Blood+ is, of course, the TV series that expands on the universe and characters established by Production I.G’s short film Blood: The Last Vampire. The TV show also comes to us courtesy of Production I.G, and while it’s not quite as visually striking as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, it’s still well worth the time and investment. It also does two things that the original movie did not do, and it does both of them well: it makes the former (anti?) heroine Saya into a rounded and sympathetic character, and it expands vastly on the universe created for her.
If you have only seen the movie so far, the show will come as a striking change of tone: it’s nowhere nearly as compulsively dark as the movie. But that also means the characters are better delineated and more approachable — especially the new Saya. I found myself liking this iteration of her a little better than the movie version, if only because the show sees her as vulnerable and confused rather than just a sullen death merchant.
While the movie was set during the Vietnam War,Blood+ starts in the present day — although it’s still in roughly the same location, near the U.S. Army bases on Okinawa Island. There, a teenaged Saya Otonashi lives with her foster father George (a Vietnam vet) and her two adoptive brothers, Kai and Riku. Kai is as feisty and troublesome as Riku is helpful and gentle, but the two of them are absolutely consistent in their devotion to their sister. Ditto George, who watches over Saya with what to her looks like fatherly affection but is in fact something a little deeper and more complicated.
Saya is, as you might have guessed, not wholly human. She hasn’t aged a day in decades, and requires regular infusions of blood to stay on top of her game. The doctors who care for her are in fact representatives of a clandestine organization named the “Red Shield,” and they’ve designated George as her most recent and immediate handler. Most troubling of all for Saya is her missing memories: she remembers nothing from before she came to live with George and her “brothers.”
One fateful night Saya sneaks back into school to retrieve her shoes and runs afoul of a “chiropteran,” a creature that once was human but has now evolved into a monster that drinks human blood. Horrified, Saya braces for death, only to be saved by Haji — a long-haired, cello-playing street musician that Saya’s seen about town recently. With almost no preamble, he cracks open his instrument case (which also serves as a shield in combat), hands her a sword, and orders her to fight back. When the sword is wetted down with Saya’s own blood, it destroys every chiropteran it touches by crystallizing their flesh.
It’s a bit much for her to take in at once, and she’s doubly stunned to discover that George has been watching and waiting for this moment to happen for some time now. He became her guardian after she had been in a long slumber — possibly for decades — and this incident has slowly started to allow her long-suppressed memories of her past life to return. She’s also now a target — not just for the chiropterans, but for the clandestine agencies that were responsible for creating them (they are contemptuously referred to as “mice” by their own masters).
It isn’t long before she has to drop the pretense of being just another high school student and embark on a long, violent odyssey that will take her across Asia and into the heart of her past. With Haji (her “chevalier” or protector) and her brothers by her side, she learns that things are nowhere nearly as morally cut-and-dried as she wants to believe — and that the family you keep is as much a matter of choice as circumstance, and maybe more so. This is something that is reflected not only in her own case, but in each of the “families” that she comes into contact with — including the Red Shield as well.
Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that the end of the first season may not satisfy some people, but that depends entirely on what you’ve been getting out of the show. It doesn’t end with a climactic battle — or, rather, there is a battle, but it doesn’t so much settle anything as it does make the stakes all the clearer. The real end of the first season revolves around a pair of choices: what Saya chooses to do with herself, and what she chooses to do with someone close to her. The nature of both of those choices colors everything that has come before — and, no doubt, everything that’s also to come in the second season of the show. And yes, I’m looking forward to that now.
Story aside, the marketing of the Blood+ box set makes for an interesting experiment: it’s being sold at the same time as the standalone first volume (for which a review will be forthcoming). At $120 list, though, buying the box is only a slight savings off the cost of each individual volume (which are priced at $25 list), and the lack of bonuses seen in some other DVD editions is a little irksome. You’re basically paying for access to the whole first season at once and a couple of smaller material extras.
That said, this is a series that’s going to demand the whole-season treatment from its fans; it’s not a show you can just dip into for a couple of episodes, and you won’t want to. If you do go for the whole set, though, be prepared for an ending that’s essentially a segue to the next season … which, I’m hoping, Sony has in the works for us as well.