Blood: The Last Vampire

In the age of digital animation, it seems anime fans are being treated to a never-ending list of visual feasts. From Ghost in the Shell to Serial Experiments Lain to Final Fantasy, the use of computer animation continues to produce some truly diverse, beautiful, and stunning visual effects. Blood: The Last Vampire continues this trend, offering up some of the best-looking animation in recent memory. Blood takes place in 1966, shortly before the start of the Vietnam war. Opening on a Japanese subway, we are introduced to Saya, a mysterious sword-toting girl. Saya packs a dark secret, for she hunts Chiropterans, demonic creatures that survive by feasting on the blood of humans. Following a brief skirmish on the subway, her latest assignment takes her to the Yohkoto Air Base, a bustling American military installation. Posing as a student, Saya infiltrates the base and begins her search for the demonic creatures. Visually, Blood is incredibly stunning. The entire movie was generated with computers, blending traditional cel-style animation with some 3D effects and exceptional backgrounds. Much like Perfect Blue, Blood's characters look far more realistic than in an average anime. This extends to the motion of the characters, which is quite life-like. In the opening sequence, Saya explodes into action so fluidly, I almost forgot I was watching an animated film. The visual qualities of Blood are also quite evident in the background art, which is remarkably detailed in many scenes. Careful attention is paid to light and shadow, and these qualities often generate a chilling atmosphere. It should also be noted that Blood was originally created with a mixture of English and Japanese dialog. As a matter of fact, a good two-thirds of the dialog is spoken in English. The voice acting is of generally good quality, highlighted by Youki Kudoh, from Snow Falling on Ceders. Some of the minor characters tended to suffer a bit, but since there is only one audio track, fans will have to make due. In some respects, however, Blood feels unfinished. This is evident following the opening scene, after Saya has dispatched a Chiropteran. Two suits come running to greet her, but one claims the person Saya killed was, in fact, an ordinary human. The other says this isn't so, that the creature just hasn't transformed yet. This scene is not even touched on later in the movie, and we never learn whether Saya killed a demon or innocent human, or even if it's significant. Saya later remarks that she is prevented from killing humans, but how or why is never answered. From what I could gather, Blood: The Last Vampire is meant to be the beginning of a franchise explored through sequels, video games, and other mediums. I felt a little disappointed knowing that I would have to look elsewhere for answers to some of the questions this movie posed. Ultimately, Blood's greatest flaw is its pretentious design towards flash over substance. Character development is fairly non-existant, even for Saya herself. She may be a dark and brooding protagonist, but little is done to expand on her role. Only in the final moments does she demonstrate any variance in her demeanor and the hint that there is more to her than meets the eye. Some might blame the scant running time of 50 minutes as being the problem, hardly the length one would expect for a theatrical feature. Other anime, most notably Kite, have been restricted in this manner, yet still manage to pull off very dramatic stories. I think the real problem with Blood is it lacks any sort of final punch. The ending is lackluster, with no twist or startling revelation. Unless, of course, you count the nurse's reaction to a photo of Saya at the end, but we as an audience already know who and what Saya is. As the credits started to role, I was left with a slightly empty feeling, as though I had just dined on a gourmet feast, but left without having dessert. In terms of action, atmosphere, and visual beauty, Blood: The Last Vampire succeeds quite admirably. But the lack of a solid plot or engaging characters keeps Blood from becoming an anime classic. Here's hoping the sequel fares a little better. The Verdict: * * * 1/2 (above average)

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