by Theron Martin,

Black Blood Brothers

DVDs 2-3

Black Blood Brothers DVDs 2-3
With Mimiko's help, Jiro and Kotaro try to find a place to settle down in the Special Zone, only to discover the delicate balance of power that exists between various vampire factions within the zone and how the presence of the renowned Silver Blade (aka Silver Sword) might shake things up. While Jiro struggles to find his place, Mimiko struggles to help him realize that he does not have to be a loner, and Kotaro struggles to have fun, trouble erupts. Cassandra Jill Warlock has managed to sneak into the Special Zone, and the appearance of further Kowloon Children once again raises the specter of disaster for everyone, from the most powerful of vampires to the most ordinary of citizens.

If you had a low opinion of Black Blood Brothers based only on the first couple of episodes (as I initially did), you may want to give this series a second chance. While its defects in animation and other places prevent it from ever being considered a great vampire series, it ultimately becomes a fairly good one. Its second and third volumes, which span episodes 5-12 of 12, do not make any bold moves to accomplish this; these episodes, in fact, contain a fairly typical mix of action, scheming, flashy displays of power, and drama as vampire series go, with occasional tastes of silliness early on. The series works better than the norm through this span because it crafts interesting characters interacting in likeable ways against a story worth caring about.

That the surprises are executed well also doesn't hurt. The special nature of Kotaro should become apparent to viewers long before it actually gets officially revealed, but at least in this case characters do not have to act thoroughly stupid to avoid realizing it. That Mimiko does not pin it down sooner, and that certain other characters never seem to pick up on it, makes sense given wheat they know at the time. The truth behind the Eleventh District, as revealed in the final few minutes of the last episode, carries a stronger but also sensible surprise factor, as does the truth about Zaza's abilities and what, exactly, he and Cassandra were scheming in the first few episodes involving their experiments on other vampires.

Much of the credit does belong to the cast. Jiro may be bland, but Kotaro somehow manages to be earnest enough to avoid being overkill cute and Mimiko's even-headed balance of spunk, caring, and responsibility makes her a thoroughly likeable character. Sure, characters cut in her mold are commonplace in anime, but the compassionate strength and resolve she displays over the course of this run gives her at least a small edge over her fellows. Even Cassandra has more personality than your typical evil mastermind or fight-loving villain, and the cast of power players that the main characters are introduced to and associate with over the course of these episodes are convincing in their respective roles. The episode focusing on Kotaro running around with the ancient and scarily powerful Zelman stands out as a good example of the strength of the character interactions, and even Cain has his moment when he reveals the full extent of his strength, but naturally the best moments are reserved for Mimiko, Jiro, and Kotaro, either as a trio or in pairs.

BBB also does one other very important thing right: it establishes a sense of community, and makes that highly relevant to the overall plot. In he face of the threat of the Kowloon Children, humans and vampires alike battle to preserve their contentious but still real peace and home. Indeed, most of the plot involving Jiro and Kotaro simply comes down to Jiro learning that he does not have to be a loner, and that others will be there to ally and support him if he will only do what is needed of him. To one degree or another this has been an element of countless anime series, but seldom has it been so much the main point of the series as it is here.

In continuing its practice of opening each episode with scenes flashing back to the earlier days of Jiro, Alice, and Cassandra, the series also takes an unusual but deft and effective approach to the too-often-blunt task of inserting essential back story. Some of these moments may initially seem like innocuous distractions, but when pieced together they provide the crucial set-up information to support late key revelations.

On the downside, the series never does a particularly good job of world-building. The potentially interesting associations and power-balancing in the Special Zone aside, the series never establishes firm standards for vampires or much background about vampires in general and the Kowloon Children in particular. And while it does, more or less, tell a complete story arc, these episodes feel more like the prologue to a much longer story than an independent story. Those who become enamored with the series will almost certainly be left wanting more at the end.

The visual issues begin with Jiro, whose hat makes him look like a gay Satanic pilgrim (albeit a very sharply-colored one). Most other characters, especially Cassandra, look sharp, although Cain and some minor supporting characters also disappoint with their comparatively rough look. Backgrounds look good enough, and when scenes are fully animated they can look good, but far too often the animation over-exploits typical anime short cuts, resulting in action scenes that show too little and too many incidences of the camera panning across the screen with no movement whatsoever. While these episodes contain no real fan service, the graphic content can occasionally get fairly strong.

As with the first volume, the musical score through these two supports the action and drama well without being flashy or obtrusive. The approach may be a little different than in your typical anime action series, but it works. The forgettable opener and far more compelling closer “Mirage” remain; in the latter case, watch for a minor but very important change to the visuals at the very end of its play for the last episode.

If any major issue is to be had with the English dub, it has to be with the scripting, as at times the English script strays well away from what the subtitles are saying. While this does not fundamentally change any crucial meaning, it does skew a couple of scenes slightly differently. Casting generally hits the mark; although Colleen Clinkenbeard's sound and take on the role of Mimiko is a bit different than the Japanese performer's, it is not necessarily wrong and still performed well. (But when does Ms. Clinkenbeard ever give a weak performance?) None of the other performances should disappoint, either.

As with the first volume, both of these volumes have Japanese audio commentaries for each episode, each hosted by a pair of female seiyuu for the series with their recurring “guest,” the writer of the source novels. Clean opener/closer and special advertisements for the series can also be found in both volumes.

Black Blood Brothers may not be an Earth-shattering vampire series, but given a chance it will entertain well enough.

Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+

+ Interesting characters, nice handling of surprises, fosters a sense of community.
Excessive animation shortcuts, Jiro's hat.

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Production Info:
Director: Hiroaki Yoshikawa
Series Composition: Yuu Sugitani
Scenario: Yuu Sugitani
Storyboard: Hiroaki Yoshikawa
Music: Toshihiko Sahashi
Original Work: Kouhei Azano
Original Character Design: Yuuya Kusaka
Character Design: Toshiyuki Kanno
Art Director: Hiroshi Yoshikawa
Chief Animation Director: Ayako Kurata
Animation Director: Toshiyuki Kanno
Mechanical design: Nishiki Itaoka
Sound Director: Toshiki Kameyama
Director of Photography: Jiro Tazawa
Hitoshi Kawamura
Izumi Yamashita

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Black Blood Brothers (TV)

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Black Blood Brothers (DVD 3)

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