Madman Entertainment/AV Channel .
R4 . COLOR . 45 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
He's going to miss his stop.
Occasionally an anime title comes along that is so breathtaking and so innovative, that it becomes an instant classic. Such is Blood - The Last Vampire, the highly anticipated new feature from Production IG (the team that brought us the critically acclaimed Ghost in the Shell). With visuals that James Cameron has called "the new dawn of digital animation", this stunning work represents the first “fully-digital” Japanese animation title, and the first anime film to have a bilingual Japanese and English script.
"You’re lucky. I’m not allowed to kill humans."
It’s a late night on Tokyo’s subway, and the Ginza Line’s last service speeds towards Asakusa. A teenage girl sits quietly in a deserted subway car - at the other end sits an aging businessman. As the train rattles past a faulty junction box, for a split second the lights in the carriage are extinguished. Seizing the opportunity, the man leaps from his seat in a wild attempt to escape the carriage. However, the girl too has leapt to her feet and, wielding an ancient blade, effortlessly cuts short his escape.
Thus we are introduced to Saya, the mysterious heroine of this macabre tale, and the last hope for mankind against a new race of blood-sucking demons – the Teropterids. These shape-shifting monsters can only be killed through significant loss of blood. Any fatal blow must be quick and conclusive - hence Saya’s penchant for the Japanese katana.
I hope they sell fries.
No sooner has Saya rid Tokyo of one Teropterid, than her American handlers have discovered yet more. At Yokota Base, an American military facility to the south, the telltale signs of Teropterid habitation have begun to emerge. Posing as a student at the base's school, Saya races to hunt down the beasts before they turn the base’s annual Halloween bash into a bloody massacre and flee into hibernation.
There is no doubt that Blood is a visual masterpiece that represents the current state-of-the-art in Japanese animation technology. With Production IG building on the techniques that first appeared in Ghost in the Shell, Blood represents a melding of many animation technologies. Using similar, yet far superior techniques to those seen in Titan A.E, 3D computer animation and conventional 2D character animation have been combined to provide seamless movement of characters, backgrounds and POV.
After scanning the original hand-drawn character animation, all aspects of the production, including inking and colouring, and complex lighting effects have been added through computer manipulation. Unlike Titan A.E, the 2D and 3D animation form one complete image; the textures used to render the 3D objects being drawn by the same artists that produced the film’s other background elements. The integration is such that it’s virtually impossible to differentiate between the two.
Despite plot elements reminiscent of Buffy, Blade and even Men in Black, Blood succeeds in creating a dark, sombre tone all of its own. Anime’s penchant for explicit violence and gore also helps out. With her perpetual scowl and thick, pouting lips, Saya cuts a cold and uncaring protagonist. Throughout the film she remains a compelling mystery; the audience left to speculate just who (or what) she is, and what motivates her killing spree.
And they call this art?
And so we arrive at the one problem that some may have with Blood, and that is the lack of any back-story for the central characters. There is such a total lack of character development and exposition in this piece that it is quite startling. Indeed, Blood raises more questions than it answers. This said, many anime fans will be quite used to this, with movie adaptations of long running manga or OAV (original animated video) series proving much the same. In this case however, it all seems to add to the general level of intrigue that the film creates.
And in this, there may just be method to the madness. To the viewer, Saya appears out of an unknown past to destroy monsters that the regular citizens did not even know were amongst them. When the job is done, she disappears as quickly as she came. The audience is presented with the same sense of bewilderment as these innocents, around whom the carnage unfolds and into which they are unwillingly swept.
A hell of a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been poured into this production and it shows on practically every frame of the movie. A great deal of attention has been spent on all aspects of the visuals, with backgrounds and textures exhibiting an amazing amount of detail, from rusting of signs to dirty shop windows. The digital and lighting effects also add an extra layer of realism, creating large areas of shadow, instances of brilliant over exposure, and dynamic effects such as flickering neons. The initial scene in the darkened subway carriage is lit to great effect by lights flashing intermittently along the tunnel wall as the train speeds by. Indeed, this is the first animated title that actually exhibits shadow detail!
Visiting the Anime dentist.
Sourced directly from a digital master, the anamorphic transfer is truly stunning. Let there be no doubt - this is a reference quality transfer. In general, the film itself is quite dark, and the colours are quite muted. This allows the aforementioned shadow detail to be used to great effect. Being a theatrical release, there are no interlacing issues that might normally be associated with an animation title, and there are no problems with aliasing or posterization. The digital source means that the image is very sharp and spotlessly clean.
In terms of realism, Blood represents a new benchmark for animated releases, and things can only get better as digital techniques are taken up by the other anime production companies.
The soundtrack for Blood also marks another first, with a bilingual Japanese and English script, and characters slipping back and forth between Languages depending on the situation. Removable English subtitles are provided for the Japanese dialogue. Both native English speaking actors as well as bilingual Japanese voice actors were used, resulting in a flawless transition between languages, especially with the extremely gifted talents of Youki Kudoh (whose haunting performance you may remember from Snow Falling on Cedars) as Saya.
There are several soundtracks provided on the disc, with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 supported. Additionally, the disc provides a 5.1 mix without the sub, and a 5.1 effects only track. And there really is plenty to love here in terms of the audio. The 5.1 mix is incredibly dynamic with some excellent directional movement and fantastic use of the subwoofer. The surrounds are also well utilised with an impressive level of ambient noise used to create a totally immersive sound experience.
Them's blood in them eyes.
The music for Blood is also very interesting with some deep, subwoofer friendly bass riffs used to heighten the suspense. This is mixed with orchestral pieces and a jazzy soundtrack during the Halloween party scenes. Although a somewhat eclectic mix, it really does build the tension nicely and compliments the dark tone established by the content and the visuals.
All in all, Blood represents a kick-arse audio experience. Almost as impressive as the visuals, it builds the reputation Production IG has established with the soundtrack to Ghost in the Shell.
The high production values exhibited by the main feature continue into the disc itself. Madman have done a great job here. The menu’s are 16x9 enhanced, and beautifully animated with CGI rendered sequences. Each menu is made up of splatters of blood on a wooden floor. Sequences from the movie play subtly in the background of each splatter. The moody theme plays in the background of the main menu, and sub-menus play a section of the effects only track.
We are also provided with a good selection of extras that should answer any question you may have about the production:
The Making of Blood: A fantasic behind-the-scenes look at the making of Blood, much the same as the excellent featurette provided with Ghost in the Shell. Almost as long as the feature itself, it covers all aspects of the production process, from plot development through to story boarding, character animation, 3D modelling and voice artists, to interviews with audience members at the debut screening.
Trailer: The trailer for Blood, not 16x9 enhanced, showing extra footage not seen in the main feature.
Saya Profile 7 pages of text providing biography information on voice actress Youki Kudoh. Tacked onto the end are a list of other technical staff and production (computer) equipment.
The History of Blood: 9 pages of text providing back-story on the character of Saya, and the appearance of Teropterids.
Image Gallery: 11 stills captured from the main feature.
Madman Trailers: Trailers for current and upcoming Madman releases Perfect Blue, Ninja Scroll, X, Ghost in the Shell, Macross Plus and Blackjack. These are not 16x9 enhanced.
Blood – The Last Vampire sets a new benchmark for Japanese animation and, despite its short duration, represents a bloody impressive proof of technology (excuse the pun). With a stunning anamorphic transfer, kick-arse soundtrack, and released with a good collection of extras, this disc is a must-have for any anime fans collection. Although some will find the lack of character development and exposition disappointing, for me this release is a true gem and deserving of DVD.net’s prestigious gold status.