This film is in essence the equivalent of a short story or novelette. Not just because it is literally a short film but because it wears shortness well; it compacts a tale without ever losing meaning or pace. They say short stories are some of the most difficult to tell, and if that is true, then Blood is a tiny masterpiece.
Saya is a vampire slayer working for an unnamed organisation whose main representation in the film is her colleague/boss David. She has to root out some vampires on an American base in Japan before their killing spree gets out of hand. There is a certain predictability here which the creators did nothing to avoid and that is part of Blood's strength. It's like the recipe for a traditional sponge cake; it is undeniably a good sponge cake recipe so we don't want to ruin it by chucking in almonds. The story is streamlined, that is, it is honed and polished to such an extent that, once set loose, there is no mistaking where it's going. What makes it so satisfying is the fact that it hits its target without missing a beat and the execution is impressive. The film shows you just enough to keep you morbidly fascinated; you are shocked by how violently the victims fall prey to the demons (and the sometimes darkly humorous ways their bodies end up) but, like any guilty pleasure, you keep anxiously hoping for more.
When it first aired, Blood's animation made ripples. As is natural, it has been surpassed by newer productions over the years but despite that, retains a classically mature and understated style which looks impressive even today.
Certain character designs like David's looked very ‘scratchy', as if someone had just sketched them into the scene with a pencil, which occasionally made for awkward movements but simultaneously enhanced the eeriness of the film. Needless to say the colours used are dark throughout - even daytime is treated like the night's poor attempt to cheer up - and that suits the anime's mood just fine. There are moments of course when the film has to portray normal happy people doing normal happy things, but the muted tones alone keep you on edge and remind you that death is just around the corner. Think Claymore but grimier.
The crowning glory of this film is its action animation. The opening five minutes have no real dialogue, which makes you appreciate just what visuals can do for a film when in the right hands. The ‘shock' pacing of the first scene doesn't just set the mood but displays intelligent and engaging direction as well.
Blood went with understated realism when it came to vocals and general hubbub. One of my favourite bits of sound (yes, crazily enough, I have those) is when Saya has to climb a wire fence during a pursuit. The timing and pacing was just perfect so the clinking of the fence was eerily discordant in the muted background noise.
Although not hugely original or unique, the soundtrack to this film is epic and dark when it needs to be, with hidden tensions in the rhythm and the bass line, use of strings, use of a gong to give it some ‘spook' etc. Especially in the climactic scenes, the music carries your emotions right where they should be - quite Bond-like in places.
Vocally, I enjoyed the mixed use of English and Japanese. The movie is set in Japan and pleasingly embraces this in the voice acting e.g. announcements at the train station are Japanese dubs with English subs. The Nurse switches from Japanese to English depending on who she is talking to and she speaks in both languages to Saya, reinforcing that sense of non-patronising realism the film is going for. The voice-actors used are also very appropriate. Being a bit of a sub junkie myself, it's a rare instance when I like the English dubbing, but the creators of Blood really watched out for this film. Saya and David's voices were fantastic; their dialogue, although slow at times, mostly came across as natural, and their voices are not just suited in themselves but also suited to each other. In fact, they're so good that you don't even blink when a girl who looks 15 sounds like a 27-year old.
I said the plot shows you just enough to keep you interested, which is also very true where the characters are concerned. We know that in a film this short, there is going to be little or no character development but, rather than allow it to be a handicap, the film flaunts it with flair. Take Saya for example; by the end she has learned no lessons, gained nothing new or lost anything precious, but as viewers we learn so much about her through details tossed to us as asides in the course of dialogue or imprinted on our minds in the form of ‘incidental' events. David exclaims quite angrily to another colleague that Saya must not be pissed off because she is the last ‘original'. What does this mean? Original of what? She clearly is related to those demons in some way, but how? The ending actually suggests her feelings towards her prey to be more complex than pure antagonism, and if this is so, then why does she really hunt them? So much is revealed and yet left unsaid, like delicious morsels of the concept to gobble up, savour and interpret later as we think back over the film. So Saya doesn't grow as a person in 40 minutes. Who cares when she is so intriguing?
Blood: The Last Vampire unashamedly presents itself as what it is; moody, dark and gory. However, it manages to wrap itself in some great speculation of what more could exist in the wider context of Saya's adventure, and that is all the depth it needs to be a great 40 minute production.
As long as I watch anime, there're two things that never cease to amaze me:
- how a team of talented and experienced people with huge budget in their hands can produce a terrible show;
- and how drastically the public reception of a certain anime may differ from one's opinion.
Blood: The Last Vampire is a brilliant example of these paradoxes. First, let's examine some data concerning this anime:
- based on a manga by Mamoru Oshii, who hopefully doesn't need any introduction;
- made by Production I.G, one of the most prominent anime studios;
- awarded the Grand Prize at Japan Media Arts Festival by a very competent committee with an excellent taste for anime;
- finally, received very well by the audience in Japan & abroad with dozens of positive comments and reviews. Some even create a cult of this little movie and call it "the best vampire anime ever".
Hope, I haven't forgotten anything.
Now, when you know all that, imagine those multiple facepalms I had while watching this piece of "art". Believe it or not, this show is totally worthless. The reason is simple: the movie delivers nothing except for animation, which is also not as top-notch as many people claim.
As you could've already heard or read from the synopsis, the story tells about Saya - the last true vampire who works for CIA, and how she and two of her colleagues head to an American base in Japan where vampires appeared and killed several people. The story takes place on Halloween, and there's a party in the school at the base. Vampires are there, and Saya must exterminate them. That's the premise, and it may be not particularly unusual yet it still sounds not bad.
Yet as the show goes on you realize that the movie doesn't deliver in any aspect it possibly could:
- it has almost no action. Saya performs 4 kills for the whole movie, and each is executed with one slash of her katana. In other words, there're no actual fights in this show: 4 slashes of katana and one unimpressive chase is all the action you get here. Even moe like Otome Youkai Zakuro has more action than this "action" movie;
- it fails as thriller because in order to thrill someone you need amazing and sudden plot twists; anime like Kaiji and Perfect Blue are great examples of that. However, the plot here is plain and straightforward as much as it could possibly be;
- it fails as horror because we see only one person getting killed by vampire for the whole movie. So, not only it's primitive & predictable when it comes to plot - even the shock factor is way too low to qualify for horror;
- it has almost no mystery like searching for those vampires or figuring out who of these people are vampires. It takes very little time and doesn't count as any sort of investigation;
- it doesn't have any supernatural element except for the vampires themselves. If you expect some fancy occult stuff that's often present in this kind of movies, you won't find it here;
- it doesn't feature any strong drama, interesting ideas or thought material;
- in contrast to some other ridiculous anime like Garzey's Wing it doesn't even fall into "so bad it's good" category because there's simply nothing funny about it.
Besides, the movie feels torn out of context as it starts in the middle of nowhere and lacks any backstory to explain numerous plotholes, like why Saya works with humans, why she is the last real vampire, what the difference is between her and those vampires she annihilates, what those vampires tried to accomplish or, if they simply preyed on humans, why they had to infiltrate a military base instead of hunting in a city. Of course, one might say that the movie is a mere trailer for the Blood+ series and it doesn't have to explain everything, however: a) I can't recall a trailer getting festival prizes and huge following; b) even the shortest story should have a proper beginning and conclusion, and not something starting and ending in the middle of nowhere.
Also, there's a very illogical and inexplicable moment that occurs when the last of those vampires flies away and Saya chases it in a car: why couldn't it rise at least 2 metres higher in the air to avoid getting hit by Saya? Seriously, that moment looks so lame and implausible as if the people who staged action had never done it before.
On top of everything, the show is crowned with an ending scripted by Captain Obvious himself, where the major revelation and the only plot twist awaits us: the main character SUDDENLY turns out to be a vampire *insert random facepalm here*. Even if you didn't read the synopsis and never heard of Blood+, Saya's nature is so blatantly hinted from the very beginning that you would understand it anyway long before the ending.
Overall, the scriptwriters' logic is a complete enigma to me because I still struggle to understand how they planned to deliver anything with a story like that. What's even more enigmatic, plenty of reviewers call it "a classic action plot". In my opinion, "a classic action plot" sounds more like Ninja Scroll or Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust i.e. you get lots of exciting action and simple, comprehensible story with some drama and a bunch of crazy things thrown in for the additional effect. Here, the story is almost devoid of action, drama and other aspects that could possibly attract the viewer, and it has more plotholes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Why do people like it? Again, that's one hell of a riddle to me.
No doubt, the quality of animation is great in many aspects: the camera work is incredible, the light effects and reflections are simply fantastic, and the backgrounds & surroundings are quite impressive too. However, things start literally getting ugly when it comes to characters:
- ugly faces. Seriously, even Akira characters look better than these guys. And nothing warrants that artistic decision;
- drawn character figures over 3D surroundings. That never looks particularly good, and in this movie it looks plainly bad, especially when the characters move;
- and they move like robots, which is a typical problem with Production I.G anime.
Put that all together, and you get the conclusion: the quality of animation is awful when it comes to characters and great when it has to do with everythig else.
Also, I can't help but mention the excessive amount of color black in this movie: everything is black, from the surroundings to characters' clothes and even lips. Perhaps, the creators thought the more black you use the more sinister the anime feels, yet it only turns out extremely gloomy and rather difficult to watch because sometimes you can't even tell what's going on the screen. So, the whole thing looks like another not very clever artistic decision.
The nonsense continues in the sound section:
- first, the soundtrack is absolutely generic. You won't remeber a single melody after watching;
- still, it could work if it created the atmosphere and pushed the right emotional buttons, but here comes the second problem: the soundtrack is muted for the most part, as if they refrain from using it. Consequently, the OST leaves no impression as it is generic and almost non-existent;
- on top of that, the movie features the worst example of voice-acting I ever heard: the speech is absolutely colorless and mechanic, devoid of semantic emphasis and pauses. It totally fails at conveying emotions, especially when the characters speak English. In fact, they sound almost like some translator program when you type in a text and push "Play". So, the characters not only move like robots, but also talk like them.
The weakest part of the movie:
- first, we have Saya, who is by far the worst attempt at creating a strong female lead I ever encountered. Instead, they made her a cold ugly bitch acting rudely towards the people around. The only time she acts in a more or less humane way is in the end of the movie after she kills the last vampire. Before that, she evokes no sympathy at all;
- then, we have the school nurse who is an absolutely generic character yet she at least makes an impression of a human being;
- and then, we have all other people including Saya's companions who make an impression of nothing but talking dummies.
All in all, no personalities, no character development and no backstory because the movie is torn out of context. Now, add the horrendous character designs, robotic movements, colorless voice acting and incredibly primitive B-movie dialogues, and you'll get an abysmal characterization, worse than in some of the most retarded fanservice shows. What a disgrace.
This anime is so bland and flawed in every aspect that it hardly warrants any recommendation even to those who like B-movies and mindless action. In fact, I'm still wondering how a studio like Production I.G could've made something like that. Perhaps, the animators were replaced with zombies, monkeys or some computer generating random ideas, but we'll never know the truth. What I do know, however, is that I could recommend you some shows instead of this movie:
- those of you interested in vampires should check Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Kigeki;
- those of you looking for a dark thriller should look for Kaiji and Perfect Blue;
- and those of you who want some really disturbing horror should try Berserk and Mononoke (not to be confused with Ghibli's Princess Mononoke which is also a great anime).
The storyline is very good. It is not that original though. You don't realkly care when the action animation is as good as it is.
It feels slightly dated, but the action animation is incredible. Definitely worth 48 mins of your time just to watch that.
The music is used well, it sets the mood and tone in a way that doesn't take anything away from what is happening on screen. At no point does it become a distraction. The voices are very well done and the mix of languages is handled very well.
Not much is shown by way of character development. You get little snippets of information in off-hand conversations that the characters have with each other which leaves you wanting to know more about them. This works really well in the short film.
This is a very good film, even for it being so short. It is not good because it's short and therfore will leave you wanting more, the mark of a good production.
Story: Blood: The Last Vampire was a mixed bag for me- I have to say when I watched it, it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. I'd heard a lot of good things surrounding this anime, but it did not fulfil my expectations.
The story of this anime is very, VERY vague and mysterious. Showing you what you presume is a normal, average stage in Saya the vampires life, it takes you through the stages of her job- killing fellow vampires. So many questions arose from this film, such as why is Saya killing off her own kind? Why is she said to be the last remaining ''original'' vampire? Who even IS she? But none of these were answered- something I found extremely irritating.
Also, the actual storyline wasn't exactly what you'd call spectacularly original- It was pretty simple, almost anyone could make it up. Sure, it was still entertaining to some point, but I still found myself drifting off at times.
As for the ending? I saw no point in it. The school nurse, a poor woman unintentioanlly stuck in all this vampire-hunting business, survives a vampire attack on the local high school where she works. With Saya now gone, the films conclusion involves her looking at the cross around her neck and talking about God and other religious principles till the ending credits flash up. I thought this such an odd and unfitting ending, I found myself fastforwarding through the whole of the credits, sure there must be something else at the end, but there wasn't. The ending, to me anyway, was so weird and random. It made little sense.
Animation: For the year it was made, Blood's animation is pretty good. The action, blood an gore are very life-like and gruesome. But the faces and expressions I thought at times looked a little...unusual. The first speech Saya makes in the film comes out of her mouth, a mouth what isn't even moving. This killed the creepy mood of the film instantly and just made me laugh since it looked so weird. Characters also looked unintentionally ugly because of things like this- the vampire girl from the school who was ill I thought looked so unusual it was like she was some demented character from a cartoon or something.
Sound: Sound wasn't used very much in Blood- but when it was used it worked well. A variety of creepy noises and tunes were used and they all conveyed the correct moods.
Characters: Saya was a complete mystery, which some may like, but for me it was a frustration. I'm fine with mystery characters if you actually discover more about them by the end of the film, but you never found out anything about her, there were more holes and gaps in this film than there were complete parts.
The nurse irritated me for some reason I can't quite place. Sure, she didn't go around screaming ALL of the time, she wasn't completely over-the-top in how she acted, but there was just something about her what frustrated me.
All other characters were hardly even named- just given about 2 minutes of screen time before they either dissappearred for no reson or were killed.
Overall: I can see why this is popular, but if you're a kind of person who likes mysteries to be solved by the end of the feature, then this isn't for you.