Blood-C brings together heavyweight names in anime and manga. There’s the Blood franchise, in which a teen girl (well, she looks like one) regularly carves up monsters with her sword; there’s the female manga group CLAMP, creators of everything from Cardcaptor Sakura to xxxHOLIC; and then there’s the Production I.G. studio, home to Ghost in the Shell. The result is a controversial mix of extreme cuteness and extreme splat. (The BBFC rates the show ‘15’ but notes it “contains strong bloody fantasy violence and gore.”) Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to approach Blood-C purely on its own terms, without all the big-name baggage.
In the series, the heroine Saya lives in an idyllic country town backwater. She’s very cute (itself a shock to viewers who know the grim, hardcore warrior of the other Blood anime). She wears glasses and falls over so often she could have “MOE” tattooed on her face. She sports oversized pigtails like great black wings, and sings her way to school, where she excels at sports, is teased by her classmates and blushes at boys. Her home is a shrine, where she’s devoted to her priest dad (“My father is honest, kind and tough!”). Oh, and at night she fights monsters.
Very funky monsters they are too, often verging on brilliant, and showing the creative spirit of the sorely missed Ray Harryhausen. In the first three parts alone, we get a statue turning into a giant stone mantis, an ambulatory flower monster with a vagina detanta maw, and a train carriage which eats people. Saya battles them all with fearless aplomb, unfazed by her injuries, before reverting to a cutesy schoolgirl the next morning. But slowly the odds rise, as first townsfolk, then Saya’s own friends, start falling victim to the carnage. And then things get much, much worse…
Blood-C is a series which provokes strong reactions (and there are fans who loudly hate the series). It’s been accused of trolling and suckering viewers, of ramming vacuous extremes of cute and splatter together in the manner of the web cartoon Happy Tree Friends. It’s certainly an exercise in playing with form (but then so were Angel Beats, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Higurashi When They Cry). While the action always stays in Saya’s small town, the series ends up in a radically different place from where it starts.
But to say the show doesn’t play fair is, well, unfair. The hypercharged opening titles (deftly parodying magic girl shows, with blood flaking like blossom off Saya’s nude body) make clear the series won’t stay in its happy starting place. The early episodes demand patience, but the repetitive, inconsequential action, peppered with clues and punctuated by superlative fantasy battles, has a Groundhog Day magnetism that’s highly enjoyable if you’re willing to play the game.
Just what is going on with Saya’s happy town? Some fans see the series as a long build to a sick punchline (and certainly some of the gleefully gory excesses invite that reading). But it can also be seen as a purposefully contrived, extreme study of the nature of horror; the way blue skies and songbirds tip inevitably towards screams, hysteria (in all senses of the word) and blood, blood, blood.
Production I.G. reps have said Blood-C is not a sequel to either of the previous versions of Blood; the original 2000 cinema film Blood The Last Vampire, or the 2005 television series Blood+. Each anime is regarded by the studio as a new version with a new Saya, though an “essence” of the character remains from one incarnation to the next.
Blood-C was conceived when Production I.G. had just adapted xxxHOLIC, the popular manga by the CLAMP group, with which the studio had an excellent relationship. Production I.G.s president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa told this blog that the CLAMP Blood was made for female viewers. “Production I.G’s fanbase is overwhelmingly male… CLAMP has a mainly female fanbase, so obviously by combining their work with what I.G does, perhaps we would make something that would appeal more to female fans.”
Blood-C’s original design concepts were provided by CLAMP artist Mokona, while the story concept and composition were by fellow CLAMP member Nanase Ohkawa. She worked in collaboration with Junichi Fujisaku of Production I.G, a driving force behind the Blood franchise since it began. Blood-C was directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, who’d also helmed the film and TV xxxHOLIC.Without giving too much away, there may be other story links between the titles; consider the characters Saya meets in the story.
The TV show is full of harmonically-composed colour schemes and elongated girls-comic character designs. The backgrounds aren’t hyper-detailed, yet the compositions convey a strong place and mood (going back to an old Disney dictum that backgrounds a viewer doesn’t particularly notice are good backgrounds). The weight is on character animation, particularly in the battles. For all Saya’s superhuman prowess, the fights convey her desperate humanity; her last sword duel is stunningly brutal.
The series has a clear, terrible emotional arc that’s finished in the final episode. It’s not the end of the story, though, which continues in the feature film Blood-C: The Last Dark, to be released by Manga at a later date. Once again, Production I.G. wrongfoots viewers. The sequel is visually and tonally very different, with new staff and designs; yet it complements the series, and completes Saya’s journey, in ways that only register if you see the TV show first.
Blood-C the TV series, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
The creators of Blood: The Last Vampire and Blood+ team up with renowned manga powerhouse CLAMP to inject beauty into a chilling new addition to the Blood line. Horrifying beasts with a hunger for human flesh prey on the citizens of a quiet town. In moonlit twilight, Saya slays the monsters and returns home drenched in blood. As the attacks increase in frequency and intensity, her enemies relay cryptic messages about a broken contract. Limbs are torn from flesh and skulls are crushed and devoured while the huntress struggles with paralyzing visions and gaping holes in her memory. When the humans Saya promised to protect reveal the sickening truth about her role in the violence, she learns her mission isn't as clear cut as she thought-and her most sadistic foe of all is so close she can taste it.
In a great many ways, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Production I.G’s Oblivion Island tell the same story. A modern Japanese girl grows up listless and alienated, something plainly lacking in her spirit. Chance, or perhaps fate, draws the girl through a portal into a fantastic world, a shadow Japan inhabited by industrious creatures. Here, the girl learns that the waste and neglectfulness of her world has profound effects on the fantasy location. There are lost, damaged souls, which it is her duty to heal. But the world has a fearsome ruler who wants to enslave the girl, stealing her memories, her identity, even her name. Can the plucky heroine save both the world and herself?
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