Let’s see… a beautiful yet mysterious girl in a Japanese school outfit wielding a samurai sword and sent to hunt dangerous vampire-like creatures. Yep, we are most definitely within the realms of anime. On it’s surface, it seems like nothing more than a fan service setup, a la Devil Hunter Yohko (where the main selling point is the titular character’s frequent loss of clothing). But in reality, Blood: The Last Vampire is a visually stunning, haunting animation whose only real weakness is that, well, it doesn’t really have much of plot.
The movie (for lack of a better term; it’s only 48 minutes long) is set during the Vietnam War, on an American Air Force base located in Japan. Saya, the girl with the sword, has been sent by a mysterious organization to hunt down a group of chiropterans, vampire-like creatures that have disguised themselves to fit in with the humans. Saya enrolls in the base school, using that as a cover for her mission.
Of course, all is bound to go to hell sooner or later. Things get even more complicated when the school nurse starts following Saya, suspicious of the new girl. When Saya attacks and kills one the students in the infirmary, the nurse finds herself caught between the girl and the demons she fights.
Blood stands apart from much of the anime out there due to the style in which its done, combining traditional cel animation with computer renderings and 3D animation. The result is almost breathtaking at times, seamlessly combining the rich colors and detail of cel animation with the realism of CGI. There’s a very distinctive look to Blood, one that isn’t found in most animation. There are times when the film has a very subdued, almost noir-ish look, only to explode into extremely bloody, fiery battles. Combined with an equally effective score and creepy sound effects, Blood literally oozes with style, moreso than any anime I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, I’d say it’s the next logical step in anime, following in the footsteps of Akira and Ghost In The Shell.
What keeps Blood from being truly great is that, simply put, there’s very little story to be had. A great deal of what occurs in the film is shrouded in mystery. Saya’s origins are only briefly hinted at, though we never find out why she’s the “last original,” nor do we find out anything about the organization she works for. She seems to hate humans as much as chiropterans, but we’re never told why. And the last we see of Saya, there are hints of another side to her, one that almost sympathizes with the monsters she so brutally kills. Speaking of which, what of the chiropterans? They’re ugly, they can change shape, and they like blood… and I suppose that’s enough. But with everything else being so mysterious, an explanation that simple seems like a copout.
At only 48 minutes in length, there’s bound to be a lot missing from Blood when it comes to plot and characters. All of the focus is on the film’s style and technical achievements, and to that end, it dazzles the viewer. But when it ends, one wonders why half of the movie was left on the editing room floor. As it stands, Blood feels like a rough draft, an attempt to pitch the idea to the studio bigwigs. It’s a concept — a very intriguing, visually stunning concept — but nothing more.