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MEGAPOST: Blood (anime), Blood+ (anime series), Blood+ (manga), Blood+ (light novels), Blood (live action)

The story of Saya, the last vampire, has been retold and reimagined more than a few times. Saya was originally introduced to audiences in the 2000 feature length anime film Blood: The Last Vampire. The anime followed Saya, a sword-wielding teen with long braids as she battled bloodthirsty creatures called Chiropterans on a US Army base in 1966 Okinawa.  It is during her battles that we first discover, as an audience, the preternatural qualities Saya has for destroying these vampiresque monsters--she is one of them, albeit older and more powerful.
Chiropteran--the name is taken from the order of mammals that include bats.
They are ugly and big. Much bigger than bats.

As such her blood acts as a weapon against them, essentially crystallizing and shattering their blood and bodies. It is in Blood that we are first introduced to another constant among the reincarnations of this story as well, in the character of David, one of the members of Red Shield, a secret organization intent on destroying the entire race of Chiropterans.

The storyline of Blood is simple, girl kills vampires, but it leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Who is Saya? If she is as cold and ruthless as she seems, then why fight to protect human lives at all? Why not see them as inconsequential casualties in a greater war? What is this secret organization lurking in the shadows? Does it work for good or evil? Or is it powered by something else---weapons development? political gain? economic gain? Why is Saya different from the things she kills? Why doesn't she change into the inhuman looking Chiropterans she hunts?
The 2000 version of Blood.
The cover shows Saya, and displays its gritty animation style.
None of these questions are answered in Blood, but despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of specific information the audience is provided, Saya becomes a compelling character, and perhaps another version of the archetypal female warriors against the supernatural (certainly along the same lines as Buffy). The character is revisited in 2006 in an anime series called  Blood+ .  This anime is clearly not only a continuation, but a reimagining of Saya's character and destiny.  We see a very different Saya, at least at first, in this four season series.

The animation style has changed from the dirty, gritty and dark style of the film into something bright and almost confectionery at times. The skies are blue, the golden sun pours over beautiful background scenes in Okinawa. Saya has changed as well. She is a slim, big eyed (that's to be expected) waif of a girl who has very little superficial resemblance to her previous incarnation This new Saya seems overwhelmingly innocent. Where as the Saya of Blood was a loner, this Saya lives with her adopted father and two adopted brothers above the family-run restaurant and is on the track team. We soon learn that this sunny outlook is a result of severe amnesia. Saya has forgotten the brutality of her past and lives her live as a normal teen girl.  Unfortunately, a sequence of events align to awaken Saya from her dormancy. 
The cover of the 2006 DVD, shows a very different
animation style, and additional character of Haji.

The U.S. Government, conspiring with a large and mysterious pharmaceutical corporation called, Cinq Fleches, is doing research on Chiropterans in the hops of creating super soldiers. They "accidentally" release two, who head straight for Saya, attracted to her scent.  At the same time Saya runs into a mysterious man named Haji (who is hot as all get out). This injured cellist awakens fuzzy memories in Saya, but she does not awaken to her full fighting potential until she is trapped in the school with one of the rampaging Chiropterans.  Hagi, who we now see has superhuman strength and speed, saves her by awakening Saya with a bloody kiss. He feeds Saya his own blood and she supercharges--her eyes glow red as she easily defeats the Chiropteran; she then falls unconscious.  When she wakes she remembers nothing of the incident. Saya's warrior side awakens again when her family is attacked by a  human friend who has been "turned" into a Chiropteran.  Saya's awakening has consequences.  David, the (for lack of a better word) handler, from the original movie, sows up to reclaim Saya from her family.  He gives them 24 hours to say goodbye--things do not go as planned. 

Saya's family is attacked again, her father George is killed and her brothers Riku (the younger) and Kai (the elder) refuse to break apart their makeshift family further.  What results is a heartbreaking series in which Saya reconstructs her tragic past and reawakens dark memories, all the while being pursued by Chiropterans, evil corporations and a malignant figure named Diva.  Saya, it is discovered, has periods of dormancy for decades, so before her time runs out again she must defeat the evil she is partially responsible for releasing into the world.  

In the middle of tall the battle and intrigue of this story lies a story about love and family.  The central character for me is not Saya, nor her eternal demon lover (or chevalier) Haji (who is too pretty and devoted to feel genuine), but the older brother Kai. It is his story that I keep returning to, mostly because this faux bad-boy, ex-gang member turned would-be soldier refuses to part with those he loves.  It is clear that he will fight to the death for his brother and sister, regardless of anything else. It is Kai who tells the story in many ways, and Kai who allows Saya her chance at redemption, who preserves the humanity of the tale and who never  gives up hope.  He is not a sunny optimist, he is a fighter and a wounded one at that. He is my second favorite type of hero (the torn prince) again. Saya and Haji are neigh indestructible, but Kai, who is fragile flesh and bone takes risks alongside them.  And it is Kai who watches over Saya as she sleeps, keeping vigil for his sister (and the love of his life) until she awakens again.
Kai carries Saya when she has no more strength,
and keeps vigil over her as she sleeps.
(Kai is squeeworthy!)

The series ends with a tentative hopefulness and some room for yet another incarnation or sequel. I half-hope it doesn't happen myself. I like the ending as is.

If you are more of a fan of manga, live action or light novels the Blood/Blood+ franchise has you covered in those genres as well.  The manga and light novels follow along with the Blood+ storyline, although there is a novelization of Blood  as Blood 2000. The plot is followed fairly closely, with some expansion of course. The light novels do an interesting job of explaining each character's motivation, especially Saya's. Although it is sometimes nice to have this information, I don't see it as crucial to the understanding or appreciation of the storyline.  The manga and novels also seem to play ou the Saya/Kai/Haji love triangle a bit more fully. Bringing this to the forefront turns the series into more of a romance, which is fine, but seems unnecessary. I get the feeling that the changes to the relationships were added to appeal to a younger female fanbase. The romantic aspect doesn't take away from the story entirely, bit it does simplify things.  The relationships each of these characters has with one another is vastly more complex than a mere romance.  For instance, Kai positions himself as brother, friend, protector (father figure), comrade in arms, and lover--each of these roles creates tension with the others. Saya's relationship with Haji is complex as well; they are essentially soul mates of a sort, their relationship has spanned centuries, but they are also master and servant in a relationship that can never have the same equality as Saya's relationship with Kai.
Haji comforting Saya.

To boil this sort of interwoven complexity down to a "He likes, she likes, he likes" love triangle is to over-simplify those relationships for an audience of readers who, I hope, can handle a more mature discussion of love, responsibility and devotion.

Of course,  the 2009 live-action film Blood: The Last Vampire does none of this.  It centers mainly on the original 1966 storyline with some nods to the series that follows. I think it was cast quite well, and the fight scenes are spectacular, but it is missing a lot of opportunities to move beyond basic plot.

It is not an unsuccessful retelling, just a very limited one. I like to see a strong female lead kick a bunch of big-bad ass. The Saya in the live-action version is almost as brutal and incompassionate as the original anime version. A few (sadly) expected changes were made to gain audience appeal. In the original Saya was moved to protect a frumpy, middle-aged, high school nurse, who spent most of the film in flustered confusion. In the remake the nurse is replaced by a young, pretty, American army brat.  I know why they did it, and it doesn't make that big of a difference in the storyline, I suppose, but I still want to see a frumpy school nurse fighting terrifying monsters.

I would have given the film mad props for that...but alas. In truth the film doesn't do much for the franchise. There's no reimagining of the storyline or characters--they've simply been translated from anime to live action  I always wonder, well, what's the point then? I feel this way about a lot of "translations" from book to film to anime to whatever---if you aren't going to add something or explore something further or reimagining something fully in this new incarnation, then why do it it all. OR, if the changes you do make are superficial or if they oversimplify something fans enjoy already, then what the hell is the point?

I'm looking at you Hollywood! And I"m already pissed about the all-Caucasian cast of Akira. 

Saya's story has a lot of reinventions, some better than others, but that's all based on my personal desires for the story--each incarnation has strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I love the anime series Blood+. I'll admit that I sobbed quietly several times before the final episodes--where I sobbed very loudly.  I fell in love with the fallibility of the characters and their sense of responsibility towards not just each other, but the larger world. Plus, I like a tragedy...man, do I like a tragedy.

So, in review and to sum up this ridiculously lengthy post (which I wrote in longhand as my students took their final essay exams) here's the breakdown:

Blood: The Last Vampire : Violent and gritty anime. Not a lot of revealed story line. Bad ass female lead.

Blood+ (anime series): Complex, international, intertwined story lines, beautifully animated, emotionally draining. My favorite version.
Blood+ (manga): Very much like the anime, plays up the "love triangle" aspect. Pacing is different--a few "new" or "extended scenes." Some characters, like little brother Riku, have bigger changes to their storyline.

Blood+ (light novels): Follows manga fairly closely. Added "bonus" of seeing characters' thoughts and motivations (if you need that sort of thing). VERY heavy on the Saya/Haji relationship righ away--much faster development of this complication, much slower development of overarching storyline.

Blood (live action): Follows original anime storyline. Some nods to later series (although I may not have noticed them if I were not such a fan). Violent. Fun. Nice effects. Little to no storyline or motivation. Lots of girls with swords--cool, but is it cool enough to recommend? Nah. Not unless you're a huge fan of the original anime.

Pick your Poison!


3 comments:

The Moon in Autumn said...

I haven't actually seen or read any of the other incarnations, but I loved the anime series when it was on TV so much. I'm glad to hear one person's take on all of them. : )

William Shakespeare said...

Yeah, it's really nice to see it all tied together. I've seen a little of the anime and the live action movie. I believe you sent me the first manga. It's sitting in my "vampire stuff to be read" pile. This moves it up!

M said...

I'm a fan of the anime series more than anything. It is by far the most nuanced version of the story. I love Kai.