With a blend of supernatural lore and grotesque, blood-drenched visuals, 'Blood: The Last Vampire' throws viewers right into the mix of things with hardly any exposition. The title alone pretty much provides the core idea necessary in following the plot. And it's an anime film not adapted from a popular manga, as is often the case with the genre. The story goes straight for the jugular as it were and pits us in the midst an on-going battle between the last human-like vampire and the strange monstrosities that feed on human blood. Arguably a choppy start, but once it gains proper footing, it turns into an enjoyable and somewhat stirring little movie full of blood-spraying, death-dealing animated horror.
A seemingly young but pale girl named Saya sits alone on a subway train during a late-night ride. Suddenly, she lunges with her katana at an unsuspecting man a few seats down. The poor guy has no choice but to run and scream as the girl fiercely slices him in half. Afterwards, two men in suits show up, and one of them complains about the body looking human while the other suit named David talks to the girl about her next assignment. As Saya walks away from the violent crime scene, David mutters she is the last of her kind. Soon, it becomes clear she's a hunter of demonic bat-like creatures, and her new mission is to unearth the monsters that have infiltrated a high school on an American Air Base.
Set in 1966, the plot of vampires running amok in post-World War II Japan makes for good entertainment where it's possible to muster some political undertones similarly to that of the Godzilla films. But with so much of the background story not even worth highlighting, it's difficult to figure out if any of those undertones are deliberate. A great deal of 'Blood' seems like a work in progress as if this were one episode -- or some random thought -- to a bigger piece yet to be seen. Granted, the shroud of mystery surrounding Saya's and her fiendish foes' origins is intriguing. But in the end, the movie feels slightly underdeveloped and in desperate search for a conclusive ending.
What keeps attracting fans of the genre to 'Blood: The Last Vampire' is ultimately the artwork, a style that is both unique and somewhat familiar. The film's director Hiroyuki Kitakubo made the bold choice of not only recording voice characters primarily in English but also using videogame designers to work on the animation. Doing away with purely traditional methods and style of hand-drawn cels, the film was made mostly in digital animation. The anime horror movie features an attractive, antiquated visual design which funnily shows more depth in the picture than in the story. Action sequences and violent gore are not only impressive but also strangely beautiful in their embellishment and excess.
In the end, 'Blood: The Last Vampire' is an entertainingly stylish anime with an original plot despite some drawbacks. It would be nice to see a series of films which expand on Saya's background and a history of her quest to kill the bat-like monsters - that is, without having to read the manga and light novels which followed. This feels too much like a first installment, the beginning of a larger piece, and we're just waiting for Saya's next assignment.
'Blood' arrives to Blu-ray with a very pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1) which really highlights the movie's intentional misty, even somewhat dreamy, appearance. Although it doesn't look as sharp as I would prefer, the animation work is quite attractive and still maintains good visibility and resolution from beginning to end. Contrast is noticeably toned down and downcast, but whites are generally clean and crisp. Blacks are deeply rendered and inky though the image is mostly flat throughout. The palette is also restrained to some extent, but colors appear accurate and the other hues give the picture an appealing antiquated look. Fine lines are resolute and clearly defined. Only thing holding the transfer back is some visible posterization, especially towards the end during the runway sequence. Aside from that, this short anime flick looks pretty good on high-def video.
'Blood: The Last Vampire' also arrives with a very enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. However, I must admit the mix is often ear-piercingly annoying and obnoxious, and I found myself fumbling for the remote during several actions scenes. But in spite of this sometimes disturbing loudness, the lossless track is satisfyingly active, with good movement in the channels and decent envelopment. Discrete effects are used every so often to enhance the soundfield, but they're easily localized and feel a bit forced. Dialogue is mostly clear and intelligible although the ADR is not entirely perfect, which is really more of a personal nitpick. While highs can be a little shrill and wince-inducing, dynamic range sustains an agreeable balance and doesn't waver. Overall, the animated vampire movie doesn't sound all that bad on hi-rez audio.
Anchor Bay brings 'Blood: The Last Vampire' to Blu-ray with a greatly disappointing and rather dull set of bonus features.
'Blood: The Last Vampire' is a visually enchanting anime film which could benefit from a bit more work in the writing department. Done mostly in the digital realm, the movie features an aesthetic that is both haunting and attractive but feels too much like the first installment of an incomplete series. This Blu-ray edition really showcases the filmmaker's design and effort, but also comes with a distracting artifact. And while the audio fares much better than the video, the special features are very disappointing. It's a fun, short ride, but most will want to give it a rent before deciding on a final purchase.