Blood: The Last Vampire Review

If you’re in the mood for a straightforward and concise slice of horror this Halloween then you can do a lot worse than the 48-minute digital animation Blood: The Last Vampire. Blood follows the exploits of Saya, an eternally young monster hunter who works for a mysterious American organisation that seeks to rid the Earth of Chiropterates - vampiric creatures that cause murder and mayhem in the communities they infiltrate. With signs of Chiropterate activity taking place in Yokota Air Base, Saya is placed undercover there as a highschool student in order to sniff out the identity of the monsters, and it is in this pursuit that Saya’s path crosses with school Nurse Makiho when she’s attacked by two Chiropterates that are posing as regular schoolchildren. As Saya struggles to take care of more Chiropterates than she initially expected, Makiho struggles to cope with the horror of her situation.

The story goes that director Hiroyuki Kitakubo had an almost-complete character arc mapped out for Blood’s central character: Saya should any sequel or prequel be commissioned, but Production I.G. planned to continue the story via a light novel trilogy and video game instead. From a purely anime viewpoint this is terribly unfortunate as Blood: The Last Vampire feels very much like a pilot episode that raises many questions in its narrative and characterisation that are perhaps destined to never be answered in anime form. I also wonder if, had there been no plans at all to advance the story beyond one short feature, would Kitakubo and writer Kenji Kamayama have been inspired to take a bolder approach to narrative and characterisation rather than cobble together a rather vague whodunit and “secret world seen through the eyes of an innocent” approach that we get in the finished product.

It’s probably unfair to criticise Blood for its deficiencies in narrative and characterisation, as the primary focus of the piece is in mood and style, which is where Blood truly excels. The filmmakers make the most of the fully-digital animation to create some extremely fluid and bold visuals, and in particular the use of colours and gloomy shading are very evocative. Another major selling point is that the protagonist: Saya combines schoolgirl styling with complete mastery of a katana to kill monsters – and the idea that only a blade can kill the Chiropterates is devilishly ironic when the setting is a military base that should be full of projectile weapons. Most impressive of all though is the design and implementation of the Chiropterates as near invulnerable bat-creatures, combining similarities of werewolf mythos with the more traditional vampire elements very effectively, creating a genuinely intimidating monster presence. In short, Blood is a triumph of style over substance.

The Disc: Blood: The Last Vampire was drawn, inked and animated completely on computers then scanned onto 35mm film for theatrical presentation, and a pretty cool feature of this disc is that Manga have included not one but two presentations of the feature film: one struck from a Telecine (the default option) and one that comes direct from the original Digital Data source (which you have to select in the extra features section). Personally I consider the Digital Data Version to have the definitive transfer and therefore will start by reviewing that.

Blood: The Last Vampire has quite a complex and muted colour palette which favours Earth tones and also has very moody, dark shading and hazy lighting. This gives the image a slightly diffuse feel but colours are no less striking because of the muted scheme, and indeed night time sequences can vary more wildly in color tone with some gorgeous red lighting effects and very bold yellows and greens – all strikingly reproduced on this Blu-ray. Contrast and Brightness are very nicely weighted and balanced for the most part, although some sequences can look a little high-contrast. As mentioned Blood features frequently gloomy shading and heavy shadows but the black levels remain solid and shadow detail is strong. Unfortunately, because of the heavy shading and hazy colour gradients (but also for a variety of reasons too numerous to go into here) there is a shedload of banding (posterization) present throughout the image. Mostly this is just an unfortunate by-product of the animation, but the AVC encode is also found lacking in places and both small blocking and obviously compression-based banding can be seen on numerous occasions.

These compression issues are probably the weakest aspect of the transfer, the image in general looks suitably High Definition with no obvious signs of noise reduction, but the hazing definitely limits the sharpness of most scenes. So, while this presentation is a noticeable jump up from DVD, it still falls short of the sharpness most animated features have in 1080p. As a direct Digital Data transfer you’d expect no grain at all in the image, but it looks like Kitakubo has added some very light artificial grain to a few scenes here and there, mostly this looks quite naturalistic, but there are some scenes that exhibit static grain that doesn’t alter from frame to frame like genuine film grain should.

Looking at the Telecine Version you can immediately see the more obvious film artefacts; like an extremely light layer of film grain that is only barely perceivable and the occasional tiny nick and fleck appearing from the original film print. These are only minor differences from the Digital Data version, more significant changes can be seen in the film’s colour scheme, as the Telecine Version has a noticeably warmer palette than the more neutral Digital Data Version and in particular green tones seem less accurately reproduced, while the colours in general look a tiny bit less vivid on the Telecine. The image is also noticeably softer on the Telecine Version with some Edge Enhancements applied at times, and there is not-inconsiderable cropping on all four sides of the image that was probably caused from the Telecine scanning process. Just about the only improvement the Telecine Version offers is that the banding isn’t as extreme thanks to the process of transferring the digital data to film, and also the compression if definitely stronger with a high average video bitrate of 28.01Mbps compared to a lowish bit rate of 20.90Mbps for the Digital Data Version. In this reviewer’s humble opinion the Digital Data version should have been given the encoding priority.

Audio comes in the form of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0, both of which are used on both Versions of the film. I say the audio is English but there’s just as much Japanese dialogue as there is English so don’t turn the English subtitles off. The DTS-HD track is pretty impressive; it’s extremely aggressive during the action sequences whilst maintaining very strong dynamics, an extremely enveloping sound field, and tight bass levels. In the quieter moments the audio sounds refined; dialogue is crisp and clear with only the merest hint of tearing in one or two places. The LPCM 2.0 track offers a pretty close presentation to the 5.1, just with weaker bass and a less expressive sound field.

Aside from the two versions of the film the only Extra Features is a Trailer that features some early animated footage of the film and a 20-minute Making Of featurette that concentrates a little too much on the technical aspects of the animation and therefore drags in places, but you do get a good feel for how many people played an instrumental part in creating the sight and sounds of Blood: The Last Vampire.

In the Disc Details box below I have included 8 comparison grabs between the Digital Data and Telecine versions of the film. The grabs in the top row are taken from the Digital Data Version, while the bottom row are taken from the Telecine Version. If in doubt just check the filename of the image.

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