Review

by Theron Martin,

Blood Lad

BD+DVD - The Complete Series

Synopsis:
Blood Lad BD+DVD
Staz C. Blood is a pureblood vampire, a fact that he's not entirely happy about even though it gives him the power to be a territory boss (essentially a gang leader) in East Demon World. He normally has little interest in drinking blood and is instead far more interested in fare from the Human World, especially anime, manga, and related items. When busty high school girl Fuyumi suddenly appears in his territory, he takes a deep interest in her for reasons he cannot fully comprehend himself and so is thrown for a loop when a creature slips by and kills her while under his protection. Though she continues to exist as a ghost because of the nature of the Demon World, he vows to find some way to restore her back to life and uses his own blood to maintain her demon status until that can be brought about. That quest brings him across a number of colorful characters, including rival territory boss/former friend Wolf (a werewolf), the busty sorceress Bell Hydra (a master of spatial magic), his manipulative elder brother Braz, his vindictive younger sister Liz, and the demon doctor Franken Stein. Returning Fuyumi to life isn't going to be easy, but now that Staz has set his mind to being the hero instead of the bad guy he intends to see it through.
Review:

Vampires are not commonly cast as heroic protagonists in anime because they tend to quickly be overpowered. Strike the Blood solved that problem last year by making its protagonist a fledgling who was still growing into the mighty legacy of his power. In some respects Blood Lad takes a similar approach, as about halfway through the series we learn that, just like any proper shonen hero, Staz's full potential has been locked away because it was just too darn powerful for his body to contain at a young age. However, the series and its source manga also dodge the issue by putting Staz in a role where he has to be bad-ass powerful and then giving him plenty of other faults to compensate. The result is a laconic, emo-looking otaku vampire lead who could potentially irritate but is far more likely to entertain.

Actually, the fact that Staz is so laid-back also keeps his personality restrained. He is not your typical shonen hothead, as when he says that he won't fight someone because he couldn't help killing them he does it in a matter-of-fact rather than boastful tone and when he is at a complete disadvantage because of someone else's powers he is not above acknowledging that and not wasting energy on a pointless fight. That does not mean that he does not sometimes get very stubborn about certain things, but even those cases he commonly takes a low-key attitude about it. The result is a perpetual “I'm too cool for all of this” vibe, one that is belied by otaku inclinations so great that when holes get blown in his shirt, he is thrilled because they are in almost precisely the same pattern as Kenshiro's distinctive seven-star scar pattern in Fist of the North Star. The series also delights in shooting down Staz's cool factor in other ways, too, to the point that a fair amount of the humor is centered on it.

Staz's restrained nature does limit how much of the series he can carry on his own, but fortunately he does not need to do that much. Bell invariably livens things up with her appearances and the snide way she acts towards Staz, which is gradually revealed to be a cover for her unwillingly becoming attracted to Staz. Wolf serves well enough as the werewolf gang boss who essentially tries to out-cool Staz and keeps an even more even temperament, although he is also irritated by Staz's unwillingness to go all-out in a fight against him. Liz, the deeply moe girl who is normally bedecked like a pint-sized horror movie mass murderer and at times uses a Darth Vader-like breathing apparatus, is an amusing study in abject contrasts, and Staz's brother Braz has the know-it-all schemer, I'm-cool-in-an-irritating-way persona down pat. A load of colorful minor characters and guest appearances also keep things lively, including Bell's parents. The only true failure is Fuyumi, who is as much of a dead zone of personality as her life essence is. She often functions more like an object than an actual character.

The basic formula for the series involves playing up the wacky oddness of Demon World and its denizens while putting Staz through his story paces in his effort to find a way to resurrect Fuyumi. Spice it up with regular, brassy action sequences and lots of jokes and the entertainment value flies just fine; Bell's creative use of her dimensional magic in particular is great fun to watch. The series even has something of an actual storyline going on, too, as the connection between Fuyumi and Bell which is implied almost from the beginning does eventually bear fruit and scheming is eventually revealed to be happening on levels well above Staz's head, too. The big problem there is that the TV series part is only 10 episodes long, with an OVA 11th episode which only peripherally touches on the main plot line. That is not enough space to tell the story being built – not even close! – so instead of actually resolving anything the series just ends with Staz and Fuyumi ready to go on to the next stage of their quest and Demon World-shaking schemes building towards fruition. The directing by Shigeyuki Miya also places the closer and episode breaks in some awkward places, which makes for a rough flow if one is marathoning the series.

Artistically the series makes a bold statement, with a vivid but not necessarily bright color scheme, lots of interesting coloring tricks, and a stylish presentation to both settings and character designs. Despite featuring two very busty young ladies, the fan service quotient is surprisingly light, with most such service limited to occasionally dressing both ladies in sexy apparel. Designs give most minor supporting character cartoonish looks and seen to imply that vampires are, by nature, either emo or sleep-deprived. One of the main recurring gimmicks is that the series visually remains more beholden to its manga origins than most, as Japanese dialogue regularly pops up on screen, sometimes even to the point of physically impacting characters. Spotting the plethora of visual otaku references is practically a sport unto itself, as Dragon Ball Z is but one of several other anime titles (aside from the aforementioned Fist) that gets directly referenced. Animation is nothing special, resulting in action scenes that are more about brief flashes and power plays than detailed movement, and the violence is sometimes bloody but not especially brutal. A solid musical score fronted by the lively “Vivid” by May'n and closed out by the more melodic “Bloody Holic” complements the visuals nicely.

One would think that Blood Lad's style and attitude would make it practically ideal for getting an English dub, as the demeanor of Staz and a couple of other characters have more distinctly Western flavors to them. In execution, though, the English dub effort is merely a serviceable one. Bryce Papenbrook unsurprisingly bags the lead role, and he should have been just fine in it, but the way he handles Staz's attitudes never fully clicks. Most other roles work better, especially Sherry Lynn (best-known as the English voice for all incarnations of Sasami in the Tenchi Muyo! franchise) as Liz and Kira Buckland (Lagrange – Flower of the Rin-ne's Madoka) as Bell. The English script takes a fair amount of liberties but does not stray too far afield.

Viz Media's Limited Edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack release gets the deluxe treatment. Both of each type of disk are included in a single case with bonus interior artwork (that is perhaps meant as a Beatles homage?). It comes in an artbox with a booklet that includes episode synopses, cast and credits listings, character profiles that include brief Q&As with English cast members for lead roles, background art, bonus insert art, and most significantly, 36 pages of manga. The bulk of it is a backstory about how Staz came to be the territory boss of East Demon World, with the rest involving the mixed feelings of various cast members about the manga getting made into an anime. (Best point: Staz worries about whether or not it would be creepy and narcissistic to collect figurines of himself.) Both the DVD and the Blu-Ray versions include the OVA episode and series trailers, but only the Blu-Ray version also includes an art gallery, clean opener and closer, some occasionally very funny (and very dirty) English dub outtakes, and a short piece about a massive Blood Lad chalk display that was created during 2014's Anime Central convention. (I got to witness this live over the course of that convention, and it was pretty cool to walk by it every few hours and see it coming together in stages.) Neither picture nor sound quality makes a significant jump between DVD and Blu-Ray versions, with Blu-Ray audio using LPCM 48k Stereo. Not bad, but definitely not as robust as that heard in some other recent releases. The picture quality looks sharp in both versions.

If anime series largely just serving as advertisements for their source manga is a major point of frustration for you then Blood Lad may not be a series for you. For all of its fun factor and attempts to be stylish, that's all it is for now unless an additional season or two gets animated to round out the existing story threads. Still, it does have lots of style, humor, and action in its favor, and the more serious story about family relationships that turns up late in the series shows that it can raise some interesting dramatic conundrums, too. Despite not finishing, it is still quite entertaining.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B

+ Stylish, fun, vividly colorful, quality Extras.
- Does not even come close to wrapping up any aspect of its story, questionable placement of closer break points.

Director: Shigeyuki Miya
Series Composition: Kenji Konuta
Script: Kenji Konuta
Storyboard: Yoshinari Saito
Original creator: Yūki Kodama
Character Design: Kenji Fujisaki
Art Director:
Masaki Mayuzumi
Toshiyuki Sakae
Chief Animation Director: Kenji Fujisaki
Animation Director: Yoshinari Saito
Sound Director: Satoki Iida
Director of Photography: Shinichiro Tate
Executive producer: Takeshi Yasuda
Producer:
Takashi Imamoto
Hiromichi Oishi

Full encyclopedia details about
Blood Lad (TV)

Release information about
Blood Lad - The Complete Series (BD+DVD)

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