The original Blood: The Last Vampire was one fierce little piece of work, despite clocking in at barely an hour. The TV series has the benefit of being longer and more involving, but also that much more — well, for lack of a better word, ameliorative. They broadened the scope of the story, but brought in a great many other things to make it more palatable to a broad audience: family matters, cute character touches, and even the odd comedic element. Is it me or has every series I’ve seen this year with claims to a remotely serious side — Blood+, Darker Than Black, etc. — used the staple gag of having a character who eats too much as their standard-issue way to inject a laugh into a scene?
I shouldn’t make it sound like I’m slagging Blood+ for splitting its attention between a serious story and a more light-hearted one. Spoonful of sugar, medicine, you know the drill: one makes the other that much more palatable. And in this case, it’s neither so sweet — or so bitter — that it’s wholly unpalatable. Last volume, we were right in the middle of a storyline that sounds like something ripped out of a gothic Nancy Drew, with vampire-killer Saya at an exclusive girls’ school in Vietnam, where rumors swirl about a masked phantom haunting the bell tower. And in the first episode of this disc, Saya’s dolling herself up for a gala ball at the school — where she ends up surreptitiously stuffing her face without even thinking about it. Last volume, we were right in the middle of a storyline that sounds like something ripped out of a gothic Nancy Drew, with vampire-killer Saya at an exclusive girls’ school in Vietnam, where rumors swirl about a masked phantom haunting the bell tower. And in the first episode of this disc, Saya’s dolling herself up for a gala ball at the school — where she ends up surreptitiously stuffing her face without even thinking about it.
We don’t have to wait long for the show to get back on track, though. The Phantom (along with his signature blue rose) shows up again for a fierce battle in a wine cellar below the school, one which leaves Saya a shaking, blood-smeared wreck. That’s not something her friends are used to seeing, but the more we find out just how truly messed-up Saya’s past is, there’s a lot about her they’re going to have to learn about the hard way. (Side note: It’s not difficult to figure out who the Phantom is — just look at the eyes, and then look for the one character introduced so far who seems to serve no other purpose in the story.)
Saya’s past becomes all the more troubling to her when she and the other Red Shield members head upriver into the jungle, Apocalypse Now-style, to track down both Saya’s missing brothers and the location of a cargo container that might contain “Diva”, Saya’s twin and nemesis. The sight of the ruins of war in the jungle bring things back to Saya’s mind that she’s never really dealt with: I have been here before, she realizes, but not as I am now. There was a time, as her father had hinted before, when she was not the innocent and charming young thing she seems to be now but instead a weapon of war.
Small wonder that the mansion they find in the jungle is not just an outpost for those responsible for the Chiropterans — it’s a breeding ground. Riku and Kai, stuck inside, are surrounded by what look like children but are in fact larval Chiropterans, and in the battle that ensues Saya suddenly remembers all too well what sorts of things she did in her previous life. She was a monster, like these things, and after empowering herself with blood and dueling face-to-face with the Phantom (now a full-blown monster himself), she’s that much closer to being a monster once more. The difference, though, is that monsters generally don’t have friends to fall back on, or a family to remind them of what’s truly important — which she does. I should add at this point that for those of you sitting on the fence about the gore quotient for this series (whether you’re worried about there being too much or too little), there is a fair amount of it in this particular part of the story. But it’s there for a reason: Saya is a death machine, under it all — and the further it is from our minds the harder it will be to reconcile everything we see.
Despite both “Diva” and the Phantom escaping, the whole escapade gives the Red Shield that much more information about the mysterious Cinq Flèches (“Five Arrows”) Group, the agency which seems to be responsible for the Chiropterans in the first place. It also puts Saya, Riku and Kai back on home turf — they return to Okinawa, to friends at school and barbecues on the beach and all the other things that make her life feel marginally normal. But it is not normal — not anymore, at the very least — and that is something Saya’s school friend Mao Jahana has also sensed. She hooks up with, or maybe better to say blackmails an investigative journalist, Okamura, into taking her with him during his investigation of Cinq Flèches.
Okamura himself has enough pieces of the puzzle to make many people nervous. He caught snaps of Saya fighting off the Phantom in the wine cellar, and has shots dating back to 1972 — the Vietnam War — which supply objective proof that Saya’s visions of herself at the time were entirely too real. He couldn’t begin to say what it all means, and his boss is not thrilled that he’s spending so much company time and money chasing this science-fiction ephemera. Okamura’s not exactly thrilled either, especially since getting to the bottom of this weirdness means taking on a second mouth to feed. But right now, there doesn’t seem to be any other way forward — and with that they drive off into the night and the next volume of Blood+.