Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
It isn't until she's induced by a bloody kiss to slaughter a monster with maximum force during a nasty nighttime encounter that high-school amnesiac Saya begins to suspect that there's something amiss with her life (besides being an adopted amnesiac). Despite the best efforts of her adopted family—deceptively easy-going dad George, hot-headed elder brother Kai, and sensitive younger brother Riku—to maintain a normal life, Saya's fate is inextricably intertwined with a breed of blood-sucking monster known as chiropterans, and the shadowy forces behind them. It isn't long before Saya and Hagi, her handsome, taciturn immortal sidekick, are slicing monsters for a secret anti-chiropteran organization known as Red Shield, trying to track down the forces bent on creating, for reasons of their own, more of the blood-sucking pests. Saya is the only being with power to stop the beasts, and from Okinawa to Vietnam, from Russia to France, the road she must walk in pursuit of their destruction is strewn with grotesque human experimentation, bodies, and of course, blood. Lots of blood. In the meantime Kai and Riku try desperately to protect their adopted sister and a dedicated reporter follows the trail of carnage while evil forces plot and Saya remembers, bit by painful bit, the true nature of her quest, of her origin, and of her arch-nemesis, a mysterious girl known only as Diva.
Audiences only familiar with the Blood franchise from Production I.G's gritty, pessimistic 2000 short film, may be surprised to discover, upon watching its television-animated sequel, a colorful globe-trotting adventure instead. If so, it's not an unpleasant surprise. Rife with sword-flashing violence but not action-clogged, its heart worn on sleeve but not too sappy, Blood+ is a simple, solid action-adventure: entertaining, involving, sometimes powerful, even while replete with the endless dark conspiracies and occasional cheesy cliché one expects from an anime of its stripe.
Though not exactly relentless, the series moves at a brisk pace, and thanks to the age-old strategy of ending every episode on a mean cliffhanger, it's deceptively easy to mainline sizable chunks of the show. It's a very serious-minded series, drifting easily into solemnity and introspection, but with an artful habit of introducing a savage duel or nailing someone to a tree with a spear before it bogs down in navel-gazing. The plot is propulsive, never lingering for long in one place, yet never rushing to leave. For heart, Saya's desire to make a "normal" life with Riku and the oft-obnoxious Kai is obviously intended to take center stage, but is soon eclipsed by her intriguing, ambiguous relationship with Hagi. Which is a good thing. Violence and emotion make fine bedfellows, and the Saya/Hagi relationship is a compelling combination of brutality, sentimentality and potential exploitation, a potent mix of lightly hinted but fascinating potential relationship complications and aesthetic splashes of blood that easily, and thankfully, overpowers the often puerile angst of the Kai/Saya/Riku family unit.
Considerable entertainment value aside, there is no denying that Blood+ is an entirely more conventional work than its cinematic predecessor. Heard this one before? A vampire who makes her living destroying her own kind gets caught up in a web of conspiracy and ends up questioning the validity of her work. Very standard stuff. It has your standard set of villains—obsessive lunatic, cold-blooded charmer, ruthless old man—your standard set of tiresomely evolving conspiracies, and your standard set of frustratingly inconclusive confrontations. Every flashback to Saya's father doing his "live today for tomorrow's smiles and have the courage to face your past" speech is another frown-wrinkle on the face of experienced fans, and then there's that cheap amnesia trick. When you compare sweet amnesiac Saya to the fierce, unrelenting force of nature she was once, one cannot help agreeing with Carl, one of her many opponents, when he laments that she's "just an ordinary girl."
Hints of the earlier incarnation's grim power do remain, most notably in the gory flashbacks to Vietnam and Victorian-era France but also in several cold-blooded tragedies, and the equation of American military intervention with vampirism remains as thought-provoking as ever. The loss of Blood's sickly grey-green cinematography makes for a far more attractive, if less effectively atmospheric, production, and the new character designs have slightly atypical good looks—especially Hagi's droopy-eyed Michael Caine sex appeal. The series also makes Bond-ian use of its detailed exotic locales, and has enough classic vampiric touches—Hagi's dress and recurrent cello theme, the delightfully melodramatic score—to lend a tasty gothic flavor to a tale of vampires that is essentially science-fiction.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's treatment of the series is a study in plusses and minuses. On the plus side we have the dub, which has all the hallmarks—solid acting, effective scripting, few if any casting mistakes, and a dull edge to the overall conviction of the performances—of a serviceable if undistinguished dub. When dealing with releasers outside of the core cadre of fan-friendly anime regulars, any dub at all is a plus, and a professional, reasonably respectful one is a godsend. Another plus is the hour's worth of interviews with the Japanese cast, which are worth their weight in gold just for the glimpses they grant of the inner workings of some veteran talents. The classy box with its snazzy t-shirt pack-in is definitely nice, and the lack of clean opening and closing animation means there's no need to listen to Hyde's thoroughly annoying second opening any more than necessary. The flip side: there's also no clean version of the pleasant original closing, the interviews have an annoying English voice-over (thankfully selectable, so you can turn it off), the DVDs only fit snugly into the box if the t-shirt is still inside (rendering it unwearable for us obsessive packaging freaks), and the Japanese version is dubtitled. The dubtitles aren't exactly unexpected—they're almost a rite of passage—but that doesn't keep them from being hideously, murderously annoying.
If squeaky-clean amnesiac-Saya and the unbecoming sentimental streak epitomized by Saya's "family" have anyone fearing that Blood+ is bloodless, fear not. If narrative vampires have been feeding on the series, it isn't heavily enough to leave it zombified. Potential emotional complications, mean-spirited little plot developments, and plenty of the red red kroovy make the twenty-five episodes in this set fly by, and the inevitable cliffhanger ending—involving the meanest of the mean-spirited little plot developments thus far—is a whispered promise that the next set will pass just as quickly.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Slickly executed, compulsively watchable and highly entertaining.
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