Reviewby Tim Henderson,
Black Blood Brothers
The Complete Series
ETERNAL RONIN. FINAL VENGEANCE!
It's been a decade since the sacred war between humans and vampires. The rise of the Kowloon Bloodline, a new breed of monsters bearing an infectious bite, set the streets ablaze under the reign of their king. Humanity had never witnessed such pure, animalistic brutality.
Today, Jiro travels with his younger brother Kotaro to the Special Zone, a place where vampires live freely in peace alongside humans, the troubles of the past long forgotten. But the brothers find themselves in the midst of a battle between human soldiers, vampiric refugees and the re-emergence of the Kowloon Children. Assisted by Mimiko, a negotiator between their species, Jiro will try to make sense of the chaos which surrounds them before they are caught up in it and destroyed. To protect those that he holds dear, the vampire will once more draw forth the Silver Blade.
The UK is home to an independent, bi-monthly film publication that goes by the name of Little White Lies. It couldn't be much more different to more well-known, mainstream magazines such as Empire and Total Film if it tried. Its interests aren't as commercial, and neither is its readership; it never falls onto the common hype train, and each issue's theme is handled with great care. As a matter of personal preference, it's the better of the three publications that I've mentioned, although still not without shortcomings.
The most obvious of these is pretentiousness. While it doesn't mock Hollywood outright, the zeal with which its writers can approach their material and their opinions of the films they review can lead to a sense of endorphin-induced, righteous importance. But that shouldn't detract from their unique scoring system – a scoring system that goes some way in concisely explaining the pros and cons of Black Blood Brothers, as well as who it will appeal to.
While most numerical scores are broken down to represent aspects of artistry and craftsmanship, the system in Little White Lies focuses on the viewer. No overall mark is given; instead the three scores for Anticipation, Enjoyment and In Retrospect cover all the ground that is needed. Were Anime News Network to adapt such a system, then Black Blood Brothers would probably score something like 3-4-2. There's inherent curiosity born through similarities to other series and some sleek looking production, it's as easy to watch as Kahlúa and milk is to drink, but it will mean very little once a few days have passed.
It's the production values that make the first impression. Following the textbook of Hollywood-style pacing, Black Blood Brothers opens with a flashback that, importantly, quickly turns into some swiftly edited Vampire carnage. The chosen mythology behind these creatures isn't explained, but this doesn't initially matter – the action scene is deftly executed, and against a backdrop of a fiery sky and a purple moon, it's the sort of eye-candy that can stand alone without the need for justification.
Information concerning this sequence trickles in over the following few episodes as the show's cast and overarching narrative is introduced. The lead character Jiro, is a hundred-year old Vampire of a special bloodline who is travelling with his markedly different (and comic relief-providing) younger-brother Kotaro. Their destination is a place known as the Special Zone, a secretive community where Vampires are able to live free from persecution. It's this concept that gives the show the chance for a cognitive punch that it sadly squanders. The later happenings of the first episode concern a boatload of refugee Vampires, hoping to make it to the safe shores of the Special Zone. That they unwittingly have a Kowloon child among their cargo is cause for an attempted massacre by the suppression unit of the Company – an organisation that's role is to mediate Vampire and Human affairs.
Whilst this set-up offers a chance for a curious look at persecution, framed within the safe mental distance of a wild fantasy, the simple truth is that the Kowloon bloodline of Vampires is never portrayed as anything other than pure evil. The action scene that kick-starts the series is a portrayal of Jiro's attempt to annihilate the entire race ten years before the main storyline, and it's his desire to finish the job and his love for his dusted Vampiric mother Alice, that motivates his actions and existence.
Jiro's relationship to Alice is further explained throughout the twelve episodes by a series of flashbacks, one at the beginning of each episode. This provides narrative context, even if it does lack the emotional force that so obviously hopes to carry. It also never fully rounds itself out, and this is something that could be said of the series as a whole: everything that happens feels more like the events of a middle chapter than of a fully-rounded narrative. As such, the specifics of the series' Vampiric mythology are never really explained (why can some Vampires tolerate sun and water while others cannot; what is the general knowledge held by the public at large; what even is the precise criteria for slaying one of the creatures?)
Not that this matters too greatly. Black Blood Brothers only runs for twelve episodes, and the (relative) modesty of its scope helps to avert disaster. All in all, Jiro's eventual arrival in the Special Zone ignites a series of relationship new and old, as well as domino-chaining events that never fail to wreck impressively visual havoc. The end result is a focus on Jiro's relationship with little brother Kotaro, as well as new-found friend and orthodox love-interest Mimiko, a so-called 'Compromiser' who's job it is to manage Vampire-Human disputes for the Company. She's an energetic character, but nothing particularly original.
Which is perhaps a suitable way to summarise the show's appeal. Black Blood Brothers isn't completely unoriginal – it does work some clichés in its own way – but it does feel as though it wastes chances to innovate. Jiro drapes his entire body in red and tops it off with a pointy hat, and his characterisation as a particularly well-natured Vampire lacks complexity in a world where such depth could flourish. The story likewise becomes a predictable series of events fully of predictable characters who unleash predictable hidden powers just before the grand finale.
But just because it's clichéd doesn't mean that it's not accomplished – the execution is plentiful merit on its own. The vibrancy of the visuals dims towards the later episodes in a familiar manner, but the pulse of the action is mostly held intact. Yes the budget feels a little wrung-dry by the last episode, but it never fails to provide enough whiz layered atop sufficient bang to make sure that its audience continues to tune in. It is unfortunate that a soundtrack that at times manages to recall Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal doesn't have a more complex texture to layer itself upon, nor spectacular voice acting to back it up, but it's unlikely that anyone will be bored.
And that's what Black Blood Brothers does best – it entertains. It won't linger or top any favourite lists, but it'll keep you interested while you're watching, and if all you plan to do for the night is to invite a few mates around, order pizza and pop a DVD on, then you'd struggle to make a better choice. Aside from some by-numbers extras and carefully-selected trailers, the R4 release is crammed with Japanese commentary tracks. It's a generous portion that is a little lacking in quality, and much like the show itself is best viewed as entertainment for when you want to switch out.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
+ Visually striking; easy entertainment
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