Screen & Page: Honor The Covenant With ‘Blood-C’ [Fantasy Week]
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and sell it overseas. But what about the anime shows or films that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That’s what Screen & Page aims to explore.
It's Fantasy Week here at ComicsAlliance, and it's also one week until Halloween, so what better way to celebrate both than with a look at an anime and manga about a young shrine maiden waging a war on monsters. This is Blood-C, a spinoff of a spinoff of a movie that got its own movie!
OK, bear with me. This gets complicated.
Back in 2000, wanting to do an original project instead of adapting a franchise, Production I.G. president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa approached Mamoru Oshii, famed director of Ghost In The Shell, then running a series of lectures on creating original stories, and asked him to have his students submit ideas. The result was the 45-minute film Blood: The Last Vampire, a huge hit at festivals and in Japan and the US. Hailed as setting a new standard for blending 2-D and CGI animation, the film launched its own franchise.
In 2005, I.G. partnered with Sony to create Blood+, a 50-episode anime that was an alternate retelling of the movie. That became a big hit in its own right --- airing in the US on Adult Swim --- and spawned its own mini-franchise. Wanting to test the concept further, in 2011, I.G. approached manga artist Nanase Ohkawa, one of the original members of the legendary, long-running, all-female artist collective CLAMP.
Thus, Blood-C, a 12-episode anime that aired late at night in Japan in 2011 (that detail becomes important in a sec). Written by Ohkawa and Junichi Fujisaku --- who worked on the franchise going back to the original Last Vampire film --- from a story by CLAMP, directed by Fujisaku and Tsutomu Mizushima, and animated by Production I.G., it's an extremely bloody, psychological horror exercise that, depending on your patience, is either compellingly creepy or tediously drawn out.
Saya Kisaragi, living on the rural island of Ukishima, is a typical 16-year old schoolgirl. Klutzy, kind-hearted and devoted to her friends and father, she doesn't seem to have much concern beyond performing her duties as a shrine maiden at the Shinto temple her father runs, and managing her spectacularly elaborate hair.
But Saya --- sharing a name and similar history with the other Blood franchise leads --- has a secret only her dad knows. She's sworn to protect the island from vicious monsters called, in Funimation's English dub, Elder Bairns. Facing down a variety of foes --- from a living statue to a train car whose inside is a tentacle monster --- Saya dispatches them all with her sacred katana and impressive abilities, quadrupled when her eyes become red, catlike slits.
But one night, an Elder Bairn suddenly speaks as it dies, telling Saya to "honor the covenant." Confused by that phrase, and suffering fainting spells and a persistent ringing in her head, Saya slowly realizes that something's wrong, culminating in a huge revelation that blows her world apart
At twelve episodes, there's only two ways Blood-C can tell its story. Eithe it shows its Big Reveal early and explores the fallout, or it drags out the mystery for maximum tension and a brutal finale. Ohkawa and crew chose the latter option, which unfortunately has more negatives than positives.
For starters, the first three episodes contrast Saya's idyllic days and her bloody nights. That's fine, but gets a little tedious when repeated back-to-back. It doesn't help that I.G.'s animation is very weak in these early episodes with character designer Kazuchika Kise visibly struggling to incorporate the very long, thin limbs and unique hairstyles that is CLAMP's stock in trade.
Things improve as the animation picks up and new plot threads --- like a mysterious dog, and Saya growing close to class bad boy Tokizane --- add momentum. But what drags the show down is also its biggest draws to an average late-night anime viewer: excessive violence and nudity.
Airing late at night means fewer censorship restrictions and, this being a show built around monster battles, that means we get them at their bloodiest and craziest. People get impaled, swallowed and mutilated. Limbs get pulled off. Saya's downed enemies don't just squirt fountains of blood from missing arms --- a martial arts staple --- they explode into puddles of blood and limbs and viscera.
As for the nudity... while it's not as omnipresent as in something like Kill la Kill, its inclusion is meaningless There's a dramatic scene while Saya is bathing that could've come anywhere else. It feels like unnecessary pandering to the male otaku audience.
Blood-C hits its huge end twists very well, and there are a lot of smartly hit emotional beats and appealing characters. I liked the gag of Saya being that so naive she can't notice her friend Itsuki has a crush on her even when he mentions it right in front of her. But to get to the good stuff, you've got to sit through alternately horrifying or boring violence.
Not so the 2012 film Blood-C: The Last Dark, which wraps up the series' plot threads while being, on balance, better. Written by Ohkawa and directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani with I.G. animating, the film picks up six months after the end of the series. Saya is now a grim, revenge-harboring warrior, a shift her voice actress Alexis Tipton handles so brilliantly that I thought she'd been replaced by someone else. Saya winds up in Tokyo and falls in with hacktivist group SIRRUT, which is trying to abolish Internet restrictions and the curfew-mandating Youth Ordinance Bill, while exposing the clandestine organization known as The Tower.
With more money and resources to hand, I.G. turns in more fluid animation that incorporates CLAMP's work better, along with vastly improved lighting, staging, and fight choreography. Ohkawa's script, meanwhile, divulges rather than hides.
That said, there are some twists. While the mystery of the series is fairly easy to guess, the reveals at the end of the movie are legitimately shocking. On top of that, the new characters in SIRRUT are actually better drawn-out and more rounded than you usually see in film spin-offs of anime. A particular standout is Mana, whose sunniness balances a newly dour Saya, while also giving her someone to relate to.
While The Last Dark is a very good film in its own right, it really can't be fully contextually appreciated without the frustrating but enjoyable show that spawned it. That feels like cheating. Still, for those who want their horror anime full of blood, guts, and creepiness, this is a good, short anime to delve into. Just expect the ending to outdo the beginning.
Beginning its run in the monthly magazine Shonen Ace the same month the anime was announced, the Blood-C manga is written and drawn by Ranmaru Kotone (also behind the manga version of Mamoru Hosoda's film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), based on CLAMP and I.G.'s concept and scripts. Sticking very close to the finished show/film, Kotone has more restrictions on her, which, as happens sometimes, forces her to get more creative.
With bigger monthly chapters and presumably stricter content guidelines, Kotone plays down the gratuitous violence and instead alludes to it. Saya either blacks out with rage as the fight begins, and only the aftermath is seen, or the full fight is shown later with only the key bits drawn. It's an effective method, if at times confusing, that cuts out a lot of the show's repetitiveness.
Really, my biggest problem was something Kotone had no control over. The English translation of the manga, published by Dark Horse Comics as opposed to Funimaton (which don't publish manga), sees a lot of alternate terms used. The biggest throw is that the monsters Saya fights are now called "Ancient Ones" instead of "Elder Bairns." Closer to the original Japanese phrase, I'm sure, but Elder Bairns is just way more intriguing. That and other little translation decisions threw me for a bit here and there.
But on the whole, by admirably replicating the anime's highs with more speed and avoiding its lows, Kotone turns in a fine page-turner you can blaze through in an evening. My advice? Read the manga, then watch The Last Dark, and only watch the original Blood-C series if you can handle a whole lot of annoyances along with a whole lot of awesome.
Blood-C is streaming on Funimation and Hulu and is available on digital, DVD & Blu-Ray. Blood-C: The Last Dark is available on digital, DVD & Blu-Ray. The Blood-C manga is available on Kindle, Comixology & Dark Horse Digital and in print from Dark Horse Comics and your local library.