Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire (anime movie)

After recently watching the live action version of Blood: The Last Vampire, I decided to rewatch the animated movie. Watching the animated movie only emphasized how the live action movie went wrong, and how it could have been so much better. The main weakness of the animated movie is that it is too short - lots of things are hinted at, but hardly anything is explained. Had the live action movie gone the route of taking the original movie and expanding upon it, rather than picking a few scenes and (my guess) spending a good chunk of its budget on CGI blood, it could have been a much better movie.

Synopsis:

Saya looks like an angry young Japanese girl, but she's considerably more than that. She's been alive for at least 70 years, hunting Chiropterans, horrific demon creatures that survive by feeding on human blood. This movie takes place primarily on the American Yokota Air Force base in Japan, just prior to the beginning of the Vietnam War. The secret organization Saya works with sends her to a high school on the base, to try and find the two Chiropterans they know are there.

In the guise of a student who wants to observe classes at the high school, Saya discovers that two of the students at the school are actually Chiropterans. She kills one of them, thereby saving the school nurse, a Japanese woman who was unknowingly about to be eaten. The second Chiropteran, wounded, escapes into a crowded Halloween party, which it manages to escape when the replacement sword Saya finds for herself turns out to be fake (her original sword broke during the fight that killed the first Chiropteran). It takes the school nurse hostage, and Saya manages to save her yet again.

The school nurse runs off, trying to get help, only to watch in horror as the man she finds is killed and eaten. Saya saves her again. Saya explains that, unless all the Chiropterans are killed, the nurse will continue to be in danger, because Chiropterans don't allow those who have seen their true forms to live. They can only be killed if they loose a large quantity of blood at one time - guns won't kill them, but a good, sharp katana will. When David, a man from the organization Saya works with, brings her a new sword, Saya is able to kill the second Chiropteran. Unfortunately, there's a third one no one knew about. It's a near thing, but Saya manages to kill that one before it can escape out into the world. Meanwhile, the school nurse is picked up by military personnel and questioned about what happened to her. She tells the truth, even though she doesn't think anyone will believe her, and learns that Saya is a vampire who's been alive since at least the late 19th century.

Commentary:

Visually, this is an absolutely awesome and lovely movie. I'm not a huge fan of the artwork style used for the characters - several characters (Sharon, Saya) look unsettling non-human, even before you find out that they're not human, because of the odd way their eyes are drawn, and some facial expressions looked more comically cartoony than I'm guessing was the intention (the school nurse was especially guilty of cartoony reactions, her horror when Saya knocked a guard/soldier out being a prime example). However, I got past that, because the camera work, action scenes, backgrounds, lighting, and more were all just so good. Aside from their resemblance to chimpanzees, the Chiropterans were suitably freaky, and, unlike the live action movie, the bloody bits weren't distractingly bad.

One thing I hadn't realized the first time I saw this movie was that what I was hearing was the original language track - this movie was dubbed in whatever language each character would have been speaking, so, although a few characters spoke Japanese, most of the movie is in English. Because I hadn't seen the beginning portions of the movie, in which more Japanese is spoken, and because I heard Steve Blum's voice (Steve Blum, forever imprinted in my mind as being more Spike Spiegel than the original Japanese voice actor), I had assumed I was watching an English dub of a movie originally done in Japanese. I was impressed when I found out the truth.  For the most part, the voice acting was excellent.

Although I liked the visuals and the voice acting, the story could have used...more. The movie was mostly action, which left little room for explanations and character development. I could definitely feel that there was more to Saya than there was time to show. Was she born a vampire? How long has she been alive? Why does she fight Chiropterans? Saya was called the "last remaining original" - what does that mean? Are Chiropterans a version of what Saya is? How does she feel about killing Chiropterans? The strangely sad and beautiful scene where Saya watches a Chiropteran die and allows a few drops of her blood to fall on it made me wonder if she doesn't perhaps regret, at least a little, what she has to do.

As much as it annoyed me that the school nurse constantly needed to be saved (seriously, every time the woman turned around, she almost got eaten and Saya had to kick Chiropteran butt for her), she was still a more interesting character than the live action version's Alice. I couldn't help but wonder what things were like for her, a Japanese school nurse in a high school on an American Air Force base.

I would definitely recommend seeing this movie instead of the live action version - the live action version may be longer and flesh Saya out in its own way (a way that appears to have little or nothing to do with the original animated movie), but the animated movie is still all-around better.

Extras:

There's a picture gallery (which is missing some of my favorite moments, like the bit near the end where Saya is watching the Chiropteran die) - although, seriously, why is a picture gallery necessary when you can just take screen shots of your favorite scenes? Anyway, there's also a "making of" documentary which is quite good - it only covers the animation (traditional 2D and groundbreaking 3D), initial development, and, a little, the music - voice acting hardly comes up, which was the only thing about this documentary that disappointed me.

Watch-alikes:
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - There's something about Saya's eyes that reminds me of the main character of this movie.  In addition, the action scenes in this one might appeal to those who liked Blood: The Last Vampire.  There's also a TV series, a couple more movies, and, I think, an updated version of this movie.  I actually prefer the TV series and newer movies to this movie, because this movie feels so dated to me, but it is a classic, so watching this would also improve your anime education.
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - Like I said in yesterday's post, there's an OVA and the whole thing is based on a manga series, but, in my opinion, this is the best version.  It's another series starring a kick butt vampire who kills other vampires.  Lots of action, lots of killing, but the animation is nowhere near Blood: The Last Vampire's level.  Another thing I should note is that this series has more of a sense of humor.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - I started watching this show with the assumption that it continued Movie Saya's story.  I don't think that's the case, though, and I might have liked this show better if I had figured that out sooner.  Or not.  It's actually fairly slow-paced, although you might not notice that whenever battles happen.  The fight scenes are quite good, and, as a character, Saya is much more developed in this show.  Be warned that she is nothing like the Saya in the original movie - she's lost her memories of who she was and has been raised as a human in a small family, so she's more like a normal Japanese teenager than a dark, scary killing machine, at least at first.
  • Vampire Hunter D (anime OVA) - Like the original Ghost in the Shell movie, this might feel a bit dated (it does to me), but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable.  There's also a more recently produced movie, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, which I haven't seen yet. If you'd like another story starring a dark, kick butt character who kills monsters even though he's not human himself, you might want to try this.
  • Witch Hunter Robin (anime TV series) - Those who's like another dark, moody series with pretty visuals might want to try this.  Hopefully witches are ok, though.  The series centers around a group of witch hunters, at least one of whom definitely has witch powers herself.

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