Saya Otonashi ought to be just another teenage girl in school except that she remembers nothing of her life before the last year or so. All she’s sure of is her family: her adoptive Vietnam-veteran father, George, and her two brothers, Kai and Riku. They live in Okinawa, not far from an American airbase, where the jets and bombers scream overhead and a mysterious long-haired man in the park plays the cello in a way that seems hauntingly familiar.
“Who am I?” Saya asks herself, and it isn’t long before she gets the first and most brutal clues towards answering that mystery. One night she sneaks back into school to retrieve a pair of shoes and is assaulted by a “chiropteran” — a monster that once was human, and now feeds on the blood of humans to survive. She’s almost mauled to death by the creature, but then the cello-player shows up, infuses Saya with his blood to revive her, and gives her a sword. When infused with her blood, she can use it to kill these creatures … and kill she does, much to her own shock and dismay.
Welcome to Blood+, Production I.G.’s TV-series expansion of the universe that was set up in their short film Blood: The Last Vampire. As fantastic as that movie looked (and sounded), it was impossible to see it as anything but a taste of bigger and better things to come. Blood+ uses some of the same basic concepts from that movie, but surrounds them with a lot more in the way of characterization, motive, background, and personality. The Saya of the movie was a cold, one-dimensional killing machine; here, she’s a conflicted and troubled young woman who’s discovering that she has great and ghastly things at her command.
From what I’ve seen of the show so far, it makes for a slightly less gritty but far more emotionally accessible — and by that token, more broadly enjoyable — experience. The first volume doesn’t waste much time getting the basic situation set up: by the end of the first episode, Saya has already stared life and death (as in, her own death and pseudo-resurrection) in the face. By the end of the first disc, she’s made at least one crucial decision about how to handle her future. She’s made a big leap from her earlier life, where her biggest worries were her prodigious appetite and her prowess at pole-vaulting.
The aftereffects of the school battle allow us to find out what’s really going on. George has been keeping watch over Saya for the sake of an organization called “Red Shield,” a group that is devoted to tracking and stopping chiropterans — beastly vampires — whenever they appear in the world. Saya’s blood is the best weapon they have, since it acts as a super-coagulant — it crystallizes the blood of the monsters and kills them on contact. Bullets cannot stop them, and if cut up they have a nasty tendency to regenerate.
All of this is moot if Saya isn’t willing to fight, of course. David, George’s liaison to the Red Shield, is worried that they don’t have time to wait for Saya to remember her past. George has to balance his paternal feelings for Saya — real or not — against the possibility that his love won’t keep any of them safe from monsters. David’s belief is that the best thing for Saya is a hard dose of the truth, and the sooner the better. “She was born just for fighting,” David tells George sternly, “and you’ll never change her.” He may be right about that, but not in the ways he thinks.
Right from the beginning it’s clear that even though Saya’s not related to her family by blood, she’s as important to them as they are to her. Kai, the older and scrappier of the two, is her source of fighting spirit. He’s the one who finds her half-dead and bloodied after the battle at school, and seethes at the possibility that something terrible is happening to Saya and he has no say in it, much to the dismay of his girlfriend Mao. Riku, the younger, is a source of cheer and good faith, and when he crumbles into despair later on he gives the others (Saya included) a reason to pull it all together.
The only other one who has answers for Saya about her past, apart from George and David, is Haji — the long-haired cello player who intervened on her behalf during the fight in the school. He is her “chevalier” — her sworn protector, imbued with great power as well — and has evidently known her since the turn of the last century. Kai resents his very presence — in his mind, he’s supposed to be protecting her, after all, and late in this volume he does so in the thoughtless way a clever but reckless teenager might. Someone has to do it — after all, Saya is herself reluctant to take up arms even in her own defense.
Then George is badly injured when a U.S. soldier devolves into a chiropteran, kicking off a manhunt — or, rather, a monster-hunt — forcing Saya to not only rise to the challenge of slaying the beast but making some brutally hard choices about her future. Not only does she have to accept Haji’s help, not only does she have to steel herself to kill — not just once but several times — but she has to decide her father’s fate when his injury proves to be an infection that may turn him into one of the monsters as well. These choices give the show — and the characters — the weight they need to truly engage our interest. It’s not just a hack-fest.
I’ve seen the whole rest of season one for Blood+ courtesy of the box set that has already come out, but without ruining anything I can safely say that Blood+is well worth your time even if you’re not an existing fan of the Blood mythology. In fact, if anything, it may be the best place to start — it provides a much deeper, more character-oriented approach to the idea than we’ve had before. The lack of extras and the presence of dub-titles might prove to be a turnoff, though (especially for $25 list), but the show itself is good enough to survive that kind of mistreatment.