Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Blood+ Part 2
Saya and her entourage have escaped the Zoo, but what happened there remains with them. Riku has been saved, but at the cost of joining the ranks of the undead and Saya is tortured beyond words by the return of her memory. His makeshift family unit coming apart before his eyes, Kai tries to gather together the pieces, but the rifts are deep and Diva is moving, leaving little time for familial niceties. Her eyes on Riku, Diva stages a full-frontal attack on Red Shield, scattering the remnants of the organization, and Saya's family, to the four winds.
More than anything else, Blood+ is a reminder of the simple pleasures afforded by a well-written, well-executed mainstream anime. That's as true in its second half as in its first, even as the series exhausts itself with a few too many inconclusive battles before winding down to a rather tired conclusion.
Blood+'s enviable ratio of human drama to action stays tight as the series moves through its second half. The series flits from exotic set-piece to exotic set-piece: inhuman swordfights in the hotels and harbors of Paris, gritty confrontations on the fog-shrouded streets of London, desperate impromptu struggles in the picturesque English countryside, aerial battles in the dark skies of New York. For globetrotting anime action it's hard to beat. And those same locales also serve as backdrops for some potent emotions. The ancient streets of Paris enfold Kai as he accompanies a dying vampire girl on her last walk; the claustrophobic innards of a mid-sea cruise ship imprison Saya as a horrifying act shatters her dreams of a normal life; and the glittering emerald countryside caresses her as the hope rekindles. Rarely have bloody vampire action, musty old-European atmosphere, and gleaming modern alienation been so cleanly wed, and never with the visceral, emotional success seen here.
If that were all that mattered in a fifty-episode television series, then Blood+ would be a modern masterpiece. Unfortunately that is not the case. Where the series' first half was an unfolding mystery crowned by ugly, half-veiled revelations, its second is basically one long and oft-dreary chase. With Saya's past laid bare, the series loses the forward momentum that characterized its first half, and it never really regains it. Too much time is spent in holding patterns as Saya pursues Diva—brooding, distancing herself from her comrades, and participating in a long procession of exciting but ultimately pointless fights. The series layers on the sub-plots—the plight of the manufactured vampires that Kai befriends, the infighting amongst Diva's chevaliers, Amshel's political back-dealing with the American military—but they can't hide the lack of forward motion and sometimes bloat the series when they should be streamlining it.
A lesser series would bog down irrevocably in such conditions; but Blood+ is no lesser series. Writer/director Jun'ichi Fujisaku has some unpleasant aces up his sleeve; unpleasant aces that he deploys whenever the series threatens to grind to a halt, planting a vicious narrative boot on the complacent butts of character and viewer alike and propelling the series in unexpected directions. It is at these times that the series transcends both its genre strictures and its narrative shortcomings, proving that it has the power to shock and provoke, perhaps even more so for the slumps it encounters along the way. If there are any doubts that the series has the chops to eat competitors like Black Blood Brothers alive, episode thirty two (watch for it) will eliminate them.
By the time the series comes to a close, though, Fujisaku's bag of tricks has run dry. For a series of such calibrated ruthlessness, its conclusion is curiously soft. It goes exactly where you think it will, hits exactly the emotions you want it to, ties up loose ends exactly as it is supposed to, and not once displays the thrilling, sadistic daring of those earlier narrative leaps. Rather than burst across the finish line, it jogs; finishing on a neat but less than satisfying note. Not that it hasn't its moments. The final battle is suitably apocalyptic, and the emotional climax, in which Hagi finally allows himself to speak his true mind, is sweet, sad, and gently but powerfully affecting. But ultimately what you get from it depends not on its objective quality, but on your attachment to the characters. Luckily, you'd have to be a bloodless freak not to be attached to them.
Unlike many another series, Blood+ does not suffer from Atrophied Budget Syndrome. It remains to its last frame sharp, vigorous, and intricately illustrated. Its international settings are convincingly evocative, its characters handsomely arrayed, and its monsters seriously nasty. And most importantly its violence is brutal, expertly executed, and awash in artistically spilled blood: for all its unbecoming softheartedness, the finale is undeniably spectacular. (And honestly thrilling, thanks in no small part to Mark Mancina's fabulously overwrought gothic score).
Sony Pictures and STUDIOPOLIS, Inc. have produced a solid, serviceable dub for their property. Given how crucial character ultimately proves, that's not only important but reasonably impressive. All of the main roles are handled with unflagging professionalism and occasional excellence (Crispin Freeman's Hagi) and the script, while awkward at times and seriously divergent at others, captures the meaning and feel of the original dialogue well. Ben Diskin does well by Kai's startling (and desperately needed) growth, while the ensemble as a whole evokes with surprising grace the aching loneliness of the post-Ep.32 series. Lewis's mind-bogglingly misguided Jamaican accent is a mark against it, but ultimately a minor one.
Sony's handling of the rest of the release, on the other hand, is miserable. Episodes pause irritatingly during chapter stops, the wealth of interviews on disc five, while otherwise wonderful, are horrendously overdubbed, and then there's the dubtitles. To be honest, they aren't actually that mortifying; they're only annoying enough to make you want to bludgeon your television. And maybe the subtitler. Pretty peachy all things considered.
If the talk of lost momentum and squidgy endings has you feeling wary, stop. Blood+'s second half is, in its own whiplashing start-and-stop way, every bit as bloody entertaining and sneakily addictive as its first. Possibly even more so given how engrossing the pain, alienation, and wounded affection of its cast grow over its course. Plus Kai finally shuts up and stops whining. That's a small miracle in its own right.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Exciting, moving, and seeded with some genuinely nasty surprises.
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