Review: "Blood-C: The Complete Series" - A Superlative, Subversive Slaughter
Blood-C is what happens when you tell Tsutomu Mizushima, the director behind randomly violent, randomly strange, randomly funny, crosses the line twice comedies like Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-Chan and Magical Witch Punie-Chan to make an entry in the “Blood” horror franchise. Yes, much of what Blood-C turns out to be should also be credited to Jun’ichi Fujisaku (who wrote and directed the Blood+ anime which predated this), and Nanase Ohkawa of mangaka group CLAMP. Without Fujisaku’s eye for brutal action, or Ohkawa’s tendency towards dark, emotional scenes and mysterious yet enchanting villains, Blood-C wouldn’t be the same. But this goes doubly so for Mizushima’s involvement. Without him, Blood-C would not be Blood-C. Without his quirky yet nihilistic touch, the action that Fujisaku specializes in would lose much of its force (which is what happened in Blood+), and the emotional turmoil presented by one of CLAMP’s mangaka would fall limp. Tsutomu Mizushima is what makes Blood-C.
You can tell right away something’s off, intentionally so, in the opening minutes. The eerie opening narration seems to address you, the viewer, about an “experiment” that seems more sociological than anything else. Saya skips along and randomly trips and stumbles in a klutzy way very much unlike her other incarnations in Blood: The Last Vampire and Blood+, singing an exceptionally silly and random song about how “everything will be okay” to herself. There aren’t any people in the streets. No cars drive by. The stoplights turn red and green without purpose. Saya obediently obeys the rules of the road for pedestrians even though there isn’t any reason to. Her school seems sparsely populated, surrounded by generic kids with generic personalities and a teacher who can’t seem to care less for the class. Her whole life seems dictated by routine, from the way she she seemingly worships her father to her frequenting an oddly European-style cafe, Cafe Grimauve, that seems out of place in Japan and never seems to have any other customers besides Saya. That Fumito fellow also seems creepy right off the bat.
Then there are the monsters, which, of course, spray blood everywhere from being wounded or killed. They range from seemingly impossible-to-move stone statues to living train cars. And they get creepier. And creepier. They begin whispering cryptic things to Saya that drive home the message something is wrong. Saya gets headaches and visions that become clearer, and yet ever more mysterious. Her interactions with her classmates grow more generic and more contrived. Her father interacts with her so stiffly that it’s hard to believe Saya would get so devoted to him. Bystanders in episode 4 cry out as monsters (called “Elder Bairns”) assault them, “They told us it wasn’t going to be like this!” Even though she tells herself over and over that she will protect the villagers, Saya fails in her task every single time. Sometimes she even stands there and lets them get killed. Is she freezing up? Or is she merely lying to herself? Actions speak louder than words, and it is clear that Saya’s actions and her words do not match up.
It is like we are having a tapestry unravel itself for us, a tapestry that rips itself open in episode 6, with acts of startling violence that the show did not previously attempt to do. First is a surprise death of one of the major characters. The price of Saya’s hesitation is the blood of several people who are ripped apart by a shadow monster that also engulfs someone close to her. And it gets worse. Saya’s world begins to crumble down, like a stage set being gradually ripped apart and left to rot. The monsters become even more surreal than the shadow monster, crawling here, there, everywhere, attacking Saya one by one, breaking her down, and it becomes clear that despite verbal words saying the contrary, Saya is very much alone.
The next major battle in episodes 8 and 9 take the action and the brutal implementation of gore to a new level, with brilliantly animated and storyboarded battles making each slash, each death, each shocking display of violence, hit harder and harder, and in the most unexpected ways. Her “everything will be okay” song, her happy, positive song, becomes more desperate, more halting, and as she’s forgets and changes the words, it becomes sadder and edgier. She loses more and more connections, as her visions and headaches becomes worse and worse, and her memories depict a villain whose smarmy machinations know no bounds. We discover who the villain is, and Saya must know who the villain is because it becomes so vividly clear, but she won’t believe it. She can’t. It must be visions. Must be dreams. Has to be. Has to be.
Then comes episode 10, which shatters Saya’s world like a windowpane being shattered by a wrecking ball, with everything in sight getting slashed by the flying glass. We are left with the realization that we, the audience, were played, just like Saya was played, and how this transforms Saya’s emotions is oddly what transformed the many viewers who watched Blood-C in its initial run on FUNimation’s and Crunchyroll’s streaming platforms in 2011 when it first ran. Anger. Bewilderment. Pain. Shock. Betrayal.
This was not what we were led to believe. Blood-C was never what we were led to believe. It was something else all along, and that is what makes Blood-C so memorable. Well, that and the last episode, due to some of the most intimate violence I have ever seen in any visual medium. It is sickening and horrifying, codifying the main villain’s status as one of the biggest monsters to ever grace Japanese anime, all without his calm smile ever leaving his face.
That opening narration for the very first episode tells you the whole purpose of Blood-C from the beginning. This anime is a sociological experiment. Not just on Saya or on the characters within. It is an experiment on you. How do you feel being played? How do you feel about being led to believe that this was something else? How do you feel about watching lies perpetuated on the screen? How do you feel about those one-note characters being more than you ever bargained for?
Saya certainly knows what she feels. Her final line of dialogue contains no words. It is a scream. An anguished, enraged, despairing scream of torment as she desperately rushes the man who has misled her for the entire 12-episode run, the man who played her like a musical instrument, manipulated her like a puppet. That scream, without saying a single word, shows you, and tells you, everything. The finale following that scream is one of the most stark endings I have ever witnessed in anime, ending on a beach with a beautiful, morbid orchestral rendition of the song Saya has sung throughout the previous episodes playing in the background as Saya wordlessly reflects on the events of the entire series. We have gone full circle. How do you feel?
Graciously assisting the plot onscreen are the typically high production values of Production I.G. Gorgeously hand-painted backgrounds set the backdrop for Saya’s small town perfectly. The battles are fluid and move with a vicious force, often approaching theatrical quality, though it helps that CLAMP’s tall, thin character designs are likely easier to animate. CGI is carefully implemented and, for the most part, is barely indistinguishable from the 2D visuals that make up the rest of what we see onscreen. Blood-C is a visual feast, in movement and in stills, looking beautiful and joyful in daytime, and gothic and eerie at nightfall. A swordfight in episode 12 is likely the greatest animation highlight, with its graceful yet bestial interpretation of a swordfight between an Elder Bairn and Saya. The scene is memorable for its careful implementation of cruel slashes and stabs, and one moment where a crushing blow makes it seem one of the fighters has been turned into a pinball.
CLAMP’s character designs are distinctive as always, although their design philosophy means every single human character looks facially attractive no matter who they are. Saya’s design works well for both Saya’s more innocent moments but also when she unleashes her darker side. The twins of Nene and Nono look the most distinctive out of the rest of the cast due to the careful braids in their hair and cutesy appearances, but Itsuki (the class representative and pretty boy), Yuka (tough and mature-looking girl), and Fumito all fare well too.
The glue holding the the show together is Naoki Sato’s beautiful, gothic score, driven by a captivating main theme. The score breathes life into every scene, complimenting every line of dialogue, sharpening every slash Saya makes, or emboldening every deathblow to a bystander. Following up distinguished composers Mark Mancina and Hans Zimmer (who scored Blood+) is no easy feat, but Naoki Sato rises to the task. It is memorable and beautiful, clearly scored with passion, driven by a full string section with symphonic percussion for battles and intrigue, while piano, plucked strings, and woodwinds mark quieter, peaceful moments, . Only one track near the end, played in the climactic swordfight in episode 12, falls prey to Naoki Sato’s habit of recycling and re-arranging old scores of his (in this case rearranging “Fruit of Purgatory” from Eureka Seven). Even this, though, does not retract from the experience and it is perfectly deployed when it needed to be. And, perhaps even more important, many scenes have no music at all, lending certain scenes a stark, hollow emptiness that easily establishes the mood. It makes it truly a shame that the score has yet to receive a release outside of a pair of sampler EPs bundled with the Japanese single DVDs.
Every episode, save the last, is opened by “Spiral” by rock band DUSTZ. Sung in a mixture of Japanese, English, and French, it marries melancholic, embittered lyrics with an up-tempo guitar-driven sound that fits Blood-C exceptionally well, and the visuals contain shout-outs to various Blood+ openings, namely the third opening of that particular series, “Colors of the Heart.” The ending, “Junketsu Paradox,” sung by Saya’s Japanese voice actress Nana Mizuki, is less memorable in visuals or audio but the lyrics match the anime quite well too.
The English dub is directed by Jerry Jewell, while Jamie Marchi (occasionally teamed with Samuel Woolley) writes the dub scripts. While subtitles are locked to the Japanese version, making comparisons difficult, Marchi’s scriptwriting effort is more faithful to the original Japanese than one expects of a FUNimation dub of a contemporary anime. Marchi is careful to ensure the meaning of every line is kept without much embellishment, and only near the end, as Saya’s world crumbles, does Marchi write more loosely. Even then, it is only with certain characters, in certain moments, and only in episode 11. This is a brilliant decision on Marchi’s part, as her approach suits the anime perfectly, especially in regards to the concluding plot twist.
Jerry Jewell’s dub is strong. Alexis Tipton portrays Saya with innocence and idealism, but as Saya falls apart, she begins to subtly alter her voice to reflect the turmoil taking place. Initially sounding like a young Wendee Lee, Tipton’s voice cracks and deepens gradually, only for Tipton to force her voice back to its original, high pitch as Saya desperately tries to hold onto her happiness, perfectly bringing to life the tempest brewing inside Saya. Alexis Tipton is off-key singing Saya’s song in comparison to Nana Mizuki, who is a professionally trained singer, but Tipton’s definitely raw approach to the song has a charm all its own.
Also perfectly cast is Robert McCollum as Fumito, though the reasons why can’t be revealed without spoilers. The rest of the supporting cast, including Scott Freeman, Bill Jenkins, Chris Burnett, Lydia McKay, Martha Harms, and Lindsay Seidel, among a lot of others, do a superb job with their characters. Even the extras do well, with all of the screaming and death cries that they have to bellow at every turn as something goes wrong. The Japanese cast also does well, though Nana Mizuki is less convincing in Saya’s innocent moments, but that may have been a voice direction decision on that part of the cast. CLAMP-savvy viewers of both dubs will be amused and intrigued by the inclusion of Todd Haberkorn/Jun Fukuyama as a character we’d never thought we’d see in the “Blood” franchise as well.
Extras don’t amount to much. We get commentaries on episode 6 and 12, but they don’t really add anything substantial to the show, although episode 12 is mildly amusing just due to Alexis Tipton’s reaction to all of the carnage onscreen. All other extras are standard, such as textless openings and endings and some trailers.
Blood-C is not for the faint of heart, but the same goes for every Tsutomu Mizushima show that’s found its way onto our side of the Pacific. This is his show. Mizushima makes Blood-C what it is, more than the man who made Blood+ or any single member of CLAMP who was involved in this. His penchant for unsympathetic slaughter, and his ability to subvert, entertain, and horrify, are the driving forces behind Blood-C. How you feel about that will make you view Blood-C as a brilliant work of art, or a nihilistic piece of garbage.
I am of the former opinion. But you very well may not be, and might wind up feeling like Saya at the end, wondering why this series even got made. There is no way to tell unless you try it for yourself.
Recommended . . . if you have an inkling of what you’re in for.
Everything will be okay…