At just over 40 minutes, Blood: The Last Vampire was originally conceived as a one-off “pilot” to show off a new style of digital animation to both the Japanese and Western markets (which goes a long way toward explaining why the film has only one audio track that has Japanese characters speaking in Japanese and English characters speaking English and then English and Japanese characters interacting in English....whew! Okay!). What began as an apparent demonstration, however, developed into something of a hit for production company I.G., and went on to inspire a fifty episode anime series (Blood +), manga adaptations, and a major motion picture of the same name.
Set in the late 1960’s, Blood introduces us to Saya, the last of the true Vampyre's who, in this version of the mythology, are noble warriors who can walk in the sunlight, don't slaughter the innocent, and wield a mean katana. Saya works for a shadow government (aren't they all?) that specializes in the hunting and killing of demonic creature. When said beasties are said to have infiltrated a US airbase in Japan, Saya must pose as a student at the base's school, where she soon encounters her a shape shifting demon that assumes the identities of those it feeds upon, but it's not long before the enemy reveals that it is not alone.
I’ve always liked Blood: The Last Vampire, as it reminded me of a mash-up of Vampire Hunter D and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s not without its faults. It’s a somewhat sophisticated horror anime that retains the genre's penchant for over the top action and violence, but with the spirit of fun and humor of a western style teen horror flick. Still, it can be a bit moody and rather plodding, and, even at 40 minutes, it seems to drag at times. Too much time being spent showing off rendered objects and landscapes and atmosphere. I realize that this may have been the whole point of the "pitch", but I would have appreciated a softer sell and more traditional action.
Still, one can’t deny that the digital animation techniques look dynamite. In many scenes objects and backgrounds look so real that you forget you're watching a cartoon. This, however, is also where much of the film's faults lie. While a brick wall or a subway car may be rendered to appear as three dimensional as their real-world counterparts, the characters are still hand drawn (albeit terrifically) figures who clash with their surroundings to an almost distracting degree. It's like being immersed in a virtual world, yet having someone constantly remind you that you what you are experiencing isn't real, thus negating the experience. It's still a visual treat, but, as we’ve seen in the years since Blood’s release, the process has become much more seamless (even though it’s more often paired with rubbish CGI than traditional cel animation these days).
Manga Video presents Blood: The Last Vampire on Blu-ray with a very impressive 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The image is very sharp and defined, with exceptional levels of detail (especially prevalent in the film’s elaborate backgrounds). Colors are vibrant and warm with no hint of bleed or oversaturation, and blacks are deep and true throughout, although I did notice a few instances of banding (translucent vertical lines) in some of the darker sequences. It’s nothing too distracting, but I figured it best to point them out.
The 5.1 DTS MA HD audio track is outstanding, offering a robust aural experience throughout. Pulverizing bass is evident from the opening sequence, while the chiming highs of clashing swords and deeply percussive wallop of gunfire fill the soundfield. The surround mix offers a fully immersive experience, with wonderfully ambient directional effects, while the crisp and clear dialogue is mixed front and center.
Extras are limited to a behind-the-scenes documentary and the film’s trailer, both presented in standard definition. Making of 'Blood: The Last Vampire' is a Japanese language (with English subs) feature that explores the film’s inception, development, and ultimate release. It was truly a LONG labor of love, and the creators deserve kudos for their effort.
All in all, Blood is a solid piece of anime that I’ve revisited several times on DVD. The film looks looks and sounds absolutely incredible on Blu, but I can’t imagine any but the most devoted of fans shelling out the full retail price of this BD ($29.95), as Blood’s short running time and lack of any new extras makes said price seem a bit exorbitant. Still, if you can find this one on the cheap, by all means pick it up as it’s an entertaining visual powerhouse, and one you’ll probably go to repeatedly to show off the strengths of your system.