Staz Charlie Blood is the progeny of a noble vampire bloodline. Although Staz is aware of the common trappings and behaviours his heritage entails, he has no interest in such things and instead uses his power to rule as the fair boss of the Eastern territory of Demon World while building up his apartment shrine to the otaku culture of Japan. When he receives word that a Japanese girl named Fuyumi has somehow appeared in his territory from the other world, his joy is tempered with concern, since her presence awakens the traditional vampire need to feed.
As soon as Fuyumi has entered into his life, she finds hers ended by a carnivorous monster plant intended to kill him. Reduced to a ghost, Staz vows to find a means to resurrect Fuyumi’s human form with the secret intention to feast on her blood once achieved. The quest takes the pair all across Demon World where they encounter not only powerful individuals from Staz’s past, but new and dangerous ones too.
Blood Lad is a manga published in the monthly Young Ace anthology, one of Kadokawa’s seinen/’young man’ manga titles that started in 2009 and is still ongoing at the time of this writing. In 2013, the decision was made to produce a partial anime adaptation. There are of course pitfalls when doing this, some of which I’ve discussed in past reviews of similar titles. At the very least, the producers of the anime should hope to get a decent amount of episodes even if they can’t do the complete story.
Blood Lad gets ten, plus an additional OVA one to add to the count.
That might sound pretty bad but it’s not a complete loss. A key factor is that unlike other short term adaptations, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve mentioned it before, but fighting manga is now very much at the stage where the people creating it are those who grew up reading it, and are thus aware of all the tropes and clichÃ©s and seek to play around with them. This can definitely be seen in Staz’s semi-worship of Japanese entertainment/pop culture heroes, with various series getting at least visual nods and Dragon Ball in particular receiving numerous mentions. Thankfully, the otaku references aren’t overplayed, which manages to make them that more amusing when they do occur.
The short episode count means that the pacing has the best and worst traits of the first few volumes of Fairy Tail, a manga adaptation of similar tempo. We’re allowed to move through events without the drawn-out filler that kills so many other manga adaptations. At the same time, events lose consequence as the show seems to run through three or four arcs in its time. For example, about midway Staz finds himself trapped in a special prison while following up a lead, the loophole being that any prisoner who can defeat a pair of strong guards is free to leave. He challenges the guards over and over in a way that seems to suggest he’s held for days but within an episode the issue is resolved. Maybe this is simply a factor of marathoning the episodes in a single session as opposed to the once a week format they were originally designed for, but the feel of bonding and passage of time doesn’t come off quite as strongly as the script suggests, especially since the focal point is the developing interactions of Fuyumi and Staz. The episodes kept my attention and were entertaining for the most part, but the passage of time is just too brisk to add weight to relationships, events and fights.
Fuyumi herself is more of a prop than a character: a big busted school girl who doesn’t want to be a burden to others and thanks those she meets in Demon World for looking out for her. She’s essentially a MacGuffin who is there to be kidnapped or fall ill, reminding us that she’ll literally fade away if a fix for her situation isn’t found. It’s because the show doesn’t take itself seriously that I’m not more annoyed with this (there are other anime titles where lead females being written like this annoys me greatly), but she doesn’t stick in the mind for long regardless. She doesn’t really undergo any character development which sticks out even more when much of the focus of change is Staz himself.
The wider cast are also fairly generic for the most part. Wolf is a neighbouring territory boss and friendly rival to Staz, focused on becoming strong enough to be a match for the vampire without resorting to his werewolf form. We’re also introduced to Staz’s younger sister and elder brother, revealing that he has a painful past with his relatives and that there might be a wider plot going on.
The most entertaining character in the cast is Bell, a mysterious trickster female who enjoys using her dimensional portal magic to mess with people. It’s amusing to watch her mess with physics and minds with her powers, while also bringing needed pause to the two main characters, holding back Staz against an opponent he can’t easily beat down and questioning his intentions in wanting to revive Fuyumi.
By the end of this, you’ll at least have had some fun and the story closes on enough of an ending to class it as an amusing diversion. Of course, there’s the carrot dangling for more episodes/pointing you to the manga, with at least one big fat teaser for a prominent subplot. Depending on your interpretation, the OVA episode either helps or hinders that, as it continues directly where episode ten left off but focuses on Staz and Fuyumi facing off alone with some joke antagonists before ending on the start of the next manga arc. The actual overall plot holds together well enough, other than a particularly stupid reveal about a certain character’s parentage that feels like the original author wanted to force the idea no matter how much he had to explain it.
Visually the show stands up well, obviously adapted from a manga but having an easy to digest style which matches the overall flavour of the show. A trend I did like was how the title card for each episode was a different story related visual each time like graffiti on a wall or a shadow cast on open grass. It stops the reality break of a standard title card and really helps with the lead in from one episode to the next. The Blu-ray transfer is superb, presented in colourful and crisp widescreen.
Both vocal casts do a decent job, the Japanese cast being made up mostly of relative newcomers while more familiar names appear in the English dub. Iori Nomizu is probably the weakest link in the original cast. I’m not sure what direction she was given but her generally flat vocal work combined with the aforementioned writing only adds to the problems with Fuyumi. An idea that happily surprised me was using actual child actors for the flashbacks of young Staz and Wolf. Usually in anime such roles are handled by a female VA but the choice to cast actual male children is far more effective, mainly for how natural the acting and dialogue becomes as a result. This is a trend I wish more productions would experiment with.
With the dub, I can’t help but feel typecasting is creeping in. I’m an admitted fan of Johnny Yong Bosch but his work as Staz’s older brother Braz sees him deliver exactly the performance he’s used in titles such as Code Geass and Durarara!!: the measured conceited mastermind who knows he’ll get his way regardless. Bryce Papenbrook also continues his ascent on the anime dub scene.
The Blu-ray version is presented on two discs, with the first eight episodes on disc one and the final two, the OVA and extras on disc two. Extras consist of two art galleries containing production and promotional art for the series, clean versions of the opening and ending, a dub outtake reel and Japanese promotional videos. The outtake reel is the standout for me as, similar to the ones this talent pool did for Durarara!!, it’s a mix of genuine flubs and hilarious gag dubbing at the expense of the source material. The retail release will also come in the lovingly crafted packaging that has become the Anime Limited standard and with a ninety-six page booklet.
Blood Lad is an odd one to be sure. It’s not going to be called the worst anime ever nor is it the worst manga adaptation ever, but in a competitive market I’m not sure quite where it sits. I think the best call is to judge it as amusing light entertainment. It’s not one of those stories that will enrich or challenge your world view but if you want to spend some time with good quality animation and fun characters then you could certainly pick worse. Like our lead character, it knows the otaku landscape and isn’t fond of sucking.