by Mel Valentin
Originally intended as the middle episode of a three-part OAV (Original Animation Video) for the Japanese market, "Blood: The Last Vampire" is short on plot and character development befitting its brief 48-minute running time (including opening and closing credits). Short on financial resources, director Hiroyuki Kitakubo and his screenwriter, Kenji Kamiyama, were incapable of filming the first and third episodes of the series (there is, however, a sequel available as a "manga" comic book). "Blood: The Last Vampire" does, however, feature cutting-edge animation, combining hand-drawn, 2D characters with detailed 3D backgrounds.Set during the Vietnam War at an American military base in Japan circa 1966, Blood: The Last Vampire wastes little time in introducing the audience to the lead character, Saya, a centuries-old vampire with an irritable streak (not surprisingly, she immediately rankles at the sight of a cross or the mention of the word “Jesus”). Saya is no villain, however. In fact, she’s employed by a secret government organization to hunt down and eliminate demons. Despite her indeterminate age, she resembles a teenage girl. Few teenage girls (actually, make that none), however, can wield a katana with the level of skill she displays, as evidenced in the opening scene aboard a moving train. Her minder, David (no last name is necessary, apparently) has obtained a lead on two shape-shifting demons that, disguised as teenage girls, have slipped into the high school located at the military base. A minor, underused complication emerges when the high school principal reveals that a Halloween party is scheduled for that evening.
"Short on story, long on visuals, recommended only for anime fans."
Here, instead of exploring Saya’s integration (or lack thereof) into the high school, along with its requisite cliques (with some helpful hints about Saya’s backstory), or uncovering the identities of the shape-shifting demons after investigating a string of clues, Kitakubo and Kamiyama jump straight into the pursuit plot. With little effort, Saya discovers the identities of the two demons (whose motivations for using the military base as a cover are left unanswered), dispatching one quickly with her trusty katana at the local infirmary (with a nurse inconveniently present to witness the gore-filled confrontation). Kitakubo and his animators lavish their attention on this sudden explosion of violence, lingering over the fountains of blood, a bloody, curled hand hanging from the side of a bed, and an eviscerated (demon) body. The nurse becomes the target for the surviving demon, now no longer disguising itself as a teenager. Saya must then track down and destroy the second demon. A third demon unexpectedly comes to the aid of the second demon, again for unexplained reasons.
Blood: The Last Vampire concludes with the running battle between Saya and the two demons, confronting one inside a car park and the other on a nearby airfield, as the remaining demon attempts to escape aboard a departing U.S. cargo plane. These action scenes are expertly directed and animated (especially the air field scene), with Kitakubo and his animators seamlessly combining hand-drawn character animation with computer animation. The character designs in Blood: The Last Vampire also breaks from traditional Japanese animation; characters are designed for individuality, especially the male characters. Possibly, the distinctive character design may be ascribed to the freedom in depicting non-Japanese characters, specifically Americans. Some of those designs borders on racist caricature, however, especially in the case of the African-American characters.With these caveats in mind, "Blood: The Last Vampire" can be only recommended for anime and horror fans. Even then, anime and horror fans should keep their expectations low. As for the talented Kitakubo, his only subsequent credit has been on the short-lived animated OAV series (and cult favorite), "FLCL," and only as an animator. Hopefully, Kitakubo will return to feature-length animation in the near future (and with a better script).
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originally posted: 05/28/05 16:24:58