Having just watched the mediocre live-action adaptation, it was fortuitous that Manga Entertainment sent me the Blu-Ray release of the original anime film. Studio execs everywhere should sit down with both copies. It’s a good lesson in why standard Hollywood tactics are not necessarily the best means of translating anime to the silver screen.
First and foremost, the setting is consistent. We find Saya briefly attending the American High School on Yokota Air Force base in order to flush out a few blood-sucking demons. As the top demon-slaying agent of Red Shield, her samurai sword is the one thing capable of gutting these supernatural monsters.
Now, as the wellspring of the Blood franchise (manga, light novels, and the widely popular Blood+ anime series), this quick 48-minute film hinges upon the mystery of a sword-wielding girl in a sailor suit. Gloomy, bitchy, uncaring, and an unnatural ability to kill: Saya’s temperament is not unlike the carefully drawn streets of Japan after sundown. From the opening scene, in which she murders a man that may not even be a monster, Saya is special. Yet, we don’t know why. Her Red Shield handlers will certainly cross any line to protect her. And even during a festive Halloween party both Saya and Red Shield will cut down demons without uttering a word, and much to the dismay of unwitting American bystanders. More important, after rapidly exhibiting such demonic activity and bloodshed, the film ends as abruptly as it began.
Herein lies the rub. Blood The Last Vampire throws us, in medio res, into a world of demons and slayers. By only revealing the existence of a secret organization called Red Shield and a sword-wielding girl of uncertain importance, the lure is thus cast. Great action, a cantankerous protagonist, and plot structure whose fragmentary nature only illuminates its potential is a wonderful tease! This anime film gets it right. You want to see more. You want to know more about Saya.
Conversely, this is where the live-action adaptation screwed up. Basically you can wrap this up in two main points. First, instead of translating these cinematic attributes faithfully, the film was turned into a stereotypical buddy flick. The character Alice was conjured up out of thin air to give Saya’s character support and human depth. But that doesn’t work if Alice is a hollow figure herself, written in with no sense of character or depth. Next, the confrontation with Onigen, the mother of all demons, was thrown in to give the film a teleological goal, that sense of finality as the credits are about roll. I understand the effort, but giving Saya a friend and the film a logical end misses the point of the original anime feature. It’s supposed to have a cursed, lonely, uncertain, gloomy, and confused feel. The film was meant to be the first stroke of the brush, not an entire painting.
At any rate, the Blu-Ray release of Blood The Last Vampire anime is a big win. If not for the reasons mentioned above, then the 3-D quality of the artwork. At 1080p, and without any visual aids, Saya’s murderous cuts might just make you flinch.