Blood: The Last Vampire
The longest, most attractive anime trailer ever made... Only, there’s no actual movie to go with it.
Blood: The Last Vampire
By Jake Forbes
Blood: The Last Vampire is beautiful animation- perhaps the best blending of 2D and 3D animation yet achieved. It is NOT, however, a good movie. This is really a shame as the movie, what little there is of it, is packed with enough potential to make a movie, six OAVs and a TV series. If more Blood animation ever does get produced, I’ll be first in line to check it out, but the current Blood film is one that I’ll forget about as something prettier comes out.
This is typically the place in a review where I’d get into the plot. For Blood, there are two ways to do this: 1) give the plot that’s on the back of the DVD case and all the press notes which sounds really cool and can be inferred from the film but doesn’t really come into play, or 2) tell what actually happens in the film. Well, since I didn’t really see a film about “a nervous American military on the brink of the Vietnam War” or “Vampires” in a “heavily guarded compound,” or a “team of top-secret undercover agents,” I guess I’ll go about it the second way.
Blood is about Saya, a cool-looking girl with a sword, who is reluctantly working for a government agent to kill mean looking monsters that are trying to escape from an American military base. The agent tells her that there are two monsters in the school, so she goes to the school, finds them in about five minutes, kills one right off, and then spends the rest of the movie running after/from the last one. A third one comes in at the end for extra fun.
Just because I’m a stickler for things like characterization, narrative, drama, and logic, let me point out a few places where I thought this story could have used a little work:
1) Why are there monster-things in the American base?
2) Is there any significance to the film being set on the eve of Vietnam?
3) Why does Saya help the agents?
4) Why does the prostitute-vampire burn down the bar?
5) If these vampire things are giant monsters with animal-like behavior, then how do they make all of their victims look like clean suicides?
6) Why should I give a damn about anyone in this film?
Now, I like films that make you work to figure out exactly what happened. I don’t have a problem with rewatching something to find out what the filmmakers wanted me to get out of it (it took me two viewings to piece together that the suicides were actually the results of vampires), but when I watch something a third time and still find a lack of concern with basic narrative, I start to get mad at the filmmakers. The folks Production I.G. aren’t David Lynch. They’re not making a statement. They’re just lazy. I heard reports that they didn’t have the money to complete the film that they wanted to—well, if that’s the case, they should have reevaluated the film they wanted to make and told a simpler story instead of telling the pieces of the larger story that they present in Blood. There are so many cool elements presented, but because there’s no logic to the film, they all come off as completely arbitrary.
Another reason that I heard for the incomplete story is that the film isn’t meant to stand alone, but as part of a multi-media blitz with the PS2 game and manga. Well, if that’s the case, then I guess we Americans got jacked, as the manga isn’t available in English (and probably won’t ever be, since there are no manga publishers who want one-shot graphic novels with 2nd rate art) and the PS2 game won’t be out for a while yet. If this is truly how Blood is meant to be experienced, then the viewer should be forewarned.
Enough about the narrative gaps. How was the rest of the film? Well, if you haven’t already heard from dozens of other reports over the last year, the film looks amazing. The character animation is just so-so, but the photo-realistic animation and hand painted backgrounds are combined seamlessly—James Cameron is only slightly exaggerating when he says “the world will come to consider this work as the standard of top quality digital animation.”
Voice acting matches the nationality of the characters- Japanese or American. You can’t really call any of it a dub, as everything’s in the original language. Saya, the heroine, speaks both English and Japanese, and she does a fine job. There’s not a whole lot of dialogue in the film, but I think the acting was hurt by a lousy performance by the actress playing the nurse, who sadly has more dialogue than just about anyone else. Music is sparse, but used well. The 5.1 sound is well mixed for a pleasant booming experience for the acoustically endowed home theater.
DVD extras are pretty typical. There’s a theatrical trailer, the usual Manga DVD previews & web links, but the main bonus is a 25 minute behind-the-scenes “Making of Blood” montage (as it’s just a string of shots of people working or talking about the film with no direction or organization, I’m not going to dignify it by calling it a documentary or featurette). It’s quite surprising how boring most of these people are in the “making of” segment. There are a few interesting tidbits, like how the character animators wanted to make the character drawings look smooth, but then they had to go back and make it look rougher to match the desired look for the film. For the most part, you learn more by seeing the equipment that the film was made on (power Macs with photoshop?!) than you do by listening to the people talk.
Before anyone buys this film, there is one serious issue I have with Manga’s packaging of it that should be clarified. On the DVD case it says “Program Run Time: 83 minutes.” This is NOT the length of the film—Blood runs for a mere 48 minutes. I presume that the rest of those minutes include the “making of” and the trailers. This is deceptive advertising, as anyone not familiar with the title would be led to believe they are getting a feature, when in fact they are getting a meager featurette. If Manga was that uncomfortable with the run-time of their film, then they should have found more extras to pad the disc and differentiate their length from the film’s (as in "Includes 2 hours of bonus footage!") I sincerely hope that Manga corrects this unscrupulous presentation on future printings of the disc.
Despite all of my gripes, I really did enjoy Blood while I watched it. The characters were cool, the action was exciting, and the animation was jaw-dropping. I suppose there are many worse flaws a film can have than leaving you wanting more. With an extra 15 minutes of exposition and character development, I would have easily given Blood a solid “A.” As it stands however, Blood is a frustrating and unsatisfying experience. I sincerely hope there will be another Blood film, and next time I hope that Production IG spends the time and money to do it properly.