We don’t dabble much with anime here, partly because its fanbase has its own review sites, fan pages and all that, and I’m not sure there’s a ton of crossover between anime and the “mainstream”; and partly because I don’t really like it all that much. I mean, there’s good there, obviously, but it often puzzles me / seems designed to gross me out (good ol’ “Legend Of The Overfiend” and its ilk).
And then there’s the way these things seem almost designed to confuse the outsider. “Blood: The Last Vampire” spans this initial movie – unusually among anime, not based on a book or comic; a TV series called “Blood +” which shares almost no elements with the original; a live action remake of the original movie; another TV series, “Blood-C”, which shares few elements with either the movie or the other series; a sequel manga set in 2002; a trilogy of novels; and a computer game, remade for several platforms. That the main character has the same name, a sword and hunts supernatural creatures seems to be the only thread running through all these – I suppose, thinking about it, it’s no less confusing than, say, the “Highlander” franchise, which is based on multiple characters and a bewildering variety of continuities.
This iteration, the original, is set in 1966, and features a young woman by the name of Saya, who hunts creatures called chiropterans. Due to the extremely short length of this movie – 45 minutes – we get no backstory whatsoever, and lots of things that would be over-explained in a normal story are just glossed over. Like, Saya kills someone on a train in the “cold open”, and her handlers seem to think it’s just a normal human, not a chiropteran (they change shortly after death, if not before) but they’re so afraid of alienating her that they let it slide – she’s the last vampire of the title, you see. We get no resolution as to whether it is or isn’t.
The majority of the movie, though, is set on Yokota Air Force base in Japan, which was known post – WW2 as “Los Angeles in the middle of Tokyo”. Some chiropterans have infiltrated the base, so Saya’s handlers think, and it’s a matter of time before they feed and go into hibernation, rendering them untraceable. Luckily, despite Saya’s unknown age, she looks like a high school girl, so she’s able to blend in at the base’s school.
There’s a fantastic scene in the school’s hospital where Saya takes on two monsters while the nurse looks on in horror (she becomes the sort-of audience POV character at the end). There’s an exciting final chase too, where the lack of sharpness of Saya’s sword becomes something of a plot point.
There are several interesting things about this movie, other than the plot and action – a movie which is (perhaps still) the most popular one-off manga movie of all time. First is its origin, as a spec idea made by a group that met at a series of lectures given by anime legend Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell), with all sorts of super creative people contributing small amounts to the finished product. The animation is totally digital, but inked, coloured, then animated via computers, leaving a finished product much better than your average anime, which I think look sort of ugly a lot of the time.
If you were going to watch any anime movie, to ease yourself into things, then this is at the very top of pretty much every “greatest anime ever” list, and justifiably so. It’s short, full of action and doesn’t hold your hand.
Rating: thumbs up