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.
In the time of the Vietnam War, an American military base in Japan is plagued with a rash of killings whose assailant is unknown. Enter Saya, a mysterious young woman who happens to be the last of the vampire race, and has been charged by her government agency employer to investigate the sinister killings. With demons and creatures abounding, Saya must infiltrate a school to put a stop to the bloodshed -- unless the monsters get to her first...
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