So, alright, this isn’t a straight review. I watched episodes
of CLAMP and Production IG’s new joint Blood-C. When I finished the three episodes at the time of their airing, I went to Otaku USA (probably just hitting newsstands as you read this) with a pan: the show was a fluffball, a nothing. Every episode was the same! What was I even doing watching this? Today I finished Blood-C, sort of, and I’ve come here to write this. I can’t not write it. Nobody’s paying me this time, but I have four times as much to say. This won’t work, but I have to keep you from watching Blood-C.
Blood-C is another reboot of Production IG’s Blood vampire franchise, except this time full creative control has been handed to CLAMP, the veteran team behind big titles like Card Captor Sakura, X, Tsubasa, and too many others to list. The key phrase here is not one of those titles, but “full creative control”. Blood was completely handed over: I guess you could only make a show like Blood-C with a franchise that not too many people care about.
I don’t believe that anybody but CLAMP was behind this anime, because I don’t believe that much of this show would have made it past any editor. For better and worse– mostly worse– Production IG has made exactly the show that CLAMP asked for. Gen Urobuchi toned down his shtick for Madoka, and CLAMP has done the opposite for this show. We at Colony Drop often complain that anime creators don’t get to unleash their uncompromising vision on the screen anymore, but there was certainly nobody in CLAMP’s way on this one.
To be completely frank, it’s a wonder that Blood-C was aired on television at all. I assume that sponsors were only given the key words “vampires and CLAMP” and signed off on the deal right away. I assume that the contract read “no backsies”.
The first episodes of this show are, as I said, identically shaped fluffballs. The first half of each episode has secret vampire hunter (and half-vampire herself, as is the rule) Saya and her friends being adorable, while in the second half has Saya sent off to dispatch some monstrous threat (vampires come in many, very creative forms) by her father.
When the second episode was the same as the first, I got the feeling that something was up: that the routine the show was plodding us through was in fact very important and that it was preparing for a critical turnaround. When the third episode was the same as the second, I knew something was up, but I didn’t care anymore. Despite consistently delivering with the amazing fights stuffed into the last three minutes of every episode, the show had utterly failed as entertainment. I stopped watching about ten minutes in. Upon hearing from others that the fourth episode was the same as the third, I put Blood-C completely out of mind.
As the series ended, though, I was goaded by a friend into “finishing” the show. It’ll be easy, he said: just watch episodes six, nine, and twelve. That would do it. He was right, that was enough. I could have even skipped the sixth episode and called it enough. I could have skipped the ninth episode, even. By the final episode, I wanted to skip the final episode, but that was the kind of disaster one can’t look away from.
Episode six is when the show starts killing off the main cast and telling the viewer directly that everything they’ve seen is a lie. That’s not much of a surprise, of course, but at least the show started to move at all. The first to drop are the twins, who have been purposely one-note characters up until this point.
IG provides stunning battles every episode between Saya and the vampires. The animators are absolutely on their A game here– Yasuomi Umetsu is a beast on the opening sequence– and from what I saw it doesn’t slip. When the vampires turn their attention to helpless bystanders, though, the killings go from a vicious fight between closely matched opponents to simple slaughter.
A normal human body, after all, can’t stand up to a lot of paranormal damage before it tears up. People are gutted, torn apart, eaten onscreen. This is where the censor bars start to come in. It’s one thing for it to rain blood after Saya tears apart a monster, but the destruction of the human body in Blood-C is simply too much for broadcast television.
By TV anime standards, the censored Blood-C is still very violent, but the show wants more than that. It’s on more of a Shigurui level. The censors often cover over half the screen with “sylistic” bursts of white and black that block out all the flying entrails and lingering shots of human remains that the show wants to focus on. A few scenes employ mosaics that cover nearly the whole screen.
A video release will eventually put all the guts back in: having only just finished on TV as I write this, Blood-C has not yet arrived at its most disgusting form.
In the ninth episode, the vampires step it up and massacre Saya’s entire high school class in front of her. This sequence plays out like a slasher movie, with Saya mostly ineffective as a frog monster impales, chews up, and has its bloody way with the students.
The violence is more brutal here than before, as while these people are mostly nameless extras, they are closer to Saya and the show wants to salt the wound by crushing them slowly, letting them scream. It’s still hard to care much at this point, though, because everybody is so comically bad at running away from a giant frog monster. Some of the students just magically pop up from under him and die there.
At this point I was merely surprised by Blood-C. I thought that if the show hadn’t taken its sweet time and come out with the extreme violence a week or two early, it would have been a huge hit in the West with the fans who ate up shock-value crap like Elfen Lied. But Blood-C is an absolutely uncompromising work. It isn’t this gory and cruel as some ploy to get viewers: Blood-C is like this because that’s what’s in it’s heart.
If I’d known what the final episode was going to be like, I would have just packed it up and quit right there. I still wasn’t ready, though. I didn’t think this show would top itself, and I was wrong. The final episode of Blood-C is one of the most incredibly nonsensical, absurd, and outright distasteful half-hours anime has ever put me through. It was fascinating in its repugnance.
At the first moment, the villain– as was made clear from the very first episode, he was the obviously sinister man at the cafe who poured Saya’s coffee and made her favorite candy– reunites Saya with the classmates we saw slaughtered onscreen. He then tells her that her entire life (this entire show that you’ve wasted six hours on, dear viewer) up until this moment was a fiction. The entire cast of this show, excepting Saya and the villain, were hired actors playing parts that yes, included magic death-faking with talismans.
Let’s think about the magnitude of this plot twist. Blood-C spent an extravagant amount of time setting up its world and characters at an excruciatingly slow pace that turned most of the show’s large potential audience away in the first month or so of its run. Anybody who stuck with Blood-C was implicitly asked to really give a damn about it, and of course CLAMP seizes this naive trust by the legs and pulls like it’s trying to split a wishbone.
A while back, we were talking about anime TV series’ unfortunate tendency to disappoint with final chapters so bad that they ruin the rest of the show retroactively (see Eden of the East). Blood-C has that kind of ending, but with the specific intent of ruining everything in retrospect. It’s an incredibly evil plan foiled only by the fact that nobody in Japan or the West actually watched this show for long enough to find out.
When the trick is revealed, the actors all drop character and reveal in passing that while they appeared to be one-dimensional anime archetypes, they’re actually one-dimensionally cynical, stupid, and awful human beings. The show takes intense glee in what it’s about to do to these people.
Immediately after pulling out this “are you fucking kidding me” twist in the first thirty seconds of its finale, the show dares to top itself. It launches into 25 minutes of progressively more ridiculous plot revelations about Saya’s past and true nature that amount to “the villain set all of this up just to see what would happen.” All of this takes place amidst the slow, brutal murder (all over again!) of every single named cast member, including Saya’s father, who of course wasn’t Saya’s father at all but another half-vampire. The nice young man (one of two) who’s harbored a crush on Saya all series is machine-gunned down by soldiers as he confesses to her that really, despite the act, he truly did come to love her—bangbangbangbang.
Unsatisfied with the volume of this sacrifice, the show proceeds to unleash vampires upon the entire town Saya lives in, destroying and devouring every innocent citizen slowly, in crushing detail. These last ten minutes or so are the point at which the extent of the violence begins to feel uncomfortable: these scenes are completely gratuitous, more pointlessly cruel than ever, and absolutely interminable. A scene involving a blender the size of a building crosses the line into Go Nagai territory– yes, CLAMP were probably thinking of Violence Jack for this whole sequence– and delivers the only laugh in the entire joyless finale. The screams, howls, and moans of of the dying persist through a conversation as the villain escapes in his car, chuckling as he denies this story an ending.
Ultimately, the score between Saya and the villain is left unsettled, as there’s to be a movie in June of 2012. I have no idea who would go and pay money to see Blood-C in a theater after a series that regarded the audience with such contempt.
Though it’s phenomenally unsatisfying, we can’t actually call this ending a cop-out. This is not a case where the writers pulled it all out of their asses. The entire show telegraphs that something is wrong while not giving away the real secret: a secret so phenomenally dumb that a viewer might guess it as a joke, a move so stupid and so unkind to the viewer that they’d never possibly go for it. If the intent was to make a show that would reel in anime fans gently, only to shock and disappoint in grand style– and I believe they did– CLAMP did precisely what they wanted to do here. That’s the really creepy part about Blood-C.
Blood-C’s C-word is actually “Cruel”. In every moment of this final episode, CLAMP is taking particular care not just to degrade and tear apart the characters (they weren’t likable, but I hope you didn’t like any of them) in the cruelest way possible, but also the viewer. In every spot that CLAMP can twist the knife, they go for it. The extent to which this show is committed to destroying everything a viewer might have enjoyed about it is– and as a guy who eagerly watches Kamen Rider every week I can’t believe I’m criticizing anime with these words– absolutely juvenile.
Read the following paragraph in the voice of a petulant teenager. Or maybe Nyanners.
It was all fake. They were all actors. The actors were assholes, too. They’re all dead now. Here’s a bunch of unrelated people being tortured and torn apart and eaten. No, we’re not resolving anything. Saya’s adoptive dad was really a vampire Thundercat, so she has to kill him, but he really did love her. Let’s kill everything else in the town slowly. The actor who had a crush on Saya confesses to her immediately before he’s torn apart by gunfire. The villain shoots Saya point-blank in the face. The coffee was drugged. The candy was made to taste like human organs. That’s why she could never put her finger on why she liked it so much.
By the final blow– the bit about the candy, one of the last things said in the show– one starts to feel exhausted at having been insulted so many times. It’s like the show is scolding the viewer who actually enjoyed the terrible beginning episodes enough to stick with it. Again, I don’t know who would go pay money to watch a sequel movie to a finale this ridiculous. Don’t movie tickets cost $20 in Japan? Couldn’t I just eat for a couple days on that instead? Couldn’t I at least just put down enough juice-box whiskey to forget Blood-C?
There’s a tangible misanthropy running through Blood-C: after the final massacre scene, I dare speculate that the whole show the product of a mind that truly hates people and simply wants to see them suffer. Watching Blood-C is the fictional equivalent of hearing on the news that the victim was stabbed 87 times, and wondering to yourself how a human being could bring themselves to that terrible excess.
I’m really glad I came to this show with a mixture of detachment and disdain from the first three episodes (and from being Colony Drop). I can’t imagine how some new, young anime fan would take it if they happened to come upon it on Niconico or some such and fell for the characters. (Though such viewers are in the minority in Niconico comments, the anguished, enraged, and dumbfounded comments throughout the final episode say that such a viewer would be very upset.) Maybe they’d give up on anime altogether. Maybe that was the idea. Leave while you can, kids. You wouldn’t want to grow up and turn into CLAMP one day.
Spoiler Warning: this article spoiled the entirety of Blood-C and I moved the spoiler warning to the end, because I didn’t want you to feel like you needed to watch this fucking awful show. Please only watch Blood-C– and only then the final episode, even the show doesn’t think you’ve missed anything– as a historical footnote.