Judge Mike Rubino is performing Film Criticism Technique #4.
"I hunt vampires, those creatures that prowl the night preying on humans."
In 2010, Marvel teamed up with legendary anime production house Madhouse Studios to re-introduce some of its most popular properties to Japanese audiences. Blade, the fourth and final Marvel Anime series, was perhaps the most fitting for the folks who gave us Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
Facts of the Case
Eric Brooks was born a half-breed. His mother was bitten by a vampire while pregnant, granting him most of the good aspects of being a blood sucker while also allowing him to stroll around in the sun. After extensive martial arts training and lots of growing up, Eric became "Blade" and swore to exact revenge upon Deacon Frost, the vampire responsible for killing his mom.
In Marvel Anime: Blade, Eric is in Japan, tracking down Frost and an evil gang of vampires known as "Existence." His journey leads him all over the eastern hemisphere, as he fights off every breed of vampire monster imaginable.
If there's a Marvel property suited for the crazed and melodramatic stylings of Japanese animation, it's Blade. The sword-wielding vampire hunter has always had some martial arts roots, and his rise to fame with the Wesley Snipes films redefined the character for the modern comic fan. He's no longer some castle spelunking C-level superhero, he's a major player in the Marvel Universe…and he kicks all kinds of butt.
Marvel Anime: Blade is the best the "daywalker" has looked since Blade II. The noir tones, acid-washed color palette, and reserved animation fit the vampire scene like Blade's black gloves (I think he wears gloves). Madhouse wisely keeps the show's content on an adult level, filling the screen with plenty of macabre gore and monsters, without spilling over into that weird R-rated anime that makes people uncomfortable. The show borrows its tone straight from the Hollywood films, and provides a seamless continuity for the character.
Blade upholds his M.O. as cold and aloof. He's focused on the hunt for Deacon and, even though he occasionally gets sidetracked over the course of these 12 episodes, the story remains as streamlined as anime gets. Each installment follows a similar pattern of plot development, character moments, and all-out freeze frame text-on-the-screen brawl. You know, like Fist of the North Star meets Ninja Scroll.
It's the character moments, however, that don't translate well to Western sensibilities. The show has a lot of brooding. Like, a lot a lot. Every episode has long moments of some character staring off all forlorn, or Blade experiencing a flashback to his childhood. While anime fans may be used to this sort of celluloid introspection, I felt it dragged out the runtime and brought the momentum to a halt. While these moments may work in live-action, they don't hold up in the world of cartoons.
That said, these anime-oriented tendencies are what appeals to fans of the genre and comic books. The animation is great, and the character designs are detailed and interesting—especially the horrific monsters that populate the East Asian locales. In one of the supplements, the show's creators talk about drawing from Japanese and Asian vampiric legends which are quite different from the rich European loverboys we usually see. Marvel Anime: Blade successfully straddles that line between faithful comic series and a new refreshing take on the character.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1 Surround, this two-disc, 12-episode set looks and sounds great. The audio features both the original Japanese language track with subtitles and an English dub that's actually respectable. In terms of extras, we get a couple insightful featurettes covering the development of the show and the character.
Marvel Anime: Blade is a Japanese melodrama with enough cool animation, awesome action, and thematic connection to the Blade franchise to keep longtime fans interested. Assuming you aren't annoyed by all the anime quirks, there's a lot to enjoy here.
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