In The Year 2000: Blood: The Last Vampire

As the 1990s came crashing to an end, the Japanese animation industry was in a state of flux. OAVs and year-long TV series’ were on their way out in favor of shorter-episode runs and adult-targeted material playing on satellite TV. Anime fandom in the West was booming and Japanese companies were finally starting to take notice that people outside of Japan actually gave a shit about their cartoons.

Most importantly, the escalating use of computer graphics in anime throughout the 1990s had resulted in the inevitable: a feature film animated entirely on computer.

While 2000’s Blood: The Last Vampire might have ushered in the era of the computer-animated Japtoon, it’s still a completely wretched little film. Its importance as a pioneer could even be argued, as computerized anime production was less an innovation in 2000 as it was an inevitability. Furthermore, even calling it a “film” is a bit generous.

With a measly 45-minute running time and plot that’s little more than a concept pitch (penned by Mamoru Oshii) dragged out far too long, the real suckers here are the ones who got duped into believing this was going to be a proper film. A Japanese schoolgirl fighting vampires might be a decent starting point, but Blood never manages to add any real substance to this idea. The result is a sequence of scenes strung together without any real hook; just a girl with a katana chasing some monsters around Tokyo. While the idea isn’t particularly groundbreaking, there was still a lot that could have been done with it. Had it been animated by Madhouse in 1992 and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri it could have been a Colony Drop favorite.

But even as a pitch for a longer series, Blood fails to succeed. There isn’t much here to jump off from, it doesn’t raise any interesting questions viewers might want to follow up with and aside from some occasionally competent visuals, there’s nothing here worth coming back to. Even worse is the realization that it was produced by one of the best Japanese animation studios of the 1990s, Production I.G. With a history of films like Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell, at the time of its production, Blood was easily the most embarrassing project that they headed up.

Blood’s producers stated they had hoped it would turn into a multimedia franchise, although that never really materialized. 2005’s Blood+ TV series was less an actual followup and more a reinterpretation of the same idea. None of this is particularly surprising as the plot is little more than unoriginal B-movie fodder that honestly would have worked a lot better as a video game than an animated feature. In fact, for much of the film you’re left feeling like you’re watching a collection of video game cutscenes. It’s easy to imagine the most exciting parts being the actual game that you play; what you’re watching are the brief scenes bridging the gameplay segments together.

Admittedly, Japanese schoolgirls and vampires weren’t nearly as played out in 2000 as they are in 2010, but the idea still doesn’t come across as particularly fresh. It’s a gimmick that even the producers don’t really seem able to wring much entertainment out of. The most intriguing aspect of the entire production may be the setting for the second half, Yokota Air Base, just outside of Tokyo, in 1966. On the cusp of the Vietnam war, shortly after the 1964 Olympics in a quickly modernizing Tokyo, it wouldn’t be hard to write an interesting story around this location. Blood of course, doesn’t. More than anything it seems like an excuse to trot out some awkward English dialog while still technically taking place in Japan.

Regardless of its faults as a film, Blood was still the first anime feature entirely animated on computer. Combined with Production I.G.’s pedigree, the animation is the one aspect that doesn’t completely disappoint. Aside from a few awkward 3D segments, it’s mostly 2D animation and works well. The movement isn’t as fluid as bigger-budget Production I.G. features like Ghost in the Shell, but there’s a lot of detail. The most glaring problem may be the disconnect between the background and the foreground animation, creating sort of a “paper cut out” effect that, while annoying, doesn’t totally ruin things.

While Blood succeeds in creating a more impressive visual experience than the majority of digitally animated anime titles, everything about about the production is lacking. If nothing else, it stands out as a reminder that the line between digitally and traditionally animated titles is a thin one, and both are subject to the same production mistakes. If there was one of defining trait of the Japanese animation industry of the 2000s, it was the switch to digital animation. What should have been a way for studios to do more with the same budget turned into an excuse to cut corners as well as budgets.

But it doesn’t really matter how a film is animated, because a terrible film is still terrible, and Blood absolutely is.

17 Comments

  1. I don’t I ever watched the movie…only bits and pieces of it. But it can’t possibly be worse than the live action, right? I’m a big Jun Ji-hyun fan, but that movie (particularly the last third) was horrific…

  2. Blood: The Last Vampire is a permanent mainstay on the Anime’s Craziest Deaths schedule as a result of the screencap you have of that fat black guy. The closeup of his screaming face with the incredibly large lips to the point of racist caricature never fails to get a laugh.

    That it all goes down in Yokota Air Base circa Vietnam sort of trivializes the entire thing. If you think about it, these vampires aren’t going to kill nearly as many people as those bombers taking off in the background will.

  3. I happened to visit Production IG when they were working on Blood; I saw them work on the scene in the tram.

    It was all done on computers (pretty dingy looking macs if I remember correctly, but I might be mixing Blood up with Zoids which they were developing at the same time).

    I do remember there were painted backgrounds lying around, so not everything was done on the pc. 🙂

  4. I wrote an unfinished yet still tl;dr article about Blood: The Last Vampire talking about its context in the history of the Vietnam War, particularly Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder (for which Oshii named an alternate history novel). Some of this is obscured by simple poor translation in the original–the “Blake” base they talk about in the last line should have been “Pleiku.” I actually like the film for that very reason Daryl suggests–the ostensible vampire hunting drama is in fact trivialized, just random splotches of blood against the constant gears of the bombers landing, the bombers taxiing, the bombers taking off into the sunshine. Vampires, in fact, don’t exist, but in the light of day, the war still does.

    You hear some anime compared to Philip K. Dick, but Blood puts me more in mind of Harlan Ellison. You can bet Oshii, who was a student activist in 1966, knew where the Blood concept was coming from. Kamiyama, who was born that year, has insisted that it’s not a political film, which put me in mind of Roger DeBris in The Producers: “I never knew the Third Reich meant Germany…I mean this play is drenched with historical goodies like that!”

  5. Not the worst thing they ever made. They made the Panzer Dragoon OVA

  6. I think you guys are way too generous with the visual quality of this thing. I distinctly remember being completely underwhelmed with everything outside the tram scene. The action scenes played inexcusably choppy for what was supposed to be a 45-minute guns-blood-and-swords wowfest from the boys who brought us Ghost in the Shell. Indeed, the most intriguing part of the whole thing was the set-up and outside of the ending credits, they go nowhere with it.

  7. A horrid review from a piece of shit site that clearly doesn’t have good taste..by the way you wrote the word about twice in a row at the end of the review.

  8. The only good thing about Blood would be Conan O’Brian and Andy Richter dubbing one scene for the Tonight Show.

    8/10 on Michael’s comment.

  9. That it all goes down in Yokota Air Base circa Vietnam sort of trivializes the entire thing. If you think about it, these vampires aren’t going to kill nearly as many people as those bombers taking off in the background will.

    What’s that Judge Dredd line from the Cursed Earth story, where he found the last president of the United States being kept alive by robots who kept draining blood from local residents for use in transfusions… “The man who started a war that killed millions… he’s a monster who puts even COUNT DRACULA in the shade!”

    I never saw “Blood The Last Vampire” because of my long-standing policy of not seeing anything with the word “Vampire” in the title. So far it’s paid off magnificently.

  10. Interesting opinion on Blood, although I liked the clean yet detailed style of its animation and think that it still holds up halfwat decently today.
    While I realise that this was a review of the anime, more of an examination of the anime as one part of a media blitz would have been interesting. The anime came out along with two PS2 games (not to be confused with the two Blood+ PS2 games) along with a novel – these contained the prequel story to the anime as well as a sequel story about what followed it. I suppose my point is that the various plot elements were better realised across the 3 forms of media than was captured solely in the anime (much like the Halo novels contain the best story elements of the Halo universer imo).

  11. Yes, Gwyn, because what people love to hear when they say “this doesn’t make any sense on its own” is “you just have to read the tie-ins!”

    That’s a line of logic that only works on obsessives and smugger-than-thou “elitists” who want to feel like they know a secret everybody else doesn’t without actually paying the dues towards learning a damn thing.

  12. WOW I remember seeing this movie when I was a little kid on Showtime Beyond( they sued to play X(movie) all the time) and I remember thinking how amazing the animation was. Holy crap I cannot believe it was only 45 min long and reading all the comments here it turned out to be bad

    I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the animation was mind blowing but then again I am still pretty new to anime

  13. I’m a fan of the site and I hate for my first comment to be a correction, but Blood was not “animated entirely on computer.”
    It used digital ink and paints, in addition to comping 3D elements (such as backgrounds), but the animation itself is all hand drawn 2D. At the time it was a huge technological advancement for Production I.G. and served to calcify the digital technique that would become the backbone of all subsequent productions, from Innocence to Stand Alone Complex and Basara and beyond. So yes, Blood fails as a feature, but succeeds as a tech demo.

  14. I think I did a poor job explaining what I meant by ‘animated entirely on computer’ but thanks for the clarification.

    As an aside, your blog is great.

  15. Loved it back then, love it still today. It has its short-comings, but I’ll take it over that crappy TV series any day.

  16. I remember liking this when I saw it. I love the dark colour palette (something that seems to be missing from modern anime for some reason) and the setting was refreshing. And in hindsight it was refreshing to see a story about vampires without all the usual “sexy vampire” bullshit that’s been clogging the genera for decades now.

    Although Jesus Christ, those character designs are ugly. I did not remember it looking like that.

Submit a comment