Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 23rd 2010
Black Blood Brothers
Blu-Ray Complete Series
The Special Zone is an area in Japan where vampires and humans live side by side. To powerful vampire Jiro Mochizuki, it seems the perfect place to introduce his sheltered ward Kotaro to the outside world. It isn't, not really. First they aren't allowed in, thanks to the Byzantine by-laws of the Special Zone. Then they are assaulted, Jiro is captured, and Kotaro gets entangled in a deadly mess involving contagious vampires. When they do get in, no one is willing to put them up because of Jiro's status as a vampire-slaying hero of the humans. Luckily their hardships have brought them close to Mimiko, a green human mediator who agrees to take them in. Which of course is the exact moment when Jiro's past catches up to him, in the form of ally-turned-mortal-enemy Cassandra. Cassandra and her evil siblings have an agenda, and it involves turning the Zone into a living hell. Hell not being an optimal place for Kotaro, Jiro opposes them.
Make a list of the qualities of good anime. Likely as not it includes the following: a complex and propulsive plot, a fully-realized world, a layered hero, strong relationships, a bit of heart and maybe some romance and bloodshed. Ten bucks says that the makers of Black Blood Brothers have that list too. They tap each of those touchstones too deliberately not to be working from some sort of checklist. They wouldn't be the first to do so; I still hold that Fullmetal Alchemist was made that way. But unlike Alchemist, BBB seems to be under the impression that the checklist is a scavenger hunt. To get Jiro, borrow Alucard's suit and fill it with a mixture of Vampire Hunter D and Vash the Stampede. While you're in Trigun, snatch Meryl, rename her Mimiko and give her the same basic relationship with Jiro that she once had with Vash. Then pop over to Lone Wolf and Cub to pick up Jiro and Kotaro's basic relationship. What you can't find in a specific series can be gathered from the general pop consciousness. Over there you'll find your battle between former allies, floating next to the girlfriend tragically slain by said ally. A little searching gets you a special city for vampires, just back from duty (in differing forms) in Dance in the Vampire Bund and films like District 9. Really, Black Blood Brothers wasn't created so much as assembled.
Still, similar assemblages have yielded surprising results, and BBB has moments when it might fool you into thinking it's among them. Usually such moments are action-related. The series has quality taste in borrowed conflicts and good, if predictable, action timing. (Confrontations always have an emotional basis and heroes always arrive in the nick of time). Arrange a small army of annoying villains, throw vulnerable and likeable Mimiko into their bloody midst, and you've got some serviceably tense fights, capped off by satisfying slayings. During the focused action of the introductory arc and the two-episode mini-apocalypse at the end, BBB comes dangerously close to being good. And when Mimiko—the series' de facto heart—invests the action with some emotional weight, it is good.
In the end, though, they are but discrete moments. The series never fashions anything consistently compelling from them, or from its accreted borrowings. It's far too concerned with checking the traditional attributes of quality storytelling from its list to tell a quality story. To encompass them all, it forms a mass of intertwining subplots that swells its middle section until it gives birth to the tangled and largely inconclusive vampire death-match that closes out the series. Revelations personal and political end up crammed artlessly into the series' final minutes, and the whole exercise leaves one feeling empty and vaguely dissatisfied.
If it weren't for the digital animation, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Black Blood Brothers was animated in the 90's. Its character designs, with their pointy noses, aggressive lines and angular eyes, show none of the moe influences of the intervening decades. Same with their tame (Jiro's atrocious hat excepted) costuming. The low-effort background artistry would sit comfortably in a series of older vintage as well, as would the stiff character animation, spiky hair, bright palette, and decidedly unconvincing facial expressions. Even the heavily short-cutted, ferociously edited action scenes would have been right at home in something from the age of Mosquiton. If you don't count the 3D CG coffins and infernos that is. There is some recurring business with drool and the explicit sexualization of blood-sucking that is more in keeping with current trends in television content, but in general the series is quite the throwback.
Appropriately enough Toshihiko Sahashi's soundtrack borrows its best composition almost directly from 90's benchmark Escaflowne. It, along with the gothic organ/guitar mix it occasionally summons, supplies the action scenes with a good deal of their punch. The score is less successful when it grows silly or maudlin, but is never less than supportive of whatever mood the series is trying on.
As is par of late, Funimation's dub is a stolid interpretation that provides the dub faithful with their English alternative while giving no compelling reason for the sub faithful to change their dub-spurning ways. Though it makes a few questionable changes, mostly in the name of softening Mimiko's sometimes crude language, the script maintains a reasonable level of fidelity, while Funimation's usual stable of talent yields appropriate fits for most of the characters. Some of the scenery-chewing villains are fun, and the surprisingly smooth retention of Jiro's sometimes courtly speech is a treat. The English dialogue in Jiro's cheesy romantic flashbacks is pretty awful, but then again so is the Japanese.
A hearty medley of promotional spots and clean animation (for the glam-rock opener and the lonely ballad closer) round out the set's extras, but it's the commentary tracks that provide the main body. There's a whopping total of twelve of them, one for every single episode. Each one features Mikako Takahashi and either Ryoko Nagata or Kana Ueda, along with a guest or two, one of whom is usually original author Kouhei Azano. Insights into the characters and Azano's creative processes make their way in, but as the commentators apparently drank copious amounts of alcohol while taping, the general tone is pretty merry.
The video transfer on these Blu-Rays seems sharper than the norm for DVDs, but neither Funimation nor the series itself is using the format to its full potential.
In all fairness to Black Blood Brothers, it is a diverting little slice of vampire action. The gooey flashbacks aside, none of it will pain you—though the C-SPAN footage of old men discussing Special Zone plans and policies will bore you, possibly to tears—and borrowed though they are, it has a heart and a functioning adrenal gland and it uses both. But even at its most intense you can feel your memory of BBB evanescing in your brainpan. After a day or two, nothing will be left at all.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Action can be cool and occasionally powerful; Mimiko adds emotional depth.
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