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Review: "Blood-C: The Last Dark" - All Apologies For A Beautiful Disaster

WARNING: Spoilers for the original Blood-C anime series are sprinkled liberally throughout the review below.vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h08m29s170

The ending of Blood-C left things in uncertainty. Only three characters with dialogue survived in the end: Saya, Fumito, and Fuka, along with a mysterious talking dog). Everyone else was gruesomely slaughtered in one of the most brutal massacres in anime history. Just Google “Blood-C Bunny Blender” and you’ll know what I mean. The original series ended in a cliffhanger, so there needed to be a follow-up to give some kind of closure to the events in the original series. Blood-C: The Last Dark, a movie which was released in theaters in Japan, does manage to resolve almost everything that happened in Blood-C. Whether it does it well is a matter of interpretation, and, honestly, The Last Dark left a bad taste in my mouth.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h06m05s247Tsutomu Mizushima, the director of Blood-C, was not brought back for the movie. Instead, Production I.G. brought in Naoyoshi Shiotani, who had never directed anything in his life prior to this film. Shiotani did move on to direct the acclaimed anime series Psycho-Pass, and he is an experienced key animator and storyboard artist with numerous credits with Production I.G. However, his lack of directorial experience means he lacks the sense of style that Mizushima brought to the proceedings. Instead, Shiotani brings a cold professionalism, careful to subsume to the vision brought by Nanase Ohkawa of CLAMP and Jun’ichi Fujisaku (both of whom return from Blood-C to write this sequel), instead of searching for a way to bring his own touch. That ultimately hurts the production, making Ohkawa and Fujisaku’s writing seem oddly flat, as if they have no idea where to go with the story, they just know they have to bring it somewhere.

Blood-C: The Last Dark is advertised as a revenge film. Saya, after being trolled in an epic, cruel fashion by mysterious, creepy Fumito, has managed to heal from the injuries she received from Fumito at the conclusion of Blood-C, and she has come to Tokyo to hunt down and murder him. That is the sole purpose of this film: to see if Saya will ultimately obtain her revenge, despite a contract she had been forced to sign that prevents her from killing human beings. However, if she finds a way to kill Fumito, she will be freed from that contract. This simple, efficient setup is strong enough to create a moving yet intense film, settling accounts once and for all, and giving Saya peace at last if she succeeds in her mission. Plus, it addresses the open question of what made the mysterious Fumito force Saya into her false life to begin with.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h20m32s231Blood-C polarized a lot of people, who despised the series and consider it an affront to the “Blood” franchise and action anime in general. Instead of bravely continuing in the direction of Blood-C, much of Blood-C: The Last Dark seems to be written in apology. For a revenge film, the target of Saya’s revenge is barely featured at all. He gets three scenes, only two in person, before his final confrontation with Saya, thus reducing him to an extra even though he’s a central figure in the story. Fumito also changes from his magnificent bastard behavior to acting mentally addled and drifting, as if he has no purpose other than to wait for Saya to show up and kill him. His motivations have been watered down to the point of aimless navel-gazing, making it seem like he can’t recall what made him experiment on Saya in Blood-C at all. This is an insult to anyone who wants a proper conclusion to the original anime, but it makes for a good apology for those who despise Fumito so much they don’t want to see his smarmy mug on the screen. This apology also seems to extend to Yuka, who is mostly absent from the film after one scene.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h18m09s81Also, seemingly in apology, much of the focus of the film is on a group of young hackers and a meathead driving ace that Saya bumps into. In Blood-C, Saya’s “friends” were revealed to be simply paid actors playing out their parts, their actual natures being much different than the one-note characterizations they were forced to act out. Nanase Ohkawa and Jun-ichi Fujisaku go out of their way to portray the teenagers and twenty-somethings that make up the hacking organization “Sirrut” as real people (most notably teenage girl Mana Hiiragi). They are all revealed to have likes, dislikes, insecurities, quirks, fears, and loves. Most of them wind up Saya’s friends for real by the end of the film, supporting her the best they can and taking great risks to preserve Saya’s life. This is a far cry from the heavily flawed, self-serving supporting cast of Blood-C, if not a total 180-degree flip, and this has to be intentional on the part of Ohkawa and Fujisaku. However, so much time is spent on fleshing out the members of “Sirrut” that it makes the film drift aimlessly for a good portion of the film, dampening the intensity and making you wonder if Saya will ever attempt to execute her revenge plot.

Yet another apology is made through the characterization of Saya herself, though this has more justification. After all, Saya is no longer under the strong mental suggestion she’s some happy-go-lucky teenage girl, but knows she is a vampire (“Elder Bairn”) who can only feed on others of her own kind, as she’s not allowed to feast on humans. Saya speaks with a quiet intensity, her timbre significantly deeper than the Saya we met in Blood-C, and she does not say anything more than she has to. However, she is clearly haunted by what happened to her, and it makes it difficult for her to interact with people. That being said, the bond she forms with the members of “Sirrut” becomes strong enough that she does act to protect and save them multiple times, and, unlike the series, she is much more competent at doing so. Just like the characterizations of the “Sirrut” members, this is likely intentional.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h19m21s26The final apology is through gore. Tsutomu Mizushima gleefully exaggerated the gore to great extremes in Blood-C, but Naoyoshi Shiotani’s approach to the violence is more subtle. He does not linger on people getting slaughtered or Elder Bairns beginning to feed, or even the moments when Saya slashes someone open. His much more discreet approach lets us see what happened only for the briefest of moments before moving to another cut. Shiotani’s professionalism makes each act of violence in this film seem as intense and brutal as anything Mizushima did, while showing far, far less. It works well in the context of the film, but is a notable departure from the series at large.

However, the time spent making so many apologies means that Ohkawa and Fujisaku don’t have time to properly wrap things up. Saya’s climactic assault is rushed, and the concluding battle itself is random and over much too quickly for a final confrontation. It does not help that the concluding battle is a serious departure from the mostly grounded feel of the “Blood” franchise in general. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and made me wonder what possessed Ohkawa and Fujisaku to write such a ludicrous scene that detracts from the dark, near-future sci-fi atmosphere the film cultivates. Perhaps, sick of making apologies, Ohkawa and Fujisaku sought to troll us over one more time? Who can really say? But the film does not end in a satisfying manner in spite of certain goals being achieved, and it ends on an open-ended note, hinting at perhaps something else coming further down the line.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h09m32s28Visually, the movie is gorgeous. Shiotani uses his theatrical budget well, and each action sequence is beautifully animated at a level greater than the anime series, although it rejects a lot of Mizushima’s design aesthetics. The movie is mostly set in nightfall, and the few daytime scenes are cloudy with occasional pouring rain, lending a noir appearance that lends the film a strong atmosphere. The opening sequence is perhaps the best opening sequence for a Japanese-animated action film in a long time, using spectacular camera angles and quick cuts of gorgeous animation that are absolutely thrilling, though the film fails to maintain the intensity over the next forty-five minutes. The Elder Bairns have a Lovecraftian appearance that makes them more gruesome and frightening than the occasionally oddball creatures featured in Blood-C, but the changes of Ohkawa’s and Fujisaku’s writing makes them less effective than in the TV series. The only truly awkward moment is a CGIed monstrosity at the very end that kills all of the momentum and atmosphere that the film had carefully built up. It’s a blemish of silly animation and a sillier plot event that permanently derails the film.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h10m03s75Naoki Sato is brought back to score the film, and gifted with a bigger budget, Sato provides a gothic action score to remember. Interestingly, the eerie masterpiece that was the main Blood-C theme is almost entirely excised, saved for one of Fumito’s scenes. Instead a new theme, more heroic and forceful, is used for Saya. This is actually a brilliant decision on Sato’s part. This means that the main theme of Blood-C belonged to Fumito all along. As Saya was under Fumito’s control and was being manipulated like a puppet the whole time, it made sense to use Fumito’s theme for Saya. Now that Saya is independent, she needs her own theme, and Sato tackles it with gusto. Using a piece of her “everything will be okay” song from the series as inspiration, Sato crafts a gorgeous, emotional theme that manages to channel Saya’s pathos, complimenting her every move and channeling the emotions she hides from the people she meets. In doing so, Sato crafts a Hollywood-level score that absolutely destroys the dreck that is the typical Hollywood action score these days. If nothing else, import the soundtrack, which was separately released from the film. It is absolutely beautiful.

Mike McFarland, FUNimation’s go-to director for dubs of theatrical films, takes over from Jerry Jewell for the dub of The Last Dark, while Jamie Marchi returns to write the script. Marchi is careful to maintain the meaning of every line in The Last Dark, but occasionally throws some slight Westernization into the dialogue of the “Sirrut” hackers to make them easier for a Western audience to relate to, which is honestly the right thing to do. Meanwhile, McFarland shows why he has become FUNimation’s top voice director, as he perfectly casts the legion of new characters that appear in this film, but also expertly directs Alexis Tipton and Robert McCollum in their scenes.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h12m30s23Alexis Tipton doesn’t exactly have a low-pitched voice naturally, but she drops her pitch convincingly here while adding a softness that makes her Saya haunting. Robert McCollum manages to make Fumito creepy as ever, but the watering-down of the character makes McCollum’s effort mostly wasted. The hackers of “Sirrut” are well-cast, utilizing veterans such as Jad Saxton (Mana), Josh Grelle (geeky Shun), Justin Cook (Iori), Colleen Clinkenbeard (Haruno) and Tia Ballard (who makes Hiro more soft-spoken and sympathetic in the dub). Mike McFarland also casts himself as the leader of Sirrut, Kuroto, and he does a great job channeling Kuroto’s bitterness towards Fumito for wrongs committed in Kuroto’s past.

That’s not to say the Japanese dub is bad. It is positively hard to believe that Nana Mizuki is the Japanese voice of Hinata Hyuga after her own vocal transformation featured here. But there is something almost flat about the Japanese dub that I can’t quite describe. I can’t honestly say that I’m an expert on the Japanese language or on the Japanese style of acting, but there is a sense of force being missed that was in the Japanese dub for the original Blood-C. It makes me recommend the English dub for viewing over the original Japanese.

The most substantial extra in the set is a commentary led by Mike McFarland. It is highly informative about the process of dubbing, including how to direct yourself when you’re the voice director but also an actor. Also of note are a bunch of comedic shorts led by deceased twins Nene and Nono, produced to catch people up who skipped Blood-C but chose to watch the film. These are unfortunately left undubbed.

vlcsnap-2014-03-24-15h17m46s120In conclusion, Blood-C: The Last Dark seems to be written to satisfy the critics of the Blood-C series. However, in doing so, the film misses a very crucial point: why would the critics of Blood-C want to a see a sequel to begin with? By taking the path Ohkawa and Fujisaku did, even though it was dark, nightmarish, and at times thrilling and effective, they satisfy no one. That is a greater entertainment sin than what they did in the original Blood-C. At least the series was daring and brave, willing to break from convention. The Last Dark is none of these: a by-the-numbers action movie that’s proud of being one. That being said, you might like The Last Dark more than the original Blood-C, or like it far less. It is simply left you to you, the viewer, to decide, when it’s all said and done.

And that is the one aspect of Ohkawa and Fujiaku’s vision that they did not compromise.

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