Blood: The Last Vampire (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, December 03, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A vampire stalks the real evil on an Air Force base in 1960’s Japan.

What They Say
At the Yokota Air Force base in Japan, a nervous American military is on the brink of the Vietnam War. But a great threat exists within the walls of the heavily guarded compound: Vampires. A team of top-secret undercover agents dispatches a mysterious young woman to destroy them... She is the last remining original.

The Review!
Audio:
This release was one that took a different approach from most other anime releases in general as it’s multilingual single language track in that there is only one language track that shifts between English and Japanese depending on the situation and who is speaking at the time. When it’s in Japanese, we get subtitles. When it’s in English, we don’t, which completely negates this show for those hard of hearing that require subtitles. This release gives us that track in DTS-HD Master Audio, though the cover lists just DTS-HD. This lossless track really shines in a lot of areas with a rich surround sound experience and a lot of warmth and depth to it overall. Dialogue is where it suffers though, mostly because of the performances, as many of the English scenes seem to be very soft or recorded too low making them hard to hear even when you have it up high. And that can be dangerous when the good scenes come up as those are very strong.

Video:
Originally released in 2000, the transfer for this OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded in 1080p using the AVC codec. Blood gets presented twice on this release with the default load-up version being the telecine one while the alternate is the digital version. Because of its heavy CGI use at the time, the two versions were made for different purposes but are essentially the same thing, just transferred in different ways. In watching both of them, they come across as very, very similar overall but with some differences. The telecine version has a more film-like feel that gives you some noise in the backgrounds, especially all those dark gray and cloudy areas, while the digital version has a slightly cleaner look to it. Both are spot on representative of their original presentations and it comes down to what you really prefer. Both versions run in the high twenties and mid thirties for the bitrate on a regular basis and look really good with a lot of detail, but the show is also one that is very stylized in its approach and that plays into its visual look as well.

Packaging:
This incarnation of the Blood: The Last Vampire release uses the very familiar artwork we've seen with previous releases that has a close-up sideways shot of Saya's face against a lot of black background while below there's a touch of orange sky as we can see the area around the Yokota base through the fence. Other than the inclusion of the Blu-ray logos on the cover with its “Beyond High Definition,” this looks like most other releases of this feature in the last ten years in the US. The back cover carries the same material from the front with all black along the top part while the bottom has more of the soft darkening oranges. A few decent shots from the show are included as well which push the violent side. The summary covers the premise of the show very well and a breakdown of the extras is nice and clean. The technical side is a little less so as they don't say what language is on the disc – it is tricky with this title – and they only list it as DTS-HD instead of DTS-HD MA. No artwork is provided on the reverse side and no show related inserts are included.

Menu:
Blood keeps its menus pretty simple but nicely themed with a navigation selection along the lower right that's done as splatters of blood with black text on it. That section of the main menu is also used for the pop-up during playback as well. In the main menu we get some decent clips from the feature playing with some music but nothing that comes across as all that memorable. It's a fairly standard approach and one that works well. Submenus load quickly and without any language options there isn't even a selection for that. Interestingly, when you go into the extras section and select the alternate take, going back in lists the previous selection as the alternate take.

Extras:
The only extra included in here is the behind the scenes CG featurette which runs about twenty minutes that showcases how the computer animation and integration was done back in 2000, which was pretty much cutting edge in Japan at the time for the world of anime. It's certainly dated and quaint now in its own way, but it's fascinating to revisit it and see how far things have come in ten years and how common and “easy” it is now that it's used to much and integrated so well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Blood: The Last Vampire first came out back in 2000, it was something that we hadn't seen much of at the time. What set it apart was that it was a full on multimedia project with the OVA that used new CG technology, a video game, a novel and a manga series. A TV series would come eventually as well that shifted the story forward in time by a few decades and showed us where the lead character of Saya would go. But at the time, US fans really only had this OVA as none of the other projects surfaced over here until the manga and novels started arriving in the last couple of years.

Having bought the US release when Manga Entertainment first released it to much fanfare and having grabbed the special limited edition release that came out in Japan before it, I really liked Blood: The Last Vampire when I first saw it and what it had the potential for. Because of the barriers between the countries though and the lack of getting other aspects of it, the franchise never really materialized properly here. In watching the TV series in the last couple of years through Sony's incredibly slow and awkward release, my feelings on the franchise have changed a bit since that show really moved slowly and didn't have the kind of intensity that you can get from a short form story OVA like this. It's also something where the TV series does reference the story here but it's hard to tell if this particular OVA itself is considered canon anymore.

Blood: The Last Vampire is a snapshot in the larger story of a young woman named Saya who is termed a vampire here. This story takes place in the 1960's where Saya is working for a mysterious and unnamed organization that has now brought her to Japan where she's hunting for Chropterans, creatures that only she can eliminate using her sword and skills that she's gained from her long experience in dealing with them. Our introduction to Saya is her stalking a man on a subway train where she brutally takes care of him, much to the shock of what appears to be a rookie CIA agent who has just started working with her.

Saya's easy to anger and references to religion and god in particular set her off more than anything else. Her handler, an older American man named David, tries to direct her towards her next mission which is where this story fleshes itself out. A small group of Chriropterans appears to have taken hold in a US air force base in Yokota where there are a lot of families living as well. Saya has little real interest but she must follow what her instincts tell her to do and she inserts herself into the school, commenting on the truly strange school uniform she must wear. Spending some time getting familiar with the place while dealing with the social structure of it all, it doesn't take too long for her to discover exactly who has been hiding their true nature in there and for it to turn to violence.

About half of this 48 minute feature is made up of what you would classify as “third act” material in a movie where it's all about the action. Being a short form story, they've managed to create a very distinct atmosphere, potentially intriguing characters and a lot of very solid action in a short amount of time. As it is part of a larger project, it really does make you want to know more and the TV series really does flesh out Saya and what this is all about. In this OVA, it's all a tease but there is a huge amount of payoff with the great visuals, the non-standard designs for the characters and the sheer brutality of it at times. It may be tame by some standards, but it's a very well executed work that manages to stand alone overall but really does make you want to see more.

In Summary:
While it has been several years since I last saw this and my feelings on the franchise have changed because of what the TV series has done, this OVA has really managed to hold up well. This high definition presentation of it is very good, particularly in the audio department, and Manga has pleased all around by giving us both the telecine and the digital versions of the feature. The style of the show makes it a difficult piece when viewing because it is so atmospheric, so dark and so stylized in some ways, but the end result is a very appealing release that makes me wish they had done more of it in this format than the TV series or given us a proper theatrical movie as well. This is definitely a very good step-up from the DVD version and worth making the leap to, especially if you're getting into lossless audio.

Features
Japanese/English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Feature

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 15 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 29.97
Running time: 48
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: Blood: The Last Vampire