Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blood+ Review (English) (A Month of Saya)

I will admit, I do like this entry of the franchise. I had seen some of it before on Adult Swim many years back and I finally watched through it entirely when I was getting back into anime while in college. I’ve been wanting to rewatch this series for a loooooong time, so now’s my chance!

Blood+ is a 50 episode Action/Horror series from director Junichi Fujisaku and Production I.G. Originally running from October 2005 to September 2006, many manga, light novel, and video game adaptations soon began to follow. As of this review, Blood+ is licensed by Sony Pictures Television International and can be found for streaming on Hulu, Netflix, and Crackle.

The ultimate sibling battle? YOU DECIDE!!
Under the care of her adoptive family, Saya Otonashi has been living the life of an anemic amnesiac, but otherwise ordinary schoolgirl. However, her happy life is shattered when she is attacked by a Chiropteran, learning that she is the only one who can defeat them. Armed with her special katana, Saya embarks on a journey with her family, allies, and her chevalier Haji, to rid the world of the Chiropteran threat and recover her identity. The course of the journey reveals the background history of the Chiropterans and Saya's past, which extends into the mid-19th century.

Personally, I am very fond of the animation of Blood+ as it is some top notch work for a series from the mid 2000s. To put this into a little bit of perspective, between 2005 and 2006, Production I.G. also produced IGPX, a Ghost in the Shell film, xxxHolic and its film Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Le Chevalier D’Eon. To drive the point a little more, 2005-2006 saw series Eureka Seven, Code Geass, and Hell Girl which is another horror anime. If I were to compare Blood+ with the many other series from this time frame, I say it’s animation can stand as one of the best not only of that year, but I may be willing to say it’s some of I.G.’s best animation of all time. Not only because it’s I.G. and they already have an outstanding reputation for producing beautiful looking series, but because Blood+ hasn’t aged all that badly. I want to say this is a hand drawn animation, but don’t quote me on that. If so, then it’s certainly a nice looking one! The animation captures not only the darker aspects of the series, but also manages to gives us animation that brightens the world we see. This helps when we are given much lighter moments before we head into darker territory. Even though I did say it’s outstanding animation, there is a small flaw every now and again, but I’m just being picky. As for the soundtrack, four opening and ending themes pop up over the course of the series and each are good listens. Personally, I’m more prone towards the second opening, Seasons Call by HYDE. Otherwise than that, the soundtrack is also solid with many orchestral tracks being heard throughout the series. Guess that’s what you get when you mix music producer Hans Zimmer with Mark Mancina..... Yes it’s THAT Hans Zimmer.

And then the girls go: SQUEEEEEE!!!
There’s something I have to admit about the story, that I actually realized while rewatching it. It’s a bit of a slow burn. There are moments where it seems to drag on from time to time during between major events, but when it goes all out, it does go all out. Whether it be the action scenes or some of the interesting exposition and twists that are thrown at us, Blood+ manages to give us the important moments we wish to see. Though, I’m not saying the moments outside of the important ones are completely pointless. The filler episodes, if you could really call them that, do serve as a break from those intense scenes as Saya and the others do need a break from time to time. It can just sometimes take a little too long to transition from one moment to another flawlessly. Something the series manages to do is leave, essentially, no plot holes behind by series end and kind of brings everything full circle. Since there are 50 episodes in the series, this can be seen as an advantage; however, if not handled properly, it could have turned into a mess. It’s a big risk trying to fit a lot of story into 50 episodes and transition from moment to moment with ease, and although the transitions could have the better the story did what it needed and I commend it for that.

Before getting into Saya, since this is very long series, I want to run through the other major characters in this series because, unlike Blood-C and the last Blood entry you’ll see this month, there are far more important characters involved (though Fumito is a major part of Blood-C, but still...). Not only do you have Saya in the series, but there’s her family, Red Shield, Diva and her chevaliers, and many many others. As many characters are there are in this series, that doesn’t mean we’ll get enough development out of all them. However, aside from Saya, the character development belongs to the characters we should really care about. Chevaliers Haji and Solomon do get moments that help us grow to understand them, albeit in different ways. For Haji, we learn more about his character through flashbacks while Saya regains her memories. This gives us the chance to see where Haji came from and where he has ended up. For Solomon, we see his development in the here and now. Solomon’s main struggle is fight between his loyalty to Diva and his love for Saya. This does cause an inner struggle to occur and I found it to be one of the more interesting side stories of the series. Red Shield’s David is also another character with some moderately decent development in the series, though you may not see it at first. The problem with his character is that this development doesn’t come until rather late in the series, and almost seems like his story line was just tossed in because we needed to see some flaws in his character. It’s probably one of the weakest side stories of the series. But, if I had to pick one character that gains the most development alongside Saya, then Kai would be the obvious pick. I say this because, as her adoptive older brother, Kai struggles throughout the series in many different ways. Some of which both he and Saya face together (which I won’t talk about for spoiler reasons). His character goes from a rather immature and rash guy into a much more calm and mature adult by series end. It’s a nice character arc for the series, giving us another avenue to explore and along with some balance to Saya and her struggles as a character.

Probably a good a time as any to talk about Saya. With this Saya, she has a similar situation as the Saya from her successor, Blood-C. However, the memory loss quickly becomes a small detail as this Saya just keeps going regardless of what she does or doesn’t know. What we see here is, actually, some typical character arcs throughout the series. Saya goes from a normal life to struggling with understanding what she really is and then to full acceptance yet distancing herself from others. Alongside Kai, Saya does grow tremendously but still retains her love for her family no matter what she faces and no matter what she loses along the way. She remains the Saya that she grew to become before regaining her memories, she just added her old ones in for good measure. Between the three iterations of Saya, this one, I feel, is the most well rounded and developed and manages to keep on a steady path for the entire series. Unlike Blood-C’s Saya, Blood+ uses this long history of Saya’s life in order to create a rather interesting character that grows rather than stays kind of stuck.

Ok, here’s the thing. With a rather large cast like this, there is bound to be quite a lot of voice actors to cover all the roles, right? Well..... in this case not so much. Many of the voice actors in this dub cover multiple roles. For example, Crispin Freeman, and I’m not kidding, voices five characters in the first three episodes alone! This can either be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good for the newer anime watchers who don’t keep tabs on voice actors all that much (and when I originally watched this series on Adult Swim, I was one of those people), but it’s bad for those who do keep track because you may or may not get annoyed with the amount of times you hear a variation of a single voice in a series. Seeing as how this is a series that was, probably, dubbed in 2006/2007 the voice actor pool isn’t as strong as it is today and especially for a, more than likely, Los Angles dub such as this. Regardless, the dub for Blood+ is still fairly strong even with the countless roles voice actors had to play out! But it’s not without some problems.

This dub sees voice work from Abby Craden, Steve Blum, Olivia Hack, Quinton Flynn, Laura Jill Miller, Wally Wingert, and much more. I will say that there are at least three performances that were a little troublesome to me. Kamali Minter’s (Blue Dragon, Tekkonkinkreet) Riku took quite a lot of patience out of me. It was one of the more difficult listens, and took a lot of adjusting in order for me to get to a place where I didn’t want to kill it with fire. Christopher Nissley’s (Criminal Minds, The Cole Conspiracy) David is another one that took a lot out of me. This is more because of the character’s stoic nature, causing Nissley to keep from giving his portrayal more range than it could have had. The third is David Rasner (Bleach, Ninja Scroll) who took on three major roles: Lewis, Okamura, and James. Two out of the three performances were also tough adjustments, but I didn’t mind Okamura all that much. As for who I feel are stand outs of the series, Kari Walhgren, Crispin Freeman, Dave Wittenburg, and Ben Diskin get mentions here. Starting with Diskin’s (Blood Lad, Accel World) performance as Kai, it was one that took some adjusting, however it was more believable, and, by the end, the performance grew with the character, something I can respect. Dave Wittenburg   (Naruto, Digimon Tamers) has some fun in multiple roles, but the one I’m a little more surprised about was his performance of Solomon. I’ll admit, it was extremely weird to see this once because I suddenly has flashbacks to the days when I watched Naruto where Wittenburg voices Kakashi. Never the less, as long as my memory serves, it’s a nice change of pace. Seeing as how Solomon is one of my favorite characters in the series, overall, this performance worked for me and helped cement my love for Solomon. Like I mentioned earlier, Crispin Freeman (Hellsing, Slayers) is also on duty in many MANY roles, but the three recurring ones we see the most are Joel, Van Argeno, and, of course, Haji. This is the first time in a LONG time that I’ve looked at a series where Freeman voiced a character, and I’ve kinda missed that (I do think of myself as a Freeman fangirl, after all). I still adore his work and love what he does, however I may have found a series where he was, actually, a little weak to me. *GASP* OH MY GOD WHAT NOW?!?! Yeah, I know. I don’t have problems with his performances of Joel or Van, those two were good. My problem is with, believe it or not, Haji. What I find to be the problem here is similar to my problem with Nissley’s David, it’s way to stoic and it’s very one note. However, unlike David, Haji’s character calls for this route a bit more which gives a little bit of wiggle room. However, that doesn’t really give me much room to go by. Because of parts of Haji’s character, the stoic performance may actually become a little wooden at times. This just isn’t one of Freeman’s better performances, and I believe that’s more a problem with the direction rather than the voice actor (considering how David was played out). I also say this, because I’ve seen much more fun performances out of Freeman. This just isn’t one of his strong ones. Last but not least, the lady of the hour, Miss Kari Walhgren (FLCL, Samurai Champloo) as Saya and her sister Diva. This is actually one of my favorite performances of Walhgren’s, but, granted, I haven’t seen much of her recent work. She makes Saya into a strong, struggling, and rather flawed individual while Diva is just plan old devious! I will admit, Saya did have some stiff moments as well but, once again, I’m calling it a problem with direction rather than acting. Overall, the dub is fairly good. It may not have aged as well as the animation has and shows some directional problems, but there are some decent performances in there.

Before we enter our deep sleep, Blood+ has some flaws but still manages to a butt kicking good time! As the most mature entry of the franchise, the series does take liberties by adding a lot of story, causing some transitional problems, but it still manages to keep on track and stay strong until the bitter end. Both the animation and characters are rather strong, but the dub leaves a bit to be desired. My advice? Watch this series! It may be flawed, but for any horror/psychological fan I personally dub this an anime classic in its own rite. I had fun on this rewatch! I laughed. I cried. It’s just a good series I can always come back to, and is one I would love to see others enjoy.

Next time, we learn where this franchise all began! Until then, otaku on my friends!

Final Rating - 7/10 No wonder why this series really created the franchise!

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