Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 27th 2008
Black Blood Brothers
Ten years ago in Hong Kong, a war between humans and normal vampires on one side and those of the Kowloon Children vampire bloodline (distinguished because they turn humans and other vampires into their kind just by feeding on them, whereas normally humans only “turn” by drinking vampire blood) on the other led to great devastation, resulting in Japan setting up a mystically shielded Special Zone regulated by the Company for vampires of particular bloodlines to live. Jiro Mochizuki, an “Old Blood” vampire known as Silver Blade, led the fight against the Kowloon Children in Hong Kong despite having lost his lover and now seeks to return to Japan with his little brother Kotaro. Unintentional involvement with vampire refugees seeking to make their way into the Special Zone complicates matters, as does the reappearance of a surviving Kowloon Child, but Jiro finds assistance from an unexpected source: Mimiko Katsuragi, a young Company Compromiser.
Attention Jiro Mochizuki: this is the Fashion Police. You have committed a gross violation of the AFDSA (Anime Fashion Design Standard Act) with that god-awful hat. Report to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for proper redesign, you cheap Alucard wannabe.
Fashion disasters aside, the first volume of the most recent vampire series to hit the States ends with the impression that it could ultimately go either way: it has the potential to be either good or very mediocre, depending on how certain aspects of the series develop over the remaining two volumes. On the minus side, it opens with a particularly weak first episode and has some questionable plot merits, including a needless side plot involving experiments in creating vampires. On the plus side, the series improves as it goes along and quickly figures out how to use its quirky sense of humor effectively without detracting too much from the serious content. A solid supporting cast and good use of music also help.
Law #4 of vampire stories both in and out of anime requires that any dashing male vampire must have a female sidekick/ally/love interest to play with/off of. In this case the Compromiser Mimiko fills that role. Although she seems to be little more than your typical harried young corporate drone, she also quickly shows that she has a backbone and can interact well with Jiro. It is no coincidence that the series starts getting better when she steps into the picture. Kotaro, with his child's innocence, penchant for getting into trouble, and seeming indestructibility, is the obligatory cute character, major motivating element, and prime source of comic relief all rolled into one; his scene with the mute vampire princess, and the way it suddenly turns in a different direction for an unusual reason, is priceless. Kelly Wong, a vampire refugee from a broken bloodline, also adds a bit to the story as a mature, sensible, even-tempered woman looking for a place to call home who sees Jiro as a powerful potential ally to her purpose.
Regrettably Jiro has been the least interesting of the major characters introduced to date. The first four episodes set up a backstory involving a lost lover and a pupil gone bad, and establish his discomfort over being labeled “Kin-Killer” for his battles against the Kowloon Children in the Hong Kong affair, but so far those efforts have failed to give him much of an interesting or compelling personality. J. Michael Tatum, his English dub performer, tries to improve matters by making him sound a bit more proper in English, but there's only so much a performer can do if the material is not there. Ultimately he lacks the style and flair necessary to be a proper male vampire lead.
Despite that, the series still manages to put together a decent story, although it could use some work on its sense of timing with episode ends. It does offer a couple of mildly interesting twists on vampire lore with the temporary resonance effect between a vampire and a bitten subject and the notion that only one bloodline of vampires can “turn” victims with just a bite, while other vampires side with the humans against them. The volume ends with the opening story arc satisfyingly completed and little indication of where the story might go next, however.
Aside from the aforementioned fashion faux pas, little about the artistry or animation distinguishes the series. Kotaro is certainly cute, the fight scene animation is serviceable, and it features good background art, but the only elements that truly stand out are the rich red tones of Jiro's outfit and the tendency to give all adult characters large, sharply-pointed noses. The series certainly is not an eyesore, but this collaboration between Group TAC and Studio Live is nothing special visually.
The soundtrack will not blow anyone away, either, but does its job well. It use a nice mix of orchestrated numbers to provide a suitably tense but not overblown sound to its action scenes while also adeptly shifting between light-hearted and serious modes and effectively enhancing dramatic scenes. Overall, the sound may be a bit different from what you're used to hearing series like this, but it works. The opening theme “Memories of Tomorrow” By Naozumi Takahashi is an unremarkable up-tempo rock number, while “Mirage” by LOVEHOLIC is a mournful, low-key love song whose lyrics pair exceptionally well with the visuals. (Either the song was chosen specifically for the opening visuals or they were designed around the lyrics.)
Some English dub performances – such as Leah Clark as Kotaro – are right on the money with the original performances, while others alter the style somewhat. Jiro's case has been previously mentioned, and Colleen Clinkenbeard's rendition of Mimiko makes her sound a little older and less flighty but otherwise does not fundamentally alter the characterization. Most other roles are cast and performed acceptably well. The English script retains typical Funimation looseness and uses “Silver Blade” where the subtitles use “Silver Sword.”
In an unusual move, all four of the episodes have a Japanese audio commentary included in the Extras. These bits, which sound more like the stand-alone Extras normally borrowed from Japanese DVD releases, always feature two of the key female seiyuu and their every-episode “guest” Kouhei Azano, the writer of the novels on which the series is based. Also included are textless songs and the original Japanese TV spots. The art box is also available with this volume.
The “Black Blood” in the title refers to vampires being named Black Bloods while humans are referred to as Red Bloods, which is supposed to put them on equal footing for negotiation purposes even though “Black Blood” sounds mildly insulting and/or pretentious. Perhaps that is why this does not feel much like a true vampire series. It does not have the edge that vampire content normally does; the bad guys could just as easily be generic demons without changing anything. Still, the story works out to be surprisingly involving by the end of the volume, which helps compensate for its lackluster lead.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Solid supporting cast, effective musical score.
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