Review for Blood Lad - Collector's Edition
I seem to recall All the Anime’s mission ethic as announced last year, was to have the exemplars of all genres of anime in their catalogue. They certainly have got off to the right start in fulfilling that aim. They have ventured into the best mecha-shonen mash-up in Gurren Lagann, the best magical girls/high school gang warfare mash-up in Kill la Kill, the best superheroes in the Tiger & Bunny movies, the best psychological thriller in Perfect Blue, the best movies with The Wings of Honneamise and Patema Inverted, the best space adventure in Outlaw Star, the best space comedy in Space Dandy, the best contemporary off-the-wall drama in Durarara, and quite possibly the very best anime ever made in Cowboy Bebop. So when Blood Lad was announced, with the intention that it be the exemplar of the straight-up shonen action series, I was willing to give All the Anime the benefit of the doubt, despite it going up against shows like Naruto, Bleach, the granddaddy of them all, Dragon Ball Z, and the biggest shonen show in the world, One Piece. The Japanese have a knack of making long running action shows that appeal to the young male demographic, stretching for hundreds and hundreds of episodes. I even ventured into my library to check out a few volumes of the manga, and although while I wasn’t initially impressed, neither was I disappointed.
Then the check discs showed up, the complete Blood Lad series, on two Blu-ray discs, stretching to ten episodes in length, eleven if you count the OVA episode.
Staz C. Blood is a full on otaku, with a distinct passion for all things Japanese, all aspects of Japanese culture. That he’s a vampire might put a cramp in his style, and that he’s the leader of a gang who rules a significant territory in the Demon World doesn’t make things any easier. He’s not the kind of guy who has the time to go to Akihabara and window-shop for the latest releases. But then a human shows up in the demon world, a real life, honest Japanese girl named Fuyumi Yanagi. Staz’ minions are about to give her a demon welcome, but for Staz to have someone to actually talk about modern otaku culture with... Okay, so his vampire instincts are telling him to bite her neck, but he can fight that. He can also fight the wannabe gangster who suddenly decides to make a name for himself in his territory. But he can’t fight the mutant plant that invaded his apartment while he was away, and ate Fuyumi. Really, all that’s left of his human houseguest is a skeleton, and Fuyumi’s now a ghost. Staz isn’t going to give up the chance to chow down... I mean chat to his first human that easily. He’s determined to bring Fuyumi back to life, and he’ll do whatever it takes, even if that idea in one of his manga books about collecting seven balls is a bust.
Ten episodes plus the OVA are presented across two Blu-ray discs from All the Anime.
1. She’s a Skeleton Now
2. Back Home, But Not Really
3. You Had It All Along
4. To Demon World Acropolis
5. Unidentified Demon Object
6. That’s Friendship
7. Liz, for the First Time
8. Two Is a Treasure
9. Sins of the Eye Glasses
10. The Dark Hero Rises
OVA. I Am Not a Cat
Blood Lad gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. It appears that All the Anime are sharing assets with Viz Media in the US as the credits sequences have been translated into English, but given that the audio and subtitle options are unlocked, the discs have probably been authored locally. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and the crispness and clarity exceeds what you might expect from HD anime sourced from Funimation or Sentai. There’s certainly more detail and deftness of line art here than usual. That said, Blood Lad isn’t the most challenging of animations, and while the character art is consistent, the bold colour shades impactful, it shows its true shonen roots in the limited character animation, with the budget saved for the action sequences and even those opting for shortcuts and tricks to appear more dynamic than they actually are. There might be the odd moment of light banding, but certainly not enough to impact on your enjoyment of the show.
The images used in this review have been kindly supplied by All the Anime.
You have the option of PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the original language track, and was happy enough with the experience. The actors are suited to their characters, the action comes across well, and the music drives the tempo of the show when required. I gave the English track a try for half an episode, and found it was a decent enough effort, again with the characters and actors matching up well, the performances effective, and the quality of the audio matching the Japanese. The subtitles are presented in a legible, decent sized white font with black outlines, and are free of typographical error. The opening and end themes are translated, but not all of the on-screen text is. Many of the manga-like sound effects represented by Japanese text are left without translation. As there are many of these in the show, it’s easy to see why, as screen-clutter might have been a problem.
One thing that you might take as a problem, is a clumsy audio dropout at 12:13 in episode 6 (the drop is still there, but less clumsy in the English audio). It’s not a dropout, it’s one of those comedy anime copyright things, where the main character references a shonen property that he shouldn’t. You’d think that they wouldn’t make such a painful hash of the censorship, but I’ve been informed that in the Japanese broadcast, that was the point where the ad-break was.
The discs presents the show with static menu screens, and while the audio select options offer several combinations of English and subtitles, or signs, and one choice of Japanese with subtitles, the audio options are unlocked and accessible from your player remote.
All of the extras are on disc 2.
The Illustration gallery offers 35 images to click through, while the Production Art Gallery offers 13 more. There are 9:16 worth of Dub Outtakes, and the ‘spontaneous’ goofiness still isn’t funny. You get the textless credit sequences, and finally there is the Promo Video for the show.
I only got the check discs for this release, and cannot comment on the premium packaging or the 96 page booklet that comes with the Blu-ray release.
Just a ten episode series for a show that could potentially run into dozens, if not hundreds of episodes is unsurprisingly a wholly unsatisfying affair. For any other, shorter form of television, this could be the equivalent of a pilot episode, a pilot arc so to speak. When Blood Lad is competing in the same sort of arena as Naruto or One Piece, then ten episodes barely scratches the surface of what the show has to offer. So think of this collection as a proof of concept, an introduction to the universe and characters to sell us on the idea of the show, and gauge whether we will be ready for more, whether ten years from now we’ll be sitting down to boxset 26 of Blood Lad, having whinged about a filler arc, or raved about the latest boss battle.
On the strength of this taster, probably not! Blood Lad certainly has a decent premise, an otherworldly bent to its shonen antics, with an anti-hero main protagonist setting forth on his epic journey to bring the human girl who fell into his lap, back to life, so he can bite into her neck and taste her blood. On the way, we’ll explore the demon realm, meet the various characters in the universe, slowly get the reveal of the big picture and the overarching story, and get some idea of what the series will be capable of. But in execution, Blood Lad comes across as tiresomely average, slowly paced, despite its short run, and self-indulgent where it should be injecting energy and vibrancy into its characters and plotlines.
About the only thing the show has going for it is its otaku main character, a vampire gangster boss in the demon world who has a passion for all things Japanese, centring on the usual otaku pursuits, manga, anime and videogames, (which let’s face it, is hardly new in anime), and you do get that delight in the odd pop-culture reference that gets dropped. But the real problem is that the show is painfully faithful to the source material, adapting the manga beat for beat, word for word, and pacing in a manga does not equate to pacing in television, after all, you can choose at which speed you read.
You want Blood Lad to introduce its characters and its world and get down to the business of telling its story. But much of the ten episode run is spent introducing the characters, giving each an episode of air time, and moving on to the next. The first episode introduces Fuyumi and Staz and sets up their dynamic, the second introduces Hydra Bell, the third gives us an episode with Wolf, the fourth with Staz’ brother Braz, and then it’s sister Liz. That’s half the run done and dusted before we get to the story and leave the introductions behind, and it’s only around episode eight that the show gets past the chore of its introductions and scene setting, and delivers a narrative twist or two that I could get my teeth into.
By that point, Blood Lad is pretty much done anyway. Episode 10 is really the conclusion of the introductory arc, the prologue at most, and it leaves an empty feeling when you realise that this is all there is to date. Blood Lad ends before it even starts. That, coupled with the clichéd and unoriginal characterisations, the lacklustre animation, and the indulgence of adhering strictly to the manga makes this far from the definitive shonen anime. It’s certainly not up there with Naruto, One Piece or Fairy Tail. But even if you narrow the criteria down to supernatural shonen action shows, Blood Lad is still outclassed. When it comes to character, pacing, originality, inventiveness, visual and aural panache, you really want Soul Eater. I even prefer Yu Yu Hakusho to Blood Lad.
Blood Lad gets an excellent presentation on Blu-ray, the transfer is fantastic, and if you want a taster of the manga without the tedium of turning pages, then this will be the perfect intro. As a television series though, it doesn’t have enough of an identity of its own, and it’s over before it even really gets started.