Blood: The Last Vampire Review
Blood: The Last Vampire is one of those films that has been given an enormous amount of hype in its run up to a western release. Primarily Manga Entertainment have been advertising Blood as a Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) film, but it is not. The only part Oshii had in Blood was a role (along with Team Oshii, his production outfit) as Co-Planner. Secondly Manga have been using quotes from James Cameron to advertise the film, as well as using its naturally dark themes to their advantage (Manga just love violent anime). But there have also been plenty of negative comments filtering through from those who bought the early Japanese release, it's too short, it's incomplete, a matter of style over content etc, these are just some of the criticisms levelled at this film. All of these pre-conceptions have made Blood: The Last Vampire an incredibly difficult title to review, but for those interested, here is my take on this fascinating title.
From the moment Blood starts you know that visually this is going to be something special. The opening titles, presented with blood red writing on a jet black screen, interspersed with brief snippets of animation and a captivating soundtrack immerse you into the action immediately. Our heroine, Saya, is introduced to us through a short action sequence after which we learn about her work and the story awaiting us. Working with some form of covert organisation Saya is on the trail of a strange breed of vampire demons, her aim (and that of the organisation she is working with) is to destroy them before their hibernation period comes around. They have targeted two such demons at a school adjacent to the Yokota Air Force base in Japan, and so, the hunt is on.
As far as the story goes that is about it! The majority of this 45-minute film (including 5 minutes of credits) is non-stop action with some breathtaking visuals that almost leap off the screen due to the superb use of traditional animation combined with well-realised Computer Graphics. Rather than go over the top and replace entire backgrounds or characters with CG the creators have instead used it to allow them to create more dynamic action set pieces where the camera can actually pan around or follow the character in 3D allowing for a more direct assault on both the viewer and the victim. Computer Graphics are not just limited to the action scenes though, instead CG has been put to use throughout the film by adding subtle effects to the traditional animation, and the most significant of these additions is the excellent use of lighting that creates a look and mood unsurpassed in animation of this type. Complimenting this visual flair is some superb character design; Saya is quite unique for an anime heroine, a female who does not look cute (even in school uniform) while the monsters in particular are genuinely evil in appearance. My only gripe with the overall visual style would be the peripheral characters who all have a particularly odd look to them (look out for the school headmasters hairstyle).
Sonically Blood is also a triumph, the music by Yoshihiro Ike deserves a nod due to his works superb ability to always make itself known, but to never detract or overpower the onscreen visuals - instead the music compliments them perfectly. In what can only be seen as an attempt to appeal to the international audience Blood contains both English and Japanese speech (the characters speak both languages at various points in the film) and although it never really sounds odd it does cause a few problems for the voice actors. Youki Kudoh (Snow Falling on Cedars) portrays Saya particularly well and is extremely competent in both English and Japanese. The occasional peripheral character that speaks in English can be a little annoying but worse still is the school nurse (a secondary character) who is particularly irritating (with a monotonous tone about her) and this can detract from the viewers enjoyment of the film.
For action fans Blood is a film that should instantly appeal, visually and sonically it is quite stunning and for those who do not analyse films all that much you should have absolutely no problem with this film. For those who like to understand the characters and the reasoning behind their actions, then Blood raises a LOT of questions. Just who is Saya and what is her relationship with the undercover agents she works with, and indeed what is her relationship with the demons she is fighting against? There is also no real ending to this story, so where do our characters go from here? Had Blood: The Last Vampire been a Pilot episode for a new Television series then it could be considered a masterpiece, not only does it draw you in with its stunning action set pieces, it leaves you with many questions that would theoretically be answered as the show progresses. As it is, Blood is a film I would still heartily recommend, forget about the questions it raises and enjoy the stunning recipe of Style over content - and then hope for a sequel that explains all of those unanswered questions.
Please note, unlike the majority of Madman's Australian discs Blood: The Last Vampire is Region 4 ONLY.
Struck from a Digital Master Madman/Manga have created a gorgeous digital transfer of Blood: The Last Vampire. Maintaining the original 1:85:1 aspect ratio and adding anamorphic enhancement the easiest way to get across just how good this transfer is would be to mention the likes of Toy Story 2 and Tarzan from Disney. As you would expect from a digital transfer the print is flawless, not a spec of dust or even the slightest hint of grain can be seen, this image is clean at all times. Detail is as good as it possibly can be while the picture definition almost leaps out at you, most impressive is the generally superb handling of the dark nature of this film. I say generally as the only slight fault, and this may be down to the decision to use a DVD5 disc, is that there are a few scenes where the slightest sign of pixellisation rears its ugly head, usually down to the gradient of blacks and greys in the backgrounds it rarely lasts any longer than a few seconds and will probably only really be visible on a large television.
Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English/Japanese tracks have been provided, thereby catering for both the Home Cinema enthusiast and standard Television owners alike. As ever I cannot comment on the DD5.1 track (look for an update in this area soon) but the 2.0 track sounds superb, offering superb clarity and definition for both the voices and the engaging score. What I can tell you about the DD5.1 track is that it is generally regarded as one of the best Anime DD5.1 tracks available offering superb use of the soundstage provided by a full Home Cinema set-up. The English subtitle track is as we have come to expect, well presented with a good choice of font and colour (which is yellow). A little disappointing is that the subtitles only cover the Japanese portions of the film, so those who would like an English subtitle track for the entire film (both English and Japanese speaking parts) are not catered for with this release.
The most significant extra feature is a 20-minute documentary entitled 'Blood: The Making of'. The main focus here is on the audio/visual production of Blood, we see demonstrations of the CG as well as some fairly in-depth discussion about the lighting and design styles used. This documentary is essentially a variety of interviews edited together, mostly featuring the various artists, there is also a brief snippet featuring Mamoru Oshii (Co-Planner) who I only mention because he has the strangest Shirt on that I have ever seen, featuring the picture of a cartoon dog I swear it actually blinks at one stage! Feeling very similar in style to the featurette found on the Ghost in the Shell DVD this is a decent documentary that could have done with some information on the story as well as the main character, Saya (a little background maybe, or an idea of what they have planned for the future). Strangely this short documentary was shot in widescreen but is not presented with anamorphic enhancement.
The other interesting extra feature comes in the form of an Effects only Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio track. By selecting this feature you get to view the film with only Sound Effects present, which for anyone interested in Foley artists, or simply those interested in the effort put into the audio side of an animated project, this is a worthwhile and interesting addition.
Other extras comprise of a 'History of Blood' feature, which is simply a text based Timeline detailing the Blood universe. There is also a text feature based on the main character, Saya, that focuses at first on the character, but then goes on to talk about the voice artist (Youki Kudoh). If you have ventured this far you will find an in-depth set of biographies on the various people involved in the creation of Blood (featuring information on the person along with their own personal thoughts on the project). Also present is a Gallery, now you would think that for an animated feature we would see original design concepts, background artwork and even poster artwork, but no, instead we are treated to around 20 selected stills from the movie (I didn't bother counting as they just rotate repeatedly).
The three original Theatrical Trailers are present and apart from being quite well realised also include some conceptual/cut footage. To round off this disc there are some average DVD-Rom extras in the form of a basic screensaver for both Windows and Macintosh owners, two high resolution Wallpaper images and a poor quality MPEG trailer for Blood.
Definitely a case of style over content, but with style this good and content that is very likely to spawn an interesting sequel Blood is a film well worth picking up. As for the disc, this R4 DVD is a great buy offering superb value for money and a great presentation of Blood: The Last Vampire.