Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 19th 2013
Blood-C: The Last Dark
Dark beasts stalk the neon streets of Tokyo. The small but skilled hacker cell Sirrut knows this and knows that a mysterious organization known as the Tower is behind the beasts, as well as the draconian anti-youth laws that have been in vogue of late. The kids of Sirrut don't know what the Tower's endgame is, but they know it can't be good. They have no idea how deep the Tower's evil goes however, until a sword-wielding schoolgirl rescues one of their number from a Tower monster. Saya is the only survivor of a holocaustic experiment carried out by slippery Tower honcho Fumito Nanahara, and she's in town to purge her demons with blood. As she turns her cold fury on the Tower, it's up to Sirrut to guide her. But are they really working against Fumito, or are they playing right into his grasping hands?
Often the big-screen outgrowths of TV series are vestigial limbs: useless extensions of their main body that can be amputated without a thought. But not Last Dark. Blood-C needed a sequel, and Last Dark is the sequel it needed. Don't take that as wholehearted approbation however.
To understand why not, you need to know a little about the TV series. Mainly, you need to know that Blood-C was a terrible series. It was a coy puzzle, a screamingly empty exercise in narrative cleverness that culminated in a vile, nihilistic denouement that ultimately resolved nothing. It also had the effrontery to turn the Blood franchise's fierce Saya into a singing shrine maiden. It's Last Dark's job to clean up the TV series' mess and patch up the damage it did to the franchise at large. That it succeeds is suitably impressive, but that doesn't necessarily make for great filmmaking.
It's pretty entertaining filmmaking, though. You have to give it that. Last Dark does its damnedest to roll back the things that made Blood-C the monstrosity that it was. Gone is the mannered tone, the pointed artificiality, replaced by a mildly gritty future realism. Saya is given back her cold savagery, settling easily into the terse hardass mode she inhabited at the franchise's opening. Elaborate mind-games are discarded in favor of a lean, mean revenge narrative—spiced with a little social commentary, hacker sci-fi, and emotional backstory of course. The violence is bloody and deadly, but in a clean, action-focused way: violence in the service of thrills, not violence as a pointlessly sickening grotesquerie.
The result is fast, relatively streamlined, and refreshingly conventional: An action movie that consciously recalls the hard-hitting charms of The Last Vampire and the cyberpunk-flavored action of the 80s and 90s golden age of anime cinema. The influence of co-writer and professional golden age reinterpreter Jun'ichi Fujisaku (Blood+, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) is obvious. Urban dystopias run by despotic future governments? Hackers fighting the man? Neo Freaking Tokyo? (Okay, Neo Ikebukuro, but still.) I could be sixteen again, wandering the Japanimation aisle at the Movie Shack.
Which is a pretty great place to be, especially with the muscle of a modern anime studio behind the trip, a group of hugely likeable hacker weirdoes to accompany you (even Sirrut's lunkheaded driver is a walking slab of manly charm), and the unrepentantly ferocious Saya leading the way—at the point of a really sharp sword of course.
The problem is that, for all its reinvention, the film is still part of Blood-C. Reshaping the series into something authentically entertaining is part of the mission, but so is tying off Blood-C's dangling plot threads. Which means that elements of the TV series must be retained, many of which fit ill with the film's repurposed tone. As nice as it is to see xxxHOLiC's Watanuki—who spent his brief time in Blood-C as a talking mutt—in the flesh and being his charmingly mysterious self (CLAMP does love its crossovers), he has no business poking his mystic mug into a bloody sci-fi actioner. Likewise the more outrageous Elder Bairns, especially the mountainous one at the end, are reality-rupturing fantasy pimples on an otherwise sleek near-future surface.
And then there's Fumito, who is unfortunately indispensable as the object of Saya's revenge, and is an unmitigated pox on the film (as he was on the TV series before it). As a character type—the soft-spoken, perpetually smiling, villainous schemer—he's intolerable, and as an antagonist he's appropriately murderable but otherwise undefined and underwritten. No comprehensible reason is ever given for the monstrous experiment at the TV series' core, or for his fascination with Saya, and the justification for his actions in the film is terminally flimsy.
Of course, not everything wrong with the film is the TV show's fault. Sure Fumito is a blight forced upon Fujisaku by CLAMP's TV experimentations, but the flubbing of his demise—which is inexplicably played for tragic emotion—is all on Fujisaku. As are the "emotional" interludes that kill the momentum of the film's middle half (most of them erected around Sirrut cutie Mana and her inappropriately sweet friendship with Saya). Fleshing out your film's emotional life isn't a bad thing, but in a high-octane action thriller that should really be done on the fly.
One thing that is beyond reproach is Production I.G's presentation. When someone mentions "theatrical level" production, this is what they're talking about. The film is cleanly illustrated, gorgeously detailed, and beautifully fluid in motion. Director Naoyoshi Shiotani doesn't have the chops of say, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, who invested The Last Vampire's brutal action with both urgency and a certain elegiac sadness, but he makes up for his staid framing and orchestration with the raw power of IG's animation and the fluidity of camerawork that it allows. About the only truly damaging flaws are the unconvincing CG movement of crowds and the classical anime inexpressiveness of CLAMP's otherwise lovely character designs.
The monsters, by the way, may be out of place, but they're damned impressive. And I do mean damned. Terrifying, imaginatively gross, and revolting in their fleshy mobility, they'd do Dante proud. Oh yes, and it bears mentioning that Naoki Sato's score, which pointedly emulates the blood and thunder of Yoshihiro Ike's Last Vampire work (while adding a touch of gothic drama all its own) works well for horrific monsters and gory action alike.
Aside from the requisite promos and trailers, Funimation provides two notable extras. The first is a series of six two-minute educational shorts, presided over by the TV series' messily deceased twins Nene and Nono and intended to give those unfamiliar with the series the knowledge-base to get by in the film. The second is a feature-length dub commentary, which is extra-long and fairly exhaustive in its survey of the cast and crew but is otherwise a standard-issue Funimation commentary track.
The dub that the commentary comments on is also pretty standard-issue. By this point in the company's dubbing career the dub factory at Funimation can churn out a perfectly serviceable localization in its sleep, and that's more or less what it does here. It's hard to know exactly how faithful it is, given that the subtitles are hard-wired to their respective audio tracks, but the dub has the feel of one fueled more by fidelity and professionalism than affection or enthusiasm. Which I guess is appropriate, as that's the same general vibe you get from the film. And since the film is the periodically rousing action showcase that it is, it clearly isn't a bad approach (or a wholly bad one, at least).
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-
+ A fast-moving action film that ties up the TV series' loose ends while harking back to the franchise's better days.
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