The second disc of Blood+ draws Saya and her adoptive family — and her “Chevalier”, Haji — deeper into the dark world of the “Chiropterans”, the vampire-like creatures that only Saya can stop by using her blood as a weapon. It’s a good, balanced mix of action, intrigue, and most importantly strong characterizations, because all the sneaking around and blowing things up in the world isn’t going to matter unless it’s happening to and with people we care about.
And one of the things Blood+ did from the git-go was give us a Saya that was far more identifiably, well, human than the kill-eyed creature she was in the original Blood: The Last Vampire movie. There, she was so cold and closed-off that it was difficult to find her situation interesting. Here, she’s clearly torn between everything that ties her to the “regular” world — her new family (especially her firecracker of a brother, Kai), her life in school — and an ugly underworld where monsters are bred by men of power to do terrible things. The original Saya had little or nothing holding her back. This one has everything to lose.
This time around, Saya and her “handlers”, the Red Shield — an organization determined to stop the Chiropterans wherever they may be found — unearth information that implicates the U.S. government in having bred Chiropterans as soldiers during the Vietnam War. Learning this information costs them dearly: Saya’s adoptive father, George, perishes while they are trying to bring him to safety after a Chiropteran attack. Shattered, Saya goes to Haji and demands to know everything about her past — but he won’t tell her. “You are not capable of handling the entire truth right now,” he says. Her retort: “It’s not your place to tell me what I can’t handle.” The weight of her responsibilities now include not only keeping herself together and serving as the first line of defense against the Chiropterans, but making sure that her brothers don’t collapse under the weight of all this, either.
The next leg of the plot is a bit of a departure from the overall feel of the show, but not grossly so. Here, Saya is clandestinely enrolled in a private girls’s school in Hanoi, a place that seems to be a nexus for a great many of the mysteries unearthed so far. Rumor has it a “Phantom” lurks on campus, kidnapping girls with dark hair — and it doesn’t help that the girls think Haji (now incognito as the campus gardener!) is the Phantom himself. She also becomes friends with her roommate, Min — the only other female character of consequence that Saya has gotten to know since she left Okinawa, come to think of it. Sure enough, once Saya gives into her curiosity and begins investigating the bell tower on campus, the long-rumored Phantom shows up — and may be the next link in the chain that leads them to “Diva”, Saya’s evil twin.
All this is interleaved with other plotlines, the most significant of which is Riku and Kai adrift in Hanoi on the Red Shield’s credit card. There, they meet Mui, a local girl missing a leg, and find themselves surrounded by potential friends in the home where she lives. Potential, if only because Kai is not keen on the idea of hanging around: “The longer you know them, the harder it is to say good-bye.” Riku’s not as unsentimental: he buys Mui a metal detector as a way to help her family, but that only reminds him all the more of how much he misses Saya. Mui herself serves as another example of the show’s not-so-subtle theme of the long-term costs of war in the Far East: she lost her leg — and her brother — to an UXO.
The analogies about unexploded bombs apply to some of the characters, too: Saya herself is one great big walking weapon, waiting to go off and potentially endangering the lives of all those around her. Especially after Saya visits a local Vietnam War museum and experiences flashbacks that suggest she was there before, a long time ago … doing something that she has forgotten for a very good reason.
Video: The show’s been formatted for 4:3 playback (and not flagged for progressive scan), which is a bit of a shame since it looks good enough that it deserves to be widescreen. As far as the production values go, this is a Production I.G creation so it looks uniformly excellent. It isn’t quite as visually sumptuous as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but it does consistently show off one of Production I.G’s strongest qualities: the seamless fusion of hand animation and CGI. Here, CGI is used in a spare and subtle way; you’re not clobbered over the head with it.
Audio: Each episode is available only in English or Japanese 2.0 — no 5.1 mix here, sadly — but they sound good and aren’t mixed at radically uneven levels. A major plus is the presence of a truly striking and memorable score courtesy of Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer (I’m hoping a CD is available at some point). The score’s good enough that all by itself gives the whole show an added luster.
Dialogue: The single biggest letdown with the dialogue is the fact that the English subtitles are based on the dub script, and are not a transliteration of the Japanese audio. This leads to some momentarily misleading translations — not anything that interferes with the story, as far as I could tell, but even with my relatively limited command of spoken Japanese I could tell that the titles were intermittently unfaithful in letter (if in spirit) to the dialogue. That said, the dub script is pretty good — well-acted and rewritten in a way that flows well. (A side note: Subtitles are available not only in English, but in French and Korean as well.)
Menus: The menus are formatted for 16:9, but the feature itself is 4:3, which will throw people off if they have a widescreen display. The menus themselves are simple loops with music, although there’s unskippable copyright warnings when you fire up the actual feature (and an unskippable Sony Pictures opening logo when you first pop in the disc).
Extras: This is the big letdown — the disk is essentially bereft of bonuses. No clean opening / closing, no commentary, just the show itself. A shame, too, because a show with this much to talk about deserves some kind of discussion or treatment. If you want bonuses you’ll probably need to pick up the box set, although let’s see what the other individual volumes hold.
The Bottom Line: This second volume’s odd plot detour turns out to be worth the effort, especially given how it ties into many of the deeper themes in the story. What’s best is that the show never loses sight of what’s truly important — its characters and their dilemmas.