Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anime Review: Black Blood Brothers

Black Blood Brothers was originally a Light Novel series just like Kaze no Stigma, Slayers and apparently half the anime that gets made today. Seriously if the number of children’s books in America got turned into cartoons with the rate that it happens in Japan Cartoon Network would actually have to play cartoons 24/7 again. The books were written by Kouhei Azano from 2004 to 2006. A 12 episode cartoon was produced by Studio Live and Group TAC in 2006 and licensed for America by FUNimtion Entertainment (Those guys again) and released starting in 2008. I had heard of this show when it came out but wasn’t able to discern it from another vampire anime that I had no interest in called Trinity Blood (Which was apparently based on a Light Novel series for a nice change of pace). I hesitated with this show because I tend to avoid vampire fiction since most of it these days seem to deal with vampires dating underage girls and no one calling it creepy, but I broke down and gave it a look because it was convenient to do so.
Ten years ago a Vampire Apocalypse was narrowly avoided when a coalition of vampires and humans banded together to defeat the Kawloon Children, a bloodline of highly, highly contagious vampires who attacked Hong Kong. The most celebrated of this heroic group was Jiro Mochizuki a particularly powerful vampire who apparently disappeared soon after the conflict. In present day Jiro has resurfaced, along with his ten year old vampire brother Kotaro, and is trying to make his way to the Special Economic Zone, a safe haven for vampires located in Japan and his arrival seems to have many up in arms over it. However it soon becomes clear that the two brothers are not the only ones trying to enter the city.
Despite the aviator goggles this is not a steam punk show
After watching this show I have to say that it is hard not to draw comparisons to the original Hellsing anime from 2001. Both are shorter series (Hellsing was thirteen episodes to BBB’s twelve), both deal with vampires fighting other vampires and both leads are extremely powerful creatures in a red coat and a cool hat. However I think it’s fair to say that BBB is a softer counterpart to the dark setting of Hellsing. Everything is brighter here, just about every character is considerably friendlier and/or more emotionally stable, and comedy tends to rear its head pretty often. Plus with Hellsing the anime lost its footing around the halfway mark and never really recovered while here it stays fun all the way through. Also Hellsing’s music had a lot of bass driven hard rock which helped give the show a unique tone. BBB’s music has more of an orchestra feel to it; both styles have their merits. I should mention that I found the ending song used in BBB’s credits, 'Shinkirou' by LOVEHOLIC, to be hauntingly beautiful which is something I’ll never say about the crap Hellsing used in its credits.
I liked the setting depicted in this series a lot. I thought a lot of the ideas presented about a world where vampires and humans co-exist to be fun and original (Or at least it was original to me). At least co-exist outside of the whole “brooding by moonlight” stuff in, say, True Blood; which, by the way, is less a TV show and more a weekly excuse to see Anna Paquin’s boobs. That’s right, I said it. Anyway the show was able to balance between being more lighthearted than some of its contemporaries while regularly dipping into darker regions when the plot called for it. I thought that separating vampires into different blood-lines was a clever call as it allows different types of vampires with different powers and weaknesses to be represented in this show with nothing looking out of place. The vampire mythology was far more intriguing than it was annoying which is more than a lot of series can say these days. However on the downside (For me at least) most vampires in fiction are either embodiments of, or metaphors for, sex and BBB is no different. In this case being bitten by a vampire is, *ahem*, a pleasurable experience. I mean really pleasurable. I mean it’s in “I’ll have what’s she’s having” territory. Good for them, I guess, but I for one was feeling a little bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. Then again what the hell was I doing watching anything about vampires and then being surprised about sexuality being addressed? That’s like going to a movie theater and being shocked and appalled that the popcorn costs more than the ticket; you knew it as coming so stop pretending to be surprised.
Don't worry, Kotaro
You're too adorable to be a sex metaphor
The show is very action packed and the fight scenes tend to be pretty fast paced, which I always enjoy. I also really dug the art style. I don’t normally celebrate artwork but I thought that the animation flowed nicely and looked top notch all the way through the show’s end and the character designs were (Mostly) unique and detailed. This was a very pretty show. I have assume that, with a lower episode count, the art budget wasn’t as thinned out as has seemingly been the case with a few of the other shows I’ve reviewed. Speaking of the low episode counts this show works with what is has very well. The plot doesn’t really slow down, but also doesn’t sacrifice character scenes in the process. It completely lacks the feeling of being padded with superfluous crap that so many of these other anime have been plague with. As they only had 12 episodes to tell a story, rather than 24-26 or even 50, they couldn’t waste time on that extra filler that producers tend to throw in to make their episode quota. In a lot of ways Black Blood Brothers feels like a very long film rather than a TV show and I mean that as a compliment.
The characters featured in the show are not the best ensemble, but that has a lot to do with the show’s real problem. As it is most of the characters seemed potentially interesting but we only have time to focus on a few of them. Jiro comes off very different from the “anti-hero” protagonist I’m used to in this sort of show as he’s friendly and happy to help others so long as it doesn’t conflict with his protection of his brother. He has a lot reason to be the brooding type but for the most part he doesn’t let it take over his personality. Kotaro manages by way of a miracle to not annoy me as much as the little kid character could have potentially done. He seemed more adorable to me than anything else. Most of the rest of the cast are shown to either have cool designs or clearly show shades of being badass, but there is no time to ever really get to know any of them. For example the Dark Princess of the North shows up for maybe a minute or two, is implied to be very powerful, and then is never seen again afterwards (Though she’s mentioned). I assumed that having showed up early in the show she would have played a major role during the show’s climax. That was an incorrect assumption.
Hey, this guy looks cool
Too bad he doesn't do much besides "looking cool"
Presumably the lack of character development for the supporting cast was due to two major reasons: #1) There just wasn’t enough time to go into depth with everyone, but even so they do a pretty decent job with what they have. #2) the characters were written as if they were being introduced but would get characterized a bit more in later stories. I assume this TV show is more or less adapted from the first Black Blood Brothers novel so it’s only natural for themes, ideas and characters to make appearances here and gradually become more detailed as the series continues. The problem is that, as far as I’m aware, there aren’t any new BBB shows being produced! Which is a damn shame because the ending, while more or less fine, finishes the story by setting up a status quo that obviously is meant to set-up the further adventures of the three main characters. That’s all well and good for the first in a series of books or pilot for a TV show but there is no more of the anime after episode 12 and it feels like a disappointing cliffhanger! In fact truth be told the entire show almost seems like a commercial for the books...you know, books that are unavailable in America. Combined with the large amount of back-story that it feels like we’re missing the whole thing is pretty frustrating from a viewer’s point of view.
That right there is one of the major problems with trying to watch a Japanese television program as a foreign viewer. Chances are extremely good that BBB’s anime adaption was something of a device to garner more interest in the books, that sort of thing isn’t uncommon even here in America (SEE: Every cartoon produced by Marvel Comics ever) but an average Japanese viewer can easily go to their local book store: I can’t. This seriously hurts my enjoyment of the series because there’s clearly a greater story waiting to be told in the cartoon that never really comes to fruition here. I despise having to be faced with what feels like missing plots only to be told that the information is listed in something apart from the work I’m looking at, but it becomes downright depressing when I don’t have access to those plot points at all.
This isn’t really a minor complaint since it made me punch a hole in my wall in anger when the show ended, but even with that in mind what we do have is still very good stuff. The action is good, the world is interesting, and the characters are fun and have cool designs even if most of them don’t get to do a whole lot. The fact is that it if any anime needed a sequel it’s this one but it’s hard to say if such a thing will happen or not. I don’t want to call this a good “vampire anime” because I believe, with no sense of irony, that this was a good anime that happened to involve vampires. If you like vampires Black Blood Brothers is a must see. If you hate them then it’s unlikely anything in the show will be able to change your opinion since, while very good, the series isn’t genre defining by any means. Still I think that this cartoon is a worthy addition to any anime collection and that Jiro Mochizuki is a protagonist who could theoretically stand alongside the likes of Vash the Stampede and Spike Spiegel and not look out of place.
Pictured: Proof that the character designs weren't all unique
Despite being somewhat burned out on vampires I give Black Blood Brothers 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5

-Great action
-Good artwork, animation and character designs
-Intriguing story makes it hard to turn off
-The show feels very incomplete

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