December 24, 2006

BLOOD - THE LAST VAMPIRE (2000) ground-breaking anime

BLOOD - THE LAST VAMPIRE (2000)
Region 2 PAL DVD (Manga Video)

Set near a US Air Force base in southern Japan in 1966, this is about Saya, a schoolgirl special operative who, alone with her sword, is able to vanquish huge vampiric bat-creatures who hide among us in human form.

At 48 minutes long, this stand-alone anime is too short to be called a feature and too long to be called a short. Animation house Production I.G (of Ghost in the Shell fame) made this entirely digitally, meaning the hand-drawn sketches of each frame are scanned into computers to be inked, coloured and have effects added and composited. The resulting High Definition video master was then used for screenings in digital cinemas.

This was a first for Japan, but was already a technique being used elsewhere, by Disney and even The Simpsons.

Production I.G were also experimenting with techniques – like the addition of 3D environments and vehicles, like the plane and the train. Elaborate camera moves were emulated, giving some point-of-view angles a handheld feel. These effects were then used extensively in the spectacular Ghost in the Shell anime series.

Besides being a testing-ground, the result is very exciting and rewatchable despite a few shortcomings. The story is dense and a little confusing, probably because it was designed as the middle act of three episodes. Also, it starts off in English language, then reverts to Japanese. The first scene makes us doubt whether Saya has killed a vampire creature (or “chiroptera”) or a human by mistake. The closing scene points towards the Vietnam War, but this doesn’t make any real sense until Blood+ started up five years later!

Still, Saya’s surly attitude, and the whodunnit aspect of which person is actually a monster, carries the story. A Halloween party at Saya’s school adds to the confusion. There’s enough action in the short running time to flesh out a feature film too. It's very, very bloody and the creature is exceptionally agile, large, and horrifying.

It's a tour de force anime that hasn’t dated, and with a story that’s still expanding. A new incarnation of Saya emerged modern day in Blood+, a 50 episode anime series that in turn led to the Chevalier D’Eon anime currently running in Japan.

Also, a live-action version of the original Blood is being produced in Hong Kong under the title Blood Vampire, but may not appear until 2008, according to this report from the Hollywood Reporter.

Blood - The Last Vampire is available from Manga Video on Region 1 and Region 2 DVD, (featuring a good behind-the-scenes documentary) and there's also a CD soundtrack in circulation.



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