It’s fascinating to discover all the different ways a given franchise can be implemented, and Blood: The Last Vampire has been put through its paces pretty aggressively now. What started as a 50-minute feature has been turned into a standalone novel, a forthcoming live-action feature — and now a new TV series, with a few manga and a novel spun off from that in turn as well. Each iteration of the story has its own particular flavor, for better or worse — and in the case of the novel Night of the Beasts, it was definitely for the worse.
Blood+, the manga by Asuka Katsura, may have been derived most directly from the TV series but it deviates from the show about as much as it’s also faithful to it. The basic setup is the same, but it’s played off in a markedly different way — different enough in some aspects that it almost counts as its own separate story. But it also touches on many of the same conceits as the TV show, even if it doesn’t arrive at them in quite the same fashion.
The premise is probably going to come as a bit of a shock to anyone who’s only seen the originalBlood: The Last Vampire film, but those either totally new to the franchise or coming from the TV series won’t be thrown. Meet Saya Otonashi, a high-school girl with no memory of her life from as little as a year ago. She lives in Okinawa with her adoptive father, George, and her two brothers (Kai, a rakehell, and Riku, a more innocent “golden boy” type), and her biggest problems are a constant raging appetite and a gnawing sense of uncertainty about her past. Unlike the cold, closed-off Saya of the Blood: The Last Vampiremovie, this Saya's much more sympathetic and approachable; we feel her anger when one of her ruder classmates insinuates that she’s justplaying at being part of her family.
Clues to Saya’s past are dropped regularly from the beginning. Her adoptive father is in cahoots with the odd cadre of scientists who’re watching over Saya for the first signs of … what? Her returning memory, or something even more dramatic? Signs point to it being something a good deal more dramatic when she runs into an enigmatic street musician, a cellist named Haji who inexplicably knows her name and stirs unexpected and violent emotions within her. That night, she and Kai are attacked by some kind of monster — a “chiropteran,” it’s called — and Haji presents her with a sword to slay them with.
How is any of this possible? One of the people who’s been watching Saya from afar, David — part of a group known as the Red Shield — steps up to tell her. She’s a weapon of sorts, the only being on the face of the earth who can stop the chiropterans. Her blood is a powerful toxin to them, and when that sword she’s been given is wetted with her blood she can tear through them like a razor through ricepaper. She’s still in denial about all of it, though, and so David has to hammer the point home a little more firmly — which he does by putting a bullet into her chest. The wound heals over immediately. The sheer fact of her existence (he explains) puts all those near her in danger, especially since chiropterans are drawn to her like bugs to a lamp.
The one thing that gives Saya hope to persevere in the face of all this grimness is her sense of place with her family. The only thing she feels like she can count on is her connection, however tentative, with her brothers (especially Kai), and her adoptive father. No matter what she might have been, what she is, or what she’s going to become, they’re going to be there for her — and knowing that gives her something to fight for. She takes another step towards acceptance of her situation by taking a key role in a school play, but that’s smashed to pieces when not only chiropterans but the group that appears to be responsible for them crashes the party and leaves a huge mess. That’s the capper for the first volume, which hints at far darker and more brutal things to come.
I found myself liking the slightly more measured pace of the show a little better than the somewhat faster and blunter pace of events in the manga. I suspect this will be due to the comic covering the same ground as the show in a smaller timeframe. But one consequence of that is the amount of turmoil and trauma that Saya gets exposed to in this first volume, and as a result she’s forced to bounce back from it in that much less time. It’s the sort of thing where you can hear the story gears grinding that much more loudly, even if it isn’t exactly fatal.
Another question I have to ask myself is, how well does something like this hold up if you put its origins and external connections out of mind? In other words, how good is it without the existence of the other Blood stories? That’s likely to depend on what you go in looking for — you’re not going to get the pure grit and darkness of the original movie, that’s for sure. This is a much more emotion- and relationship-driven story, with the clashing of swords taking a backseat to the clashing of hearts, and as long as you go in knowing that you’re likely to be quite entertained.
Even though Blood+ deviates from its source material about as much as it follows it, it still hits all the same beats as the show, just in a different way. A young girl has to come to terms with her past in the context of her relationship with her family and deal with dangers far beyond regular human ken, all against a larger backdrop of elements like America’s longstanding military involvement in Japan. I’m curious to see how it maps out against the show in the long run, but even without that it’s quite decently done.