Blood: The Last Vampire
Production IG, Manga Video
|Directed by: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
||Running Time: 48min
Cast : Youki Kudoh, Saemi Nakamura, Joe Romersa, Rebecca Forstadt, Stuart Robinson
Something about the character designs bother me. They look fine in close up from simple angles with simple expressions ...
... but a lot of the time the expressions seem to go way too far such as this one where David grabs Louis by the lapels because he dared to note Saya might have killed the wrong guy.
Review by Jay Wilson
Blood: The Last Vampire is a pretty decent payoff in desperate need of a setup. It starts out with a hell of an introduction where we find a girl quietly riding the subway, eyeing the seemingly sleeping passenger at the far end of the otherwise empty car. Each shot is intercut with the opening credits, crimson red text against a black background. But the guy isn’t asleep. He too, watches the girl out of the corner of his eye. I love this sequence for the wonderful tension that just lingers in the frame long before any dialog is spoken and before we even know who’s the good guy and who is the monster. Then all goes dark, and the girls springs up, runs across the car, and cuts down her victim.
And from there, we barely get an introduction (and even less of an explanation) before the girl, Saya, is sent off on her next assignment: apparently to kill some monsters called “chiropterans” that have infiltrated a high school. And only a few scant minutes later, The Last Vampire is gearing up for the big action showdown.
Now, let me be clear: I like jumping into the middle of the story. I like that characters don’t linger around explaining everything and grinding the story to a halt—a person turning into a big scary monster and Saya running towards it with her sword conveys quite a bit of information, thank you very much. We know who the good guy and who the bad guy is. I even applaud the first kill on the subway which “didn’t turn back into chiropteran form” throwing into question if Saya killed the right person. I even don’t care that the “last vampire” bit in the title and the “she’s the last original” dialog doesn’t really get an explanation. As far as plot points go, I’m completely fine with this anime.
My problem is that I never really gave a damn about any of the characters because we never really get a chance to get to know them, and I stand firm behind my belief that characters are the gateway into a story. Blood: The Last Vampire, really doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot in the way of plot, and that’s fine. Plot is overrated anyway. But it doesn’t really have much in the way of characters, either. They exist to drive the suspense and later the action scenes
... or look at this frame. Love the low angle. Love the composition. The animation of Saya’s assault and the blood spray looks wicked in motion. One problem: Saya, herself, doesn't look quite right.
I’m not sure what bothers me more: how ugly and caricature-like this guard is, or that his eye line is way off.
I love that Blood pauses to set up scenes with establishing shots, populating the base with people doing very natural business like tying their shoes. I just wish it would put the same effort into developing the characters’ personalities.
Another great shot that doesn't add anything to the plot or characters but exists solely to add atmosphere. It’s such a shame that long term concepts like story and characters don't get this kind of attention.
I adore the Halloween celebration sequence because it so effectively evokes a nightmare, isolating the nurse even though she's in the middle of a crowded gymnasium.
Blood cleverly reveals the chiropterans in stages. Saya dispatches the first few before they can transform, and only when her sword breaks does one have time show its true form.
Certain elements are rendered in 3D, and while not seamless, by consistently keeping it isolated to vehicles and geometrical parts of the environment, it actually feels pretty natural and unobtrusive.
And, again, let me caution the reader that I hate narratives that grind the story to a halt for mishandled character development. However, Blood: The Last Vampire has no character development. None. There’s not a single scene showing Saya away from her missions. From the title, we presume Saya is “the last vampire”, but what does that mean? How does that effect the comings and goings of her life? How does that weigh on her thoughts? How does she deal with this insane life she lives? Even from a minimalist perspective, a simple thirty second scene with no dialog showing her lying down to sleep would convey a wealth of information about her—we’d see her apartment/house and get a glimpse of how she lives. And whether she goes right to sleep or stays awake staring into space would convey even more regarding the state of her conscience and soul. But the closest we come is seeing Saya, on her way to the next mission, looking through an antique shop window at a katana on display. Why? In the previous scene, she informed her bosses, “my sword is getting dull; I need a new one” which, if you’re familiar with the old expression about guns, plays, and what happens in the third act ... well, you know where this going.
Saya takes orders from David and his associate, Louis, who both work for an unknown organization. We don’t need to know who/what they work for, but it would be nice to know something about these men. Alas, they show up to clean up/cover up the chiropterans and send Saya off to her next mission, and that’s the extent to which you get to know them.
At the high school—a high school on an American Air Force Base in Japan—Saya, posing as a student, encounters a well meaning middle aged nurse who eventually gets caught in the crossfire of Saya’s war. And despite the nurse’s sincere efforts to welcome the new student and make her feel at home, she never gets more than the baseline sympathy of a faceless bystander being in the wrong place at the wrong time ... but I’ll be damned if I can pinpoint why.
Were I to venture a guess, I would say it’s because Blood: The Last Vampire is littered with flaky reactions. Sometimes characters react appropriately, such as the nurse seeing the chiropterans true form for the first time and freaking out. Other reactions come across as over the top, such as the nurse fleeing from said monsters, running into a guard and screaming ... and she keeps screaming ... and screaming ... and screaming some more (albeit, it is pretty funny when they cut to the wide shot and you see the look on the guard’s jolly ol’ face.) Then there’s the more subtle moment when the nurse says “hi” for the first time, and Saya responds with a “go to hell” scowl and the nurse gives absolutely no reaction what-so-ever. Let’s be frank, Saya is a bitch in this movie—which is not a criticism, by the way—I just think Saya’s repulsive “screw you” demeanor would hurt the nice nurse’s feelings, thus humanizing the nurse, thus making us actually like her and sympathize with her more. So that when she’s trapped in a burning hangar with chiropterans bearing down on her, it’s that much more intense.
As the movie plays, the nurse reacts the way the plot requires her to react, making her a puppet and not a human being (although, the look on her face when Saya matter of factly kicks the crap out of guard is priceless.)
Taken as a whole, Blood: The Last Vampire doesn’t really work on any level. The weird thing, though, is the individual scenes demonstrate masterful and patient construction. While we don’t get nice little character touches for Saya or anyone she interacts with, the setting gets wonderful observations. Heading into the air force base, there’s a great establishing shot through a chain link fence showing a C130 landing; cut to a shot of Saya standing there watching it descend on her way to the school, foreshadowing a major action set piece later on in the movie. She arrives at the school in time for a Halloween party, and there’s exterior shots bursting with activity of kids in costume hanging out and chatting. Inside the gym, we see preparations under way—banners hung, people getting into costume, musicians warming up, jack-o-lanterns lit. In suspenseful moments, there’s long pauses to show shadowy corridors and curtains blowing in the wind. There’s a great moment when the nurse has taken two students into her office not knowing they’re really chiropterans in disguise; and while she goes through a medicine cabinet, behind her we see the two students sitting up and mouthing unspoken words, and the camera whip-pans back and forth between them, getting closer and closer until the quiet mouth fills the entire frame. Atmospheric, eerie, unnerving, and well done.
My favorite scene in Blood is when the nurse searches for an injured student not knowing it’s really a chiropteran. She turns into the gym, and the camera goes from a close up on her to a wide shot showing hundreds of people in costume dancing, talking, having a good time completely oblivious to the monster in their midst. The nurse spots a blood trail, and follows it through the crowd. And the movie zooms in to her subjective perspective, becoming surreal with reds and orange overpowering the frame, the music fades out, and the animation goes into a kind of slow motion complete with blur trails as she closes in on the hurt student only to discover it’s no longer an innocent little girl. Then it snaps back to real time (with normal colors) as Saya shoves her aside and charges in for the kill.
And it really is remarkable how effective these individual sequences and individual scenes work with such barebones setup and baseline sympathies. It lets creepy atmosphere linger and haunt the audience and launches into adrenal action scenes with the best of them. But when the final credits role, I get the feeling it’s somehow adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
You can feel the momentum of Saya’s slash from the poses alone. A wicked pattern of shadows and highlights sets up a great rhythm to escort the eye through the frame. And the bleeding bright yellow in the lower-right corner conveys not just the fire, but also the heat. Man, I could go on and on about this image ...
A lot of people say that at a brisk forty-eight minutes, Blood: The Last Vampire is too short. I disagree. Just because most people falsely believe “feature-length” means ninety-ish minutes doesn’t mean storytellers should artificially inflate/deflate their material to hit that mark. If it only takes forty-eight minutes to tell a story, it only takes forty-eight minutes. I would, however, say that Blood: The Last Vampire does not feel complete.