not the best representation of what the series feels like once it is in full swing. If you're a fan of Ghost in the Shell or Hellsing this one should be an easy decision to take the plunge.
Blood + is grand, beautifully done anime that hits the right notes, feeling fresh and familiar all at once. The artwork looks great, the voice acting is well done, the music soars, and the pace moves like lightning where it needs to, then slows when it is called to do so. The series seems traditional in structure and theme, but it is so well done that you get wrapped up easily in its characters and mythology. This is a solid effort, and certainly a series worth investing in. Rumor has it the next step for this show is a live-action movie.
Guilty of being an exciting anime with plenty of gore and a Japanese
schoolgirl who wields a mean sword. Blood + is sentenced to do time on
the shelf alongside some of my favorites in the genre.
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