Blood: The Last Vampire
Reviewed by Jason Henderson, Fri., Nov. 9, 2001
Blood: The Last VampireD: Hiroyuki Kitakubo.
A few years ago Production IG Studios released Ghost in the Shell, a movie that gave us most of the breathtaking imagery that would be co-opted by the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix. But despite the jaw-dropping action sequences, at its heart lay the soul-searching of Major Kusanagi, its morose heroine. Now, IG returns with the first fully digital animated picture from Japan, Blood: The Last Vampire, which has already been released on DVD but is currently receiving a limited theatrical run throughout the U.S. Perfecting many of the moody techniques launched by Ghost in the Shell, Blood: The Last Vampire eschews the photo-realistic possibilities of movies like Toy Story and instead opts to stretch the possibilities of traditional anime. Blood's effectiveness lies in the fact that its characters and world look like hand-painted 2D animation, except that they can't possibly be -- the lighting is too good. Digital übermensch James Cameron has called this work, which even at its strangely less-than-one-hour length won the Best Theatrical Feature Film award at the 2001 World Animation Celebration, "the standard of top quality digital animation." At the film's core is a character who comes off like a cross between TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ogami, the royal executioner from the famous Japanese "Lone Wolf and Cub" series. Like Buffy, Saya is adorable in pigtails and schoolgirl getup, but she's a stone-cold killer. Of no apparent age or nationality, the sardonic Saya is sent by her American handlers to infiltrate an Army high school on a U.S. base in Japan. Nasty winged demons posing as high schoolers are making mincemeat of the locals, and it's left to the mysterious Saya and her athletic sword work to settle the base's problems without too much fuss. This is all absurd, but in anime, the absurd is just a springboard: Blood: The Last Vampire is never jokey, instead wrapping its tale in astonishingly luscious textures and atmosphere. The film conjures a riveting, watercolor-like reflection of reality, capturing whole atmospheres we're not used to seeing in animation, like the dusty high contrast of the sun shining through windows at dusk or the bluish haze of an afternoon after a rain. This is action looking better than it deserves, with a new heroine we most certainly don't.