Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)

A 48-minute anime (it needs to throw in a making-of so the DVD package doesn't feel like a ripoff), this isn't quite a feature but doesn't feel like a short either – with its emphasis of action over explanation, it could almost be a series pilot (though no further segments have appeared). The film's strongest suit is that its mysterious situation is actually fathomable, so a proper explanation of what is going on and the origins of the characters might just belabour the obvious.

In Japan in 1966, Saya, a solemn but sword-wielding little girl, works with a covert US intelligence agency to track down and kill 'choleopterids', apparently ordinary humans who can turn into enormous fanged or winged monsters. At Halloween, she is infiltrated into a school on a US army base to track and kill a gang of these creatures. Nurse Mahiko, a dumpy Japanese Christian, is witness to the swording of a couple of apparent children, then gets dragged along as Saya duels with more monsters. As the title gives away, the choleopterids aren't proper vampires – a photograph dated 1892 and Saya's anger at the nurse's cross-clutching reveals that she is 'the last of the originals', presumably intent on tracking down mutants who have replaced her kind. A suggestive moment at the finale has Saya standing over a dying monster and dripping some of her own blood into its mouth, either to comfort or torment the beast.

There are odd layers of conspiracy, with an opening subway train execution ordered by Saya's American boss which seems to take out a regular human and a final kicker that the authorities have written off the outbreak at the base as an attack by a Communist underground and used it as an excuse to escalate the war in Vietnam. The film blends traditional anime characterwork with CGI and glimpses of collage or live action, but all its skill of execution doesn't quite cover the fact that its elements are overfamiliar in anime: a sailor-suited warrior schoolgirl, swordplay action, transforming monsters, fake humans who live among us, ultra-gore. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo.

First published in this form here.

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