Blood the Last Vampire Staff Review



Flash Gordon (Anime Corner Staff Writer)


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ANIMATOR: KAZUCHIKA KISE [director of animation]/ HISHASHI EZURA [effects director]


Blood, the Last Vampire DVD

  REVIEW (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

If you’re feeling drained at the end of Blood: The Last Vampire, needing a transfusion, don’t be surprised, this could have been a vampire story for the ages, but it doesn’t suck completely. Following the impressive showing of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade [1999], Production I.G. got down and dirty once again with its visually nasty anime follow-up, Blood: The Last Vampire. As far as the details attributed to the studio’s animating virtue, it’s astounding what a difference a year can make. The production quality is sharp. It’s a fitting title too as the blood indeed splatters the screen often in the company’s latest groundbreaking anime. It was an experiment in cellular and digital animation at the turn of the century further expanding the anime possibilities. The film led to praise from a variety of camps including Andy Wachowski’s [The Matrix, V For Vendetta] colorful expression of appreciation, “It was beautiful - It was as if the art of Francis Bacon had come to life.” Production I.G. had created yet another impressive landmark in what would become a stunning string of masterworks for its resume.

There is a haunting film noir quality to this dark, visceral, vampire story and great detail when into its cellular production despite being dropped into the middle of an ongoing storyline lacking details. The attention to animation and atmosphere would cultivate a cult following for years to come, as legions of fans would clamor for a proper follow-up to this short feature. They would have to wait five years. This story takes place on Yokota Air Base in Japan. On edge, the United States military is on the brink of the Vietnam War. Frighteningly, a more immediate threat lurks within the fortified compound – demon-like vampires! A crackerjack team of covert agents is summoned to dispatch these bloodsuckers, known as Chiropterans, which have infiltrated the base in human form. Their modus operandi: anyone marked by them or who has seen their real form will be killed. Some sequences have a terrifying vibe reminiscent of the best
qualities in horror cinema. The main character is Saya and we know little about her. We know this, “she’s the only remaining original.” Apart from the occasionally cryptic, wee bit of dangled information, character development is seriously lacking here. We ascertain through clues that Saya has been alive since, at least, 1892. We know she is bi-lingual moving fluently between English and Japanese. She also possesses an aversion to the holy cross [standard operating procedures in a film that bites], but yet she professes, “I can’t kill humans.” Did I mention her soft, curvaceous lips? To say that Saya is a bit of an enigma is an understatement. What motivates her is a big question mark. She is an unflinching mystery and she is sent in to exterminate the heathen monsters with her lethal precision and the aid of a razor-sharp sword she carries with her complete with carrying case. Not unlike Arucard of Hellsing, Saya is a stonecold marxman, a vicious assassin. As one character exclaims, “don’t ever piss her off again!” Good bit that, but character development is actually non-existent, and regardless of the attempt to hypnotize you with its stellar animation, you will be asking questions. Gorgeous animated bloodletting aside veins run dry and your left standing with a hollow shell of a story. Why does Saya fight these creatures? Why is she the last of her kind? We want to know more about the pouty, gothy, sex-kitten that is Saya, all petite in her traditional Japanese school uniform. She is the key to greater things in this story’s future, which was obviously enough to hook a following for years.

The animation is precisely why you will love Blood: The Last Vampire. The combination 3D digital [backgrounds & lighting] and cellular animation [thick, black outlines] is a delicious feast for the eyes. The different animation techniques are noticeable, but beautifully so, in the way it has been applied and deftly
combined in series like Gonzo Digimation’s Last Exile. It’s another perfect example of animation and digimation working in harmony, but not relying on the flawed premise that CGI in and of itself is always a good thing. There are moments where the animators emphasize Saya’s vampiric-qualities visually, her Dracula-like eyes and eyebrows for one. It’s a nice touch. While the story sells itself short, the anime style handled by the Production I.G. studio demonstrates high art excellence. Not only is the cellular design inspired, so is the film’s accompanying score. It is a stirring instrumental mix by Yoshihiro Ike that genuinely enhances the foreboding mood. The ominous closing theme music is a fine example. Sound is utilized well throughout with some solid surround bass when the creators aren’t purposefully working in silence.

Unfortunately for Production I.G., the concept of the film is brilliant, but the story is never fully realized. It’s like a doctor frustratingly attempting to find a vein in your arm that seems more like a capillary. The shallow character development is notable in comparison to the studio’s later marvels. Dialogue is minimal with some characters speaking no more than a few lines. There’s even a nameless main character. Significant lapses in judgment lead to scripting a ghost in a shell of a proper story rather than creating, ironically, flesh and blood characters. It ensures the demise of the film on a substantive level that it cannot recover. In fact, the 82-minute running time listed on the DVD is misleading to say the least. The film is roughly 45 minutes in length, while the accompanying 20-minute documentary [interviews with the creative team] and trailers make up the remaining time. In essence, while the concept is brilliant, it’s more like a film short and a promotional exercise in what Production I. G. had to offer at the time to sell the studio. After all, Blood: The Last Vampire was considered to be one of the first full-length feature films using digital.
The studio must have known it was part of a much greater plan, because while Mamoru Oshii had his hand in planning and developing the story, it’s significantly underdeveloped by his standards. Oshii is not, without question, a fan of the traditional beginning-middle-end story arc style of traditional filmmaking, but this lacked comprehensive plot and character altogether. He is an artist who prefers interpretation and analysis be left to the viewing audience, but the information the viewer needs is normally on up there on the screen. As it stands, Blood: The Last Vampire offers a great set-up, but it is not fleshed-out even by Oshii’s standards. We empathize with the School Nurse [she’s the character without a name in the film] when she concludes her interview by investigators, “and this is all I know” [which is nothing], because she represents the clueless frustration of the audience watching. Ironically, as underdeveloped and incomplete as the heroine of Saya is here, the creators somewhat bewilderingly injected enough lifeblood into its lead character to generate a biased cult following that managed to energize the Blood fanbase and its desire to ultimately revitalize the Production I.G. seed for an ongoing saga in the form of Blood+. Despite its shortcomings, maybe the quality of the animation, the mystery surrounding Saya and the intrigue of this vampire story’s potential will leave you, too, blissfully ignorant and blood-thirsty for more as it has for so many. Think of the flawed Blood: The Last Vampire as a big episodic teaser and primer for what inevitably led Production I.G. to finally deliver to fans the highly anticipated sequel. Production I.G. finally rectifies its long-standing dilemma with the advent of the long-running series Blood+. As for Blood: The Last Vampire, like I said, it doesn’t suck completely [tongue firmly in cheek], it deserves checking out, but may leave you hungering for a full course anime meal. This one is worth keeping as a complement to your future Blood+ collection. Did you say bite me?!

Footnote: The story of Saya continues in Mamoru Oshii novel, Blood: Night Of The Beasts and the 52 episode 2005-2006 TV series by Production I.G., Blood+ [aired in Japan]. Sink your teeth into that one.

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