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.