With good characters and great action scenes, this gothic action tale has a lot going for it.
What They Say:
Eternal Ronin. Final Vengence.
It's been a decade since the sacred war between humans and vampires. The rise of the Kowloon Bloodline, a new breed of monsters bearing and infectious bite, set the streets ablaze under the reign of their king. Humanity had never witnessed such pure, animalistic brutality.
Today, Jiro travels with his younger brother Kotaro to the Special Zone, a place where vampires live freely in peace alongside humans, the troubles of the past long forgotten. But the brothers find themselves in the midst of a battle between human soldiers, vampire refugees and the re-emergence of the Kowloon Children. Assisted by Mimiko, a negotiator between their species, Jiro will try to make sense of the chaos which surrounds them before they are caught up in it and destroyed. To protect those that he golds dear, the vampire will once more draw forth the Silver Blade.
What We Say:
For this viewing, I listened to the English dub, which is presented in 2.0. The Japanese track is also offered in 2.0. The mix is decent: dialogue, music, and effects all come through clearly, and there is no dropout present. However, it is a shame that Funimation did not give this the 5.1 treatment, as there is plenty of action that could have been enhanced with a surround atmosphere. Considering the setup of the show, it is a bit of a surprise that there is no surround option. The 2.0 mix is nice, but a 5.1 could have been much better.
This release is shown in its original 16:9 aspect ratio and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Originally released in 2006, this is a really nice looking title. With the amount of dark tones that Black Blood Brothers uses, many times there is some amount of blending, but the colors in this are all nice and distinct, with plenty of separation between them. There was a little bit of noise in the backgrounds at times, but nothing major to speak of. Overall, it is a very pretty series.
The design for this thinpak is pretty nice. The box has a picture of Jiro holding his sword, with the series logo placed over him. In the background is an image of a ruined city as seen through a blood red filter. The back of the box has shots of Mimiko and Kotaro, with stills and summary to the left. The background is still the same deep red, but this time it is a picture of Jiro.
The thinpaks themselves each have the same images from the singles releases, though the composition is a little changed up, as the series logo has been reworked a little bit and the disc title is now place at the top. The backs of the cases have episode lists and still images of some of the characters and from the show itself, along with a list of extras. The cases are clear, as there are images on the backside of the covers that can be seen when the case is open. Though they do not have all of the standard DVD information, the images can be considered reversible as there is title information along the spine of the reverse. The discs have the same images as the front cover. This is a really nicely designed set, with my only real complaint is the box being a little bit flimsy. That is not a huge deal, though.
The menus for this release are pretty basic, but they follow the theme and design of the packaging. The main menu sports the same image that is used on the front cover for that disc. Inset with that image is the series logo and the disc title. The selections are in white and placed under the logo on a black bar, with the highlighted selection in yellow. The yellow is dark enough that it is easily distinguishable from the white. All of this is set against a blood red background similar to the packaging backgrounds. While basic, it does have a nice structure, and it fits well with the overall idea of the title.
There is quite a bit to check out on this set. Each disc has a collection of Japanese TV spots along with the clean songs and some trailers. But the biggest part of the extras is the Japanese commentaries. A commentary track was done for each episode for the Japanese releases, and all twelve of them have been provided on these discs. It is pretty rare to see commentaries for each episode, so this is a pretty nice addition. It is also interesting to actually see Japanese commentaries as their interpretation of things, not to mention the way they act, is sometimes quite a bit different from their English counterparts.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I first checked Black Blood Brothers out earlier in the year as part of Funimation’s then brand new Download to Own service. While I really enjoyed the series on first viewing, the lack of a dub option on the downloads bothered me. So I jumped at the chance to check this set out and see if it held up over multiple viewings. The verdict? Mostly.
Ten years ago, humans and vampires allied together in an effort to eradicate the vampire bloodline of the Kowloon Children. Typically, a vampire can only turn his/her victim by making them drink vampire blood, and most vampires have too much respect for life to force humans. The Kowloon are a different story: their blood is tainted, and they are able to turn their victims just by biting them. And when the bitees turn, the biters have complete control over their actions.
While the war was dire, the efforts of Jiro Mochizuki, known as the Silver Blade, saw the alliance to victory. Jiro is an Old Blood, one of the original vampire bloodlines, and as such he has more power than most any other vampire. His efforts saw the Kowloon King killed and the war ended.
Now, humans and vampires live together in peace in a place called the Special Zone, a replica of Hong Kong which was destroyed in the first war. A large corporation called the Order Coffin Company and their council contained of humans and vampires keep the order inside the Special Zone. In order to make sure the Kowloon Influence does not come back and invade the Special Zone, a barrier has been placed that prevents uninvited vampires from entering.
Jiro, who has been living in exile since the war, now travels to the Special Zone with his young brother, Kotoro, with the hopes of settling. Since the end of the war, Jiro has dedicated his life to protecting his brother and some strange secret that his brother holds. Their travels are interrupted, though, when an assault squad from the Company attack their boat to eliminate a band of vampire refugees coming uninvited to the Zone in an effort to make sure Kowloon Children do not make their way in. Jiro, drawn into the conflict, easily defeats the Company soldiers, but is forced to dive into the ocean to save Kotaro who had fallen in during the confusion.
Unfortunately for Jiro, water is one of his two weaknesses, and exposure to it quickly saps his strength. He manages to get ashore, but also unfortunately for him, leaving the water exposes him to his second great weakness: the sun. Luckily for him, at that moment, Company Compromiser Mimiko Katsuragi arrives to escort him the rest of the way to the Special Zone. Compromisers act as liaisons between the company and vampires, making sure any issues are resolved.
On their journey to the Special Zone, the remnants of the vampire group from the boat seek Jiro out for his help to get them in, but they are once again attacked by the Company army. During this attack, it is revealed that a Kowloon does exist in the refugees ranks, and he has managed to turn some of the others. Jiro is forced back into action. He manages to keep the refugees out, but in the process, it becomes obvious that a new Kowloon threat is coming.
Black Blood Brothers is a really good gothic action title. The interaction between the characters is really well done, and the action scenes are quite excellent. What I find really neat about the fight scenes in this is that there is never a point where Jiro is outclassed. In any action title, the protagonist typically has to come up against a foe that pushes him/her to the brink before digging deep and coming out on top. In Jiro’s case, none of his foes can touch him in a fair fight.
Instead, Jiro is handicapped by his two weaknesses: sun and water. When he is at full power, he can withstand the sun to a point, but water always wrecks him. It never seems to fail that just about each time he is about to finish off a foe, it starts raining, significantly weakening him. It makes for an interesting change in what is typically seen in action titles.
Thanks to a fairly significant back story, each of the characters is well developed, and I really like how the show exposes the backgrounds. Rather than explain things through exposition, each episode begins with a couple minute flashback that explains some minor aspect of Jiro’s history. In particular, we slowly are able to piece together what is so special about Kotaro. Interestingly, these are not given in a chronological way. Instead, the order that they chose almost seems random. However, each gives us just enough information to get us through that episode, and we get a really clear picture of the history by the end of the twelve episodes.
What is particularly fascinating is the interaction between Jiro and Mimiko. Jiro is fairly headstrong, and seemingly jumps right into situations without fully thinking them out. Despite being over a hundred years old, he still reacts to certain situations with the impetuousness of a child. Mimiko is the voice of reason for Jiro. Continually she preaches caution, and this helps keep Jiro out of trouble.
Then there is the sexual tension between the two of them. Early on, it is revealed that Jiro is haunted by the death of Alice, his mistress and lover. Alice was the source blood of an ancient line that Jiro had sworn to protect, and she was killed during the first war. When Mimiko enters his life, she rather quickly develops an interest in Jiro, and even lets him drink her blood in order to restore his strength. This creates a bond between the two of them that draws her closer to him, but his memories of Alice cause him to try and keep Mimiko at arm’s length.
Then of course, there is Zelman Clock, the leader of the Coven—a vampire mafia in the Special Zone—and a member of the Company’s council. On the surface, Crimson Eyed Zelman is a bad guy, but the truth is that he is more of a sociopath. He has no real concept of right and wrong, other than to understand that they are just different sides of the same thing. As such, he conducts his life in whatever way amuses him the most. Sometimes this means working for order, other times he is assisting chaos. Whatever his motives, I really enjoy his character as he is completely unpredictable. I can appreciate that.
There is also some interesting history between Jiro and his young brother, and that history weaves through the backdrops of each character in significant ways. The relationship between the two, and the way that they act towards one another, is really well done, as they continually find themselves in situations that almost seem above their heads. When the level-headed Mimiko is added to the mix, their interaction then almost becomes a play for her affections—for different reasons—and it adds another layer to their relationship. And when Kotaro’s secret comes out, then it just goes to another level.
But it is this mystery that ultimately hurts the rewatchability of Black Blood Brothers. The way the show is structured, full enjoyment of the show is dependent on the slow build of the mystery behind Jiro and Kotaro. Having previously seen it, I found much of the early stuff to have less effect, because I knew what was driving the various characters to make the decisions they did. I certainly still did enjoy Black Blood Brothers, as the action scenes and characterizations were really well done, but much of the initial impact was lost.
My other problem is much the same from the first viewing, and that is the lack of an ending. The way that this show is structured, it seems a bit obvious that it was designed to have a sequel series, however, we are now two years from the initial broadcast, and there seems to be no word on a follow up. While the events of these twelve episodes are concluded, there is still a lot left open for them to deal with, and I would really like to see it happen.
Black Blood Brothers is a really fun action title. With good characters, an interesting plot, and plenty of good action, there is not a lot here not to like. Though not really a horror title, anybody who likes gothic plotlines should enjoy this one. Though not as fully developed as I might like it to be, especially in the end game, it is still an enjoyable run from start to finish. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, TV Spots, Japanese Episode Commentaries
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System