Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger does some partial thrombotic math.
"You don't remember?"
Blood has always been a maddening title. The initial foray, Blood: The Last Vampire, was as frantically violent as it was scant on detail. With it, Production I.G. patented its signature meld of CGI, footage-like animation, and 2-D work. Blood: The Last Vampire was an interrupted song that anime junkies played over and over again, looking for overlooked snippets of insight while craving some resolution. Will Blood+ bring resolution—or more questions?
Facts of the Case
In 2005, the Production I.G. series Blood+ kicked off an alternate take of 2000's Blood: The Last Vampire under the helm of first-time director Jun'ichi Fujisaku. It was picked up by Adult Swim in 2007.
In Blood+, Saya is introduced as an amnesiac and anemic slayer of demons called Chiropterans. These gruesome beasts are possibly linked to the U.S. military and a vampire called Diva. A vampire called Haji swears fealty to Saya and doles out tidbits about her past. Meanwhile, David, an agent of Red Shield, does intel work. This second volume ends a story arc involving Saya's adopted father, then scatters her family (Kai, a heroic brother, and Riku, a youngster in the mold of Shinji Ikari) to the far corners of Vietnam while she infiltrates a suspicious girl's school. There she encounters a shadowy nemesis who is obsessed with Saya's forgotten past.
OVAs are mixed affairs. Often more experimental and edgy than their mainstream franchise brethren, OVAs can irritate diehard fans with their liberal licenses and darker takes on the characters. But when the OVA predates a series, it sets the tone. Blood: The Last Vampire is among the most noteworthy OVAs ever, blinding fans with a dazzling display of suspense, action, and violence. Its central character is as enigmatic and potent as they come, little more than a taciturn weapon with an upturned nose and disdain for both humanity and demon alike. Blood: The Last Vampire is as relentless as it is frugal with detail.
One way to describe Blood+ is that it made concessions to mainstream anime tastes, updating the core characters for an audience accustomed to five years of tamer post-Blood anime.
Another way to describe Blood+ is that they spayed one of the most compelling heroines in anime history, rendering her moot while providing a handful of annoying, stereotypical sidekicks and miring her in a "Tuxedo Rose" romance a la Sailor Moon. Her kid brother is like Shinji without the prowess; her other brother is an anime everyman: brash, bland, spiky-haired, and rebellious (he rides a motorcycle). Haji provides a body of reference to Chrono Crusade and Hellsing Ultimate Series: 1 (Vampires fighting their kind for humanity's sake), while David gives us every generic government conspiracy to draw on. The changes to Saya herself are most dire, from haughty weapon of destruction to trembling schoolgirl who blushes when asked if she's ever kissed a boy. The old Saya would have given a withering stare at the question, spit on a crucifix, and slain some vampires with a rusty trowel to burn off steam. As a fan of Blood: The Last Vampire, I'm unapologetic in my disdain for these changes. Have we learned nothing from The Phantom Menace?
Blood+: Volume Two starts out with promise. Saya and her operatives inflitrate a government lab to beat down some Chiropterans. But when the time comes for Saya to fight, she freezes up like a clam. This basic pattern is repeated throughout the five episodes. With the exception of one mercy killing and some hinted aggression from a jealous classmate, there is little, if any, violence aside from modest skirmishes with Chiropterans. The sole exception is promising flashbacks to a violent rampage in Vietnam, which send Saya's mind reeling with panic.
The episodes are rife with bonding of all kinds, from classmates to brothers to touching strangers. These warm moments are nothing new to anime, but they are new to the Blood universe and therefore noteworthy.
Many a threadbare plot has skated by on the merits of its audio visual onslaught, but here again Blood+ falls down. In comparison to its contemporary series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Blood+ makes a poor showing. There are prominent combing artifacts, such as when the tails of jet planes erupt into bands of horizontal lines. The backgrounds—and even some foregrounds—are so riddled with banding that one scene features faint green and red lines bisecting a character's face as he speaks. There is blurred detail, particularly in dark scenes, that does not seem intentional. The video clears up periodically to provide hints of the visual splendor of the OVA.
Blood+ is an aural mixed bag as well. At one point, Haji was playing a cello and I marveled at the clarity and poignancy of the notes. The technique and sound quality were so good I wanted to listen forever. Then there was an office conversation with such boomy, antiseptic sound quality that it sounded like the scene was recorded with a tin mike inside a bathroom stall. The aural instability asserted itself frequently, to the point that it was difficult to ignore.
Rounding out the presentation were regular freeze-ups, like 3-second layer changes that made me wonder if I missed a scene. They were so bad that I checked the disc surface for scratches and rewound to watch the second counter closely for gaps. I still cannot explain these abrupt freeze-ups, because they are neither layer changes nor disc imperfections. There were no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
These extensive annoyances aside, Blood+: Volume Two is not without merit. I did not review Blood+: Volume One, but from what I understand, the aforementioned rampage in Vietnam kicks off the series. From screenshots in a review at Taliesin Meets the Vampire, it looks like Blood+: Volume One is a sexier, more violent volume with more action than Volume Two boasts. Perhaps these five episodes are a palate cleanser after an opening barrage of mayhem, and I simply missed out on the mayhem. If so, it gives the series more credibility to those who appreciated Blood: The Last Vampire for its differences rather than its homogenous anime plot. But the authors still need to explain the flying dude in the cape with blue roses, and how he differs substantially from Tuxedo Rose.
To be fair, there's almost no way to back off from Blood's pathological lack of detail and please everyone. When you fill a vacuum with information or provide the missing notes to a snippet of song, the result will inevitably fall short of what the imagination provided. Nevertheless, I was expecting more of Blood's blood-soaked reticence and less of a whole-hog dive into tittering schoolgirls and romantic, ponytailed, dark heroes to set the pulse aflutter. The suspense, the off-kilter look, the maddening enigma, and the heroine with a backbone of steel of the OVA have all been subsumed. While the result is not bad, it doesn't stand out, either.
Blood+: Volume Two is guilty of being average, which placed in context is a condemnation.
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