Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 16th 2013
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
On the outside, Saya Kisaragi seems like a typical high school girl—a good friend to her classmates, and doted on by her father, who runs the local shrine. But Saya also harbors a dark secret: by night, she wields a sacred blade and slays man-eating monsters known as Elder Bairns. Only Saya's father knows of her secret, but as more and more townspeople disappear as a result of Elder Bairn activity, the stress of Saya's deadly calling begins to weigh on her. Even her closest friends are in danger, and Saya starts to wonder if there are others around her who know more about the Elder Bairns than they're letting on. The gaps in Saya's memories, and the strange circumstances of her hometown, suggest that there is a deeper supernatural conspiracy at work ...
Blood-C is either one of the most brilliantly shocking horror series ever created, or one of the biggest practical jokes ever played on an anime-viewing audience. Through a violent, mystery-laced narrative, it explores some classic "big questions": Do those who fight monsters turn into monsters themselves? What does it mean to be a human or beast, to be good or evil? Where is the line drawn between fiction and reality? However, uneven storytelling and a bizarre plot twist right at the end leave an odd aftertaste.
The series hides its dark side so well that the early episodes are a bore, focusing too much on Saya's perfect little life. She helps her dad with chores, sings cutely to herself, and hangs out with classmates whose personalities conform to familiar stereotypes: the generically nice class president, the taciturn bad boy, and the goofy twins, among others. This kind of fluff goes on for almost twenty minutes each episode, leaving little time for the monster-slaying action and supernatural drama that was expected in the first place.
The storytelling is more well-balanced in the middle of this 12-episode run, as the pacing picks up and the pillars of Saya's life start to crumble. The clues about the Elder Bairn conspiracy become more concrete, and the vapid school-life filler gradually recedes from the picture—especially as Saya's own classmates fall victim to the monsters themselves. However, the final act of the series proves that this is more than just a countdown thriller where characters are killed off one by one.
In the last two episodes, the big twist behind Blood-C is revealed, and that's where viewers will have to decide for themselves: Is this a stroke of genius, or a ridiculous practical joke that ruins the story? Without giving too much away, let's just say that it turns the series into a meta discussion of the horror genre, and the Blood franchise in general: Why is it always the one destined heroine? Why is Saya's sword so special anyway? The ending to this series offers an answer, but it's a cop-out answer, and one that leads to even more ridiculous, over-the-top consequences. The final scene results in no satisfaction, but rather, a feeling of "What was the point of watching all that?"
Maybe the point is simply to enjoy Saya's furious, monster-slaying battles, which are the visual highlight of every episode. Skillful choreography turns each fight into a work of eye candy, with Saya showcasing various moves—acrobatic leaps and lunges, defensive rolls, and of course, a deft hand with the sword. Each Elder Bairn is also unique in form, adding variety to the fight scenes and posing a new challenge each time. Some are unapologetically campy (like a monster train car, or a cockatrice more closely resembling a floating chicken), but the more fearsome beasts, like a giant eyeball or a nebulous all-consuming shadow, are worth the price of admission.
Far less impressive, though, are scenes of school and home life: it's as if they were poorly animated on purpose, with lots of boring, straight-ahead camera angles and bland background art to match. The character designs, while distinctive (as all CLAMP creations are), suffer from the infamous "xxxHOLiC anatomy" that makes them too lanky to be believable. The anatomy problem goes away in the later episodes, but then comes another issue at the end: gratuitous violence. Perhaps the stomach-churning bloodbath after the big reveal is supposed to be a dramatic statement, but all it does is go too far in the wrong direction, trying to pass off tasteless gore as a grand finale.
Despite so many ups and downs, the series does succeed unequivocally in one area: the background music. A simple, eerie melody establishes the main theme, and it returns in various forms throughout the story. In other scenes, the dark-toned orchestration creates a chilling cloak of sound—but can also switch to heavy, angry rhythms when Saya launches into battle. Even the little ditty that Saya sings to herself turns out to have melodic significance at the very end. The theme songs aren't quite as impressive, being typical angst-ridden rock numbers, but they do fit the tone of the series.
An understated (but not emotionless) English dub helps to get the mood right—the voice acting creates a sense of foreboding throughout, and screams of terror are reserved for only the most necessary moments. Even the big revelations come out through simple, almost deadpan conversations, rather than through overacting and yelling. Alexis Tipton, in the role of Saya, effectively captures the innocence and insecurity of the protagonist—in fact, her Japanese counterpart (Nana Mizuki) sounds almost too level-headed to be the teenage girl portrayed in the show. The secondary characters, meanwhile, seem content to act out the same personality trait over and over, although that's more the fault of a storyline that portrays them as one-dimensional figures.
This Blu-Ray/DVD combo package comes with audio commentaries for Episodes 6 and 12, with ADR director Jerry Jewell leading a couple of conversations about the recording process and the actors' thoughts on the show. Sometimes they even let the action speak for itself, which makes for a more well-balanced commentary than the ones where the actors talk constantly over the footage. Clean opening and ending sequences are also included on the discs, along with Japanese and U.S. trailers for the series.
Make no mistake: Blood-C requires some serious patience to enjoy. First, the patience to sit through the tedious early episodes, and then, the patience to put up with a finale that's somewhere between brilliant, bizarre, and infuriating (not to mention disturbingly violent). The buildup of intrigue during the middle episodes, the masterfully choreographed fight scenes, and a chilling soundtrack make it enjoyable in some respects—but in the end, Blood-C is as much a psychological ordeal as it is an anime series. Consider yourselves warned.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Mysterious clues, cliffhangers, and a shocking conspiracy make for an addictive storyline. Action-packed battles and evocative music add to the intensity.
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