The pre-credits opener to the first ep of Blood +, the newest addition to the Adult Swim late-night animé bloc, lets you know what you're in for right away. Opening on a fuzzy faux newsreel image of what we later learn is a Vietnamese village, we see a young woman wielding a sword in the heat of battle, seemingly indiscriminately beheading both gargoyles and innocent humans as a scared young girl hides and cowers somewhere in the background. Each sword-swipe is accompanied by a violent arterial spray of blood: Blood Plus, to be sure.
A follow-up to the unseen-by-me animé feature, Blood: The Last Vampire, the fifty-episode series follows Saya Otonashi (dubbed voice Kari Wahlgren), a young teen school girl who is only able to recall the last year of her life. Saya lives in Okinawa City with her adopted father and two adopted brothers Kai (Ben Diskin) and Riku (Kamali Minter); when we first see her in the light of day, she's practicing for a school track meet, innocently (if somewhat provocatively) playing around with a school chum. But we know that this is only the calm before the storm. Despite the seemingly reassuring presence of a U.S. Air Force base on the island, at least one killer is stalking the streets of Okinawa City; at the base, we see a military higher-up meeting with an exotically accented civilian who tells us that "ze mice have escaped."
Saya, though she doesn't yet remember, has her own connection to the violent island murders: her first nudge into remembering comes when she happens upon a handsome cellist named Hagi (Crispin Freeman) performing in the streets. Listening to the music, she flashes on the scene we saw earlier, though, of course, her first inclination is to run away from the traumatic memories. But that trick never works. Before the first half hour is up, Saya and her brother Kai are both threatened by the city's serial slayer, a monstrous creature called a chiropteran, and the mysterious Hagi shows up to hand Saya a sword and a little bit more of her memory. For his efforts, Saya's eyes turn red and – in ep two (to be broadcast next Saturday) – she transforms into a sword-swirling chiropteran kicker.
A suitably dark-hued action horror series, Blood + makes for a decent addition to Swim's middle-of-the-night weekend lineup: more flatly straightforward than a neurotically twisty exercise like Paranoia Agent (for my money, still the best of the dark-and-creepy animés that Adult Swim has run through its late-night schedule) perhaps, but still engagingly pulpy. Per too many translated animés, much of the dialog is more expository (as when a shadowy gummint figure notes that Saya is "the only weapon in the world against them!") than I suspect it is in the original series, but most American fans are used to that kind of flatfooted storytelling by now.
The first two episodes are primarily devoted to setting our heroine on her chiropteran slaying ways, though there are hints of broader, darker conspiracies around the edges. When one of the characters states out loud in the premiere ep that the island needs the American base to survive, for example, we know that phrase will ironically haunt the characters in episodes to come.
Too, there appear to be at least two sets of players with an interest in the vampire demon creatures, though we're not sure who works with what. Perhaps those viewers already familiar with the feature prequel to this series already know some of the back story, but, thankfully, the creators behind Blood + aren't assuming that we know anything. In this viewer's case, at least, that's entirely the right approach to take.
As with a lot of TV animé, the animation alternates between being effective and cut-rate: I bought the scene where an unfortunate gym teacher gets yanked into the trees to meet his death, for instance, but chortled at a moment where Kai races across the city to save his sister and all we see is his immobile head and shoulders while the background moves behind him. Saya's sword scenes are neatly done, though, and I liked how the demons still mainly stay in the shadows and background – even though they aren't special effects that require the darkness to pass. Hey, they're still creatures of the night, so, of course, they'd keep to the dark.
But for me, the detail which won me over to this series was a character tic which we're given in both the first and second eps, the second time after our heroine Saya has dispatched the demon vampire and gotten the red out of her eyes: late for dinner because of, you know, the vampire attacks and all, Saya's stomach growls loud enough to be heard on the soundtrack. An action teenaged heroine who gets hungry and actually eats? How totally exotic…