Blood: The Last Vampire Anime Review
Blood: The Last Vampire
Blood: The Last Vampire
US Release By
In the 1960s, at the time of the Vietnam war, there is another war being fought. A war with demons. Saya, who is said to be the "last remaining original" is part of an organization to combat this menace. Going undercover in an English-speaking military school in Japan, Saya faces her next assignment against "them."
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Essentially a chapter out of a larger story, Blood: The Last Vampire almost totally forsakes background information about the story and characters, and the actual plot is quite thin. Even so, the content of the movie is fast-paced, solid, and entertaining. Perhaps more interesting still is the all-digital nature of the production, mixing hand-drawn art with computer coloring and effects and near-photorealistic backgrounds, all of which works quite well--much better than other early attempts. Also of note is the mixed-language dialogue; the mix of American and Japanese characters are voiced by native English and Japanese speakers respectively, plus some bilingual actors including Yuuki Kudoh as the main character, Saya. Though a little rough around the edges, it's an interesting experiment.
In the end, while the story and characters were thin, it's acceptable considering Blood isn't finished yet. The short runtime of the movie may also put off some people, but Blood has aspects beyond its story that makes it worth a look.
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For such a short movie, this is not easy to review. Blood: The Last Vampire is essentially a chapter out of a larger story. Background information about the story and characters is almost totally forsaken. The actual plot in this movie is quite thin.
Sounds like a pretty bad movie, eh?
Not so. If this were all that was meant to be seen of Blood, then this movie would be inexcusable. But like I said, it's a chapter from a much larger story. It's not finished. How it will be continued is up in the air. A sequel is being worked on as we speak (I just read confirmation on that a few minutes before writing this review), but I also read that the story of Blood will be continued on a variety of formats. An upcoming Playstation game, CDs, more anime, other games. I don't know if this is true or not (although the PS game is indeed coming--whether it'll see North American shores is unknown). Yet, I digress.
The actual content of the movie is solid and entertaining. It's so frantic and fast-paced that it won't give you much time to think until the credits begin to roll. Considering its run-time (which doesn't quite last 50 minutes) this was probably the only option the creators had, but they pulled it off very well. The plot presented here was not anything original, nor does it appear that it will develop into anything that will revolutionize the world of anime. Like I said, there isn't even that much plot at all. Blood fell back on presentation, which was quite well done. The atmosphere was generally moody and dark, and while you don't know why all these people, particularly Saya, are so morbid, you're not given a whole lot of time to think about it during the movie.
Like the plot, the characters are barely defined at best. At the beginning of the movie, you're given comments that hint at interesting aspects of Saya's past as well as the history of the organization she works with, but that's about it. The only other moment of character development was towards the end, which piqued my curiosity, but otherwise viewers are pretty well left out in the cold. The only other thing that may bother some is a couple of sequences which are not explained in the least. Presumably, they'll play in to the sequel.
The plot and characters are 95% unknown, but there are some aspects in Blood's production that makes it interesting to watch. Blood is a digital production in almost every sense. It's heavily influenced by CG (Computer Graphics), backgrounds and characters are mixed with Photoshop and it's obviously computer colored. The first time we saw a digital anime production on this high a scale was with Blue Submarine No. 6, but I would liken Blood's production to the American animated movie Titan A.E. Blue Submarine No. 6's characters looked rather flat against the CG backgrounds, but Blood blends the CG and cel artwork masterfully. Like Titan A.E., not one part of Blood comes off looking flat.
Blood relied heavily on presentation, and the presentation was greatly enhanced by the visuals, which are nothing short of gorgeous. Blood has some of the most top-notch animation I've ever seen, anime, American or otherwise. Blood may very well be a big step in revolutionizing anime (unlike the story). The animation is wonderfully smooth and the fight choreography was extremely well done. Of particular note is a brief scene in an infirmary room, where Saya bursts into the room, running towards her enemy and making her attack. The way the characters move with the background is awesome, and I was truly impressed. The character designs were an interesting blend of realistic and anime style. The males were more realistically drawn, while the females leaned more towards tradition anime style. Saya seemed to be a mix of both. Her eyes and face were anime style but she also had some alternative American comic style mixed in with her, particularly her lips, which didn't clash like I was expecting. The backgrounds were quite detailed and very well rendered with the CG, and like I said, everything blended flawlessly.
Linguistically, Blood is very interesting. The way the recording was handled may very well revolutionize anime as well. For those who don't know, Blood was originally recorded in an English/Japanese hybrid. The majority of Blood takes place at a school near an American military base in Japan, at the time of the Vietnam war. Presumably, the students of the school are children of military men. Therefore, they speak English. The operatives that Saya works with speak English. Saya herself mostly speaks English, but also slips into Japanese, usually when talking with the school nurse who is bilingual in English and Japanese. I found the concept to be pretty interesting.
However, the acting can be cut like this: those who spoke English as their first language were mostly quite good. Those who spoke Japanese as their first language were quite good. But the Japanese actors that tried to speak English didn't quite cut it.
The only two characters that had significant dialogue in both English and Japanese were Saya and the school nurse. When Saya spoke Japanese, she was well done. Her voice was cold, harsh and mostly emotionless without coming off as boring. It went quite well with the character. The school nurse was dramatically effective when she spoke (or yelled) in Japanese. But in English, the two were actually acted somewhat poorly. Saya's voice seemed too artificial in English and her acting was a little too emotionless, frequently coming off as flat, though her pronunciation was pretty good. The school nurse was unfortunately worse. Her accent was pretty obvious (that's not a bad thing though) but her pronunciation wasn't really good and she spoke too slow. On the plus side, almost all of her dramatic scenes were done in Japanese.
What confuses me so much about the somewhat poor English performances behind Saya and the nurse has to do with the actresses that portray them. Saya is voiced by Yuuki Kudoh. I believe this is her first time doing animation. Upon doing a little research, she's apparently known for her live action Japanese films. However, she's been in two English-language movies that I know of. She played Midori in the Australian film Heaven's Burning, which starred Russell Crowe. Her other English film that I know of is Snow Falling on Cedars. So obviously she knows the English language well enough to play a major role in a Hollywood production, particularly a character-driven story like Snow Falling on Cedars. So I'm a little baffled as to why her English acting turned out the way it did. The school nurse is voiced by Saemi Nakamura, who has played several minor roles in American movies and TV series. Likewise, this is why I'm confused about her performance, as it would appear from Blood that she doesn't have a very good grasp of the English language.
The English operatives were good in their native English language and they didn't speak any Japanese. But a few minor English-only speaking characters weren't particularly well acted, Such as Sharon, one of the school girls, and the Principal. I know Sarah was voiced by a English-speaking actress, but I don't know about the Principal. Some of the minor characters were well done in English, though. The only other noteworthy aspect of the English acting is that most of the English characters are voiced by dub actors, such as David Lucas (credited as Steve Blum) as a soldier. You may recognize him as Spike from Cowboy Bebop. The English writing was mostly solid, but a few lines came off awkward and weak and weren't exactly grammatically correct. The subtitles used to translate the Japanese seemed a little dry, but got the job done. In the end, the acting was rather unbalanced. I think it was a great idea, but it needed more polish. The music was very good, but not really memorable. The orchestral score captured the dark mood of Blood rather well, and the more exciting scenes were made appropriately intense with the music chosen.
In the end, it may seem like I didn't care for Blood considering how much I've picked at it. But while the story and characters were thin, it's acceptable considering Blood isn't finished yet. The acting was a good idea, and while it didn't turn out perfectly, all that's needed is more polish. Hopefully that'll be taken into consideration when the sequel completed, whatever it may be. The short runtime of the movie may put off some people, but Blood has aspects beyond its story that makes it worth a look.
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Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is another high-budget (and more filled-out) vampire movie that also has the distinction of being filmed with English as the native language, despite being a largely Japanese production. Hellsing also has a lot in common with this. Vampire Princess Miyu is another dark Vampire anime, but it goes for creepy situations as opposed to Blood's rather graphic violence. While it's not anime, Blood is a lot like the American live action movie Blade, based on the Marvel comic book of the same name.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a novel. The novel has what the movie didn't, such as background story and a conclusion.
Manga's official website for the film is still available as well, at BloodTheMovie.com; it has some images and information, as well as the trailer.
US DVD Review
This is a very good DVD with only two minor flaws. The video transfer is one of, if not the best I've ever seen on any DVD, period. And it's anamorphic to boot! The audio in presented in it's original English/Japanese hybrid in stereo and 5.1. The stereo track was definitely above average and came across quite well. I can't take full advantage of the 5.1 track, but I've read from many sources that it's one of the best 5.1 mixes ever made. There are also two subtitle tracks. One translates the Japanese dialogue only, while the other one translates both the Japanese dialogue and the credits, which are in their original Japanese (Manga did very little syndication work on this title). One may wonder what the use is behind having two subtitle tracks, but the second track only translates the opening credits, not the ending credits, meaning there's no translated cast. For what it's worth, I was able to identify a few characters with a little research, and I listed the actors that were credited with their English names, but I'm afraid that was the best I could do. That's flaw number one.
In terms of extras, there's a twenty minute "Making of Blood" segments that's quite interesting and reveals a lot behind all the technical work that went into this movie. What I found unfortunate was that there wasn't any explanation behind the choice of recording most of the dialogue in English, an explanation about how they went about it, etc. There's also a Japanese trailer, a photo gallery and the usual Manga extras. The second minor flaw is the DVD (and VHS for that matter) lists the running time as 83 minutes. The actual movie runs about 48 minutes with the credits and the "making of" feature runs 20 minutes. Even if you were to round the film's run-time up to 50 minutes, you only get 70 minutes. I actually use the word "strange" to describe this decision, as 83 is a pretty exact number.
A few graphic scenes net this one a 17-up in the eyes of Manga Video.
Violence: 3 - It doesn't happen too often, but the violence in this movie is pretty graphic.
Nudity: 2 - A brief scene during a murder investigation.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A bit of flirting.
Language: 2 - Most of the swearing was on the English dialogue, oddly enough.
Staff & Cast
Saya: Youki Kudoh
Infirmary Nurse: Saemi Nakamura
David: Joe Romersa
Sharon: Rebecca Forstadt
Soldier 1: Fritz Houston
Solider 2: Steve Blum
Additional Voices: Paul Carr, Chuck Campbell, Dave Mallow