Western film studios' love affair with anime and manga is in danger of becoming little more than a brief encounter. Mega-budget adaptations of Speed Racer and Dragon Ball have met with critical indifference and flopped at the box office, no doubt making Hollywood look long and hard at future projects. What is needed is an Western anime adaptation that not only captures the feel of its source but is successful too, and so far the most promising looking candidate has been the live action version of Blood The Last Vampire.
Set in 1970's Japan, the story follows Saya
(Gianna Jun), a samurai sword wielding half-human half-vampire who works with a
mysterious agency known only as The Council to hunt and kill vampiric demons.
Saya's latest mission sees her infiltrate a school attached to an American
airbase in order to locate and eliminate the 'bloodsuckers' that have been
feeding there. Things initially go well but matters are complicated when
the base commander's rebellious daughter Alice (Allison Miller) sees her fight.
With the base commander asking too many questions and the mission in danger of
spiralling out of control, a Council agent decides to take drastic measures
whilst the demons begin to increasingly target Alice. But there is a
darker power at work too, the large number of demons in the base can only mean
one thing - Onigen is near. Onigen (Koyuki) is the most powerful of the
demons and was also the one who killed Saya's father 400 years previously.
Saya has lived for revenge against her and has worked with the Council on the
sole condition that they track her down, but with even her vampiric powers can
Saya defeat such a dangerous foe?
I must admit that I had high hopes for Blood the Last Vampire. The trailer looked great and I had seen the film's opening, which perfectly mirrored the excellent opening of the anime in which Saya took out a demon on an underground train. I was so looking forward to it that I went straight to the cinema after work on the film's opening day to catch it. Unfortunately afterwards I was a bit disappointed. The first 40-odd minutes of the film follows the original anime pretty closely, but after that it seems to run out of ideas and
tries to fill in Saya's backstory with increasingly prolonged flashbacks. The first half of the film is pretty good, the characters are generally recognisable from the anime and the storyline for the first half is action packed and easy to follow. Gianna Jun certainly looks the part as the moody Saya and Liam Cunningham is well cast as the Council agent Michael. The action scenes are often impressive too, with the battle between Saya and a horde of demons in a cramped downtown district particularly impressive.
The original Blood the Last Vampire anime is just over 40mins
long, and tells the story of Saya's mission largely from the point
of view of a middle-aged school nurse. You don't find out much
about Saya or the people she works for, you don't know their
motivations or even why the demons are at the base. But it
works. Whilst this new film sticks mostly to the plot of the
anime for the first half, it makes some unnecessary changes.
First is the introduction of Alice as the viewer's eyes instead of
the nurse. It feels like a concession made to western horror
sensibilities to have a rebellious teen instead of a middle-aged
woman, and it lets the film down to an extent as it adds a cheesy
friendship subplot. Second is the huge numbers of demons
rather than just the handful that were in the anime, not only was it
a bit ludicrous that all of these well hidden demons would suddenly
reveal themselves and conduct a massive running battle through the
night-time city streets, but most of them were little more than
cannon fodder for Saya to hack through. Thirdly, was the
biggest drawback of all - Saya's back story. Her past is told
through several lengthy flashbacks that are simply not necessary,
and also painfully exposes the fact that Gianna Jun is not a native
speaker of either English or Japanese. The flashbacks are too
predictable and although the intent is to use them to flesh out the
character and her centuries old battle, they are simply not executed
well enough. Also, they are not needed as a plot device like
they are in, for example, Highlander, making them largely
The film also has a weird final battle that seems to take place in the Japan of Saya's past and also features one of the most predictable revelations I have ever seen. It was so obvious I can't even bring myself to call it a plot twist. What is annoying about all of this is that the film is pretty decent up to about half way through, frequently referencing the anime and delivering some impressive hyperreal action sequences. The fight choreography is good and the visuals frequently stunning, but once it has gone
beyond the anime's storyline it loses its way. It makes the mistake of writing out the Council about half way through and focusing instead on Saya's past and on Alice - who does knob all except get captured, annoy Onigen and cause Saya to get injured.
In the end the most promising anime adaptation turns out to be another average film. What makes it somewhat frustrating is that in places it is pretty damn good, but it fails to stick to what it does best. Visually the film's great, the action is good and one of the anime's best scenes - in which Saya rides a jeep in pursuit of a flying demon on a runway - is reproduced perfectly. The demons look like they do in the anime (ie. a bit pants), and to be honest there's no real need to put so much back story in as it detracts rather than adds to the film. There's also quite a bit of CGI, ranging from computer generated blood sprays to the demons, and it's generally pretty obvious when it's used. However, it fits with the over-the-top style of a film which doesn't quite live up to its potential. Blood The Last Vampire is another disappointing anime adaptation, but mostly because I expected a lot from it. In the end it was a visually arresting but ultimately flawed film that could have been the adaptation anime fans were waiting for.
An opening text crawl explains the back story of the battle between humanity and the demons, ultimately explaining in 15 seconds enough background info to make the 30 minutes of flashbacks pretty much redundant.