By day, Saya is a clumsy schoolgirl who loves her father, classmates, and a clear summer day, even breaking out into song about how much she loves her life while walking to school. But by night, she is the rural town's protector, a miko armed with a holy sword to slay the Ancient Ones that stalk the night, looking for human prey.
Blood-C is a chimera. It isn't really a horror series, but it's probably the closest we've come to a competent horror series in years. It's also a very competent action series, with terrific fight animation. It's also a bit of a school comedy, which is just painful to watch, but then it becomes a disaster series as its entire rural town goes mad. Somewhere along the way it became a meta-commentary on the state of anime writing, and it ends with the promise of a revenge epic with conspiratorial overtones. Don't let the rating fool you- this isn't a series with much of a middle ground, as it either does some of these aspects with competence, or tests your patience with drivel. Either way, I can't help but kinda-like it as a strange and ambitious beast.
Blood has never been a horror property. Horror is about atmosphere, suspense, and the monsters you imagine are coming and feel powerless to stop. Once you actually show the monsters, and especially once you show how to kill them, it ceases to be horror and becomes an action series. Blood-C understands its horror aspect, though, better than any of its other incarnations, with long, suspenseful pauses before the monsters appear, like the receding tide before a tsunami. Then what follows is some satisfying violence, as Saya pits herself against weird man-eaters. Gone are the boring pseudo-vampires of its predecessors, replaced with yokai-inspired nightmare fuel. Saya is an agile fighter, instantly shedding her bumbling schoolgirl persona; becoming as we knew her in the OVA: a quick, smart, and merciless hunteress. Everything moves and bleeds spectacularly in these fights, with the visceral action that made Blood: the Last Vampire famous. They are the best aspects of Blood-C, but it's only half of its opening episodes' story.
But the other half is so dumb it threatens to overwhelm each episode: the characters. Saya spends the other half of Blood-C's early episodes doing familiar school antics: eating lunch, snoozing in class, being the object of her classmate's admiration. All of her classmates are not just CLAMP character designs, but thin, stale reflections of character types CLAMP popularized, from the bubbly school girls to brooding, handsome outsiders. And this half is downright painful to watch. It's like taping a small fairy to your ear who incessantly says nothing but, "I'm small and cute and funny," in a pipsqueak voice for ten minutes, since this essentially summarizes every line of dialogue they utter. The characters can't say or do anything that doesn't repeatedly recall that Database From Hell where the worst anime stereotypes are stored. It's almost a parody of CLAMP- they've easily made much better characters than this. But those patient enough to sit through these scenes are rewarded with that much better half. This is essentially the formula Blood-C follows, with every event interchangeable with another that happened earlier. It tempts you into thinking nothing can or will change, but it's clear that there's something else going on.
And then things...change.
It's not a spoiler to say Ruralsville, JP is a facade; the trendy coffee shop, the school, and even the monsters Saya fights are, in reality, something else. The setting is so blissfully idyllic that horror tradition dictates it must hide ugliness. And oh sweet skewered shishkabob balls does it deliver. The ending radically upturns everything, making even the smallest detail of the earlier episodes take on a different meaning. But what distinguishes it from many similar horror last-act twists is that the whole premise is based on a sick joke at the audience's expense. Did you care about any of these characters? Then you were a fool, and doubly so to buy into any of Blood-C's absurd premise, from the fetish-tastic school uniforms to the way any character looks or acts. It knows that these characters are thin parodies of past CLAMP designs, and laughs at anyone who takes them seriously. In a way, that kind of contempt is almost refreshing. It's nice to know when creators share your irk over seeing thin characters and bad writing. But the whole idea is predicated on bad faith- it would have been better to simply write good characters, than to create lazy ones and mock them. A movie is essentially a pact between creator and audience; we're willing to let the creator say and do silly things in exchange for an evening's entertainment, and will overlook a lot without really thinking about it. Blood-C arrogantly skewers that pact.
Couple that absurdity with violence so extreme that it becomes misanthropic. Characters are gleefully, sadistically killed. The last episodes feature scenes that make me sick remembering it as villains and innocent bystanders alike are run through the meatgrinder. The series constantly tries to one-up itself with grislier endings that may be censored, but pointlessly- it's clear how every victim meets their end and hard to think about. And the worse bit is that this provocation seems pointless beyond just raising the stakes. This is what undoes the joke- if the violence was toned down considerably, this may be a different review.
And yet, and yet...The "ending" isn't truly the end, and in roughly a year's time, Japan will get a Blood-C movie that should resolve all the cliffhangers from the series. And despite my anger at how the series ended, I can't help but look forward to seeing that movie. I want to see Saya exact her revenge. I want to find out about the little mysteries the series left unresolved. The villains in this series are compelling and hiss-worthy, and I want to see some bloody justice brought down on them. Isn't this the sign of a successful series? Part of me suspects that Blood-C's condescending attitude is unintentional, and it was merely intended as a meta-commentary on the stale state of anime's storytelling. I'm inclined to forgive them, largely because I'm just as tired of the stereotypes it (literally) skewers, and hope for the best.
I can't guarantee you'll like Blood-C , no matter what your feelings are about horror, violence, anime or CLAMP. So much rides on that ending and the patience to get there, and if you don't have strong feelings about its ending, then you weren't paying attention. Despite the rating, I can't recommend this in good conscious- it would require a very specific person to like Blood-C and overlook its faults. Someone with a liking for excessive violence in cartoons. Someone who appreciates ambition despite screwy execution. Someone so patient as to be indulgent. I might fit this description, but I can't think of anyone else who could. Blood-C is not the cookie-cutter series it seems to be, but it may too rebellious for anyone but the oddest misfits to love. Whether you think that's a virtue or not essentially decides whether this is worth spending your time and money on.
Not so much a recommendation as a reflection of very mixed feelings — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Mature audiences only. Extreme violence and nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming video on nico-nico
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Blood-C © 2011 Aniplex / Production IG / Mainichi Broadcasting
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