With all the brouhaha about vampires these days — from Laurel K Hamilton to Stephanie Meyer; and HBO’s True Blood to Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst — it’d feel a little like jumping on the bandwagon, except I hesitate to put Black Blood Brothers in anywhere near the same category. Sure, it is about vampires, and it’s got all the right bits and pieces – a lost love, dark secrets, feral vampires, shadowy conspiracies, innocent bystanders, idealistic humans and plenty of slaying — but it’s also got babes in uniform, cute annoying kids, silly outfits, kooky antics, fairly standard character design and way too many clichés for it’s own good. In the first five minutes or so, you’ll possibly be wondering whether you should waste your time.
But it’s right around that same five minute mark that the cute, annoying little kid gets WWF’d by his big brother for disobeying instructions and the surprise at actually seeing something you’ve always wished would happen — that is, somebody giving the cute annoying character a good smack — is so disarming the rest of the show’s flaws really don’t seem to matter quite as much any more. And once that happens, the show actually gets a lot more interesting.
Jiro is a vampire of old and particular lineage, fleeing to the protection of Japan’s ‘Special Zone’ with his kid brother Kotaro in tow. There’s just one problem. No, two. Okay, three. He can’t get in because he has to be invited in, the Coffin Order Company that protects the Zone with ties to some heavy weight vampire clans is trying to kill him, and there’s a dangerous rogue vampire — a Kowloon Child (pronounced ‘koolon’ if you can believe that!) with designs on the secret of the Special Zone and violent ties to Jiro’s past — on the loose. Oh, and Mimiko Katsuragi, a Compromiser determined to mediate a peaceful co-existence between vampires and humans even if it kills her has decided to take him under her wing.
As is the way with shows of this calibre — and it seems harsh to say it — it’s not particularly groundbreaking in either the story or the production departments. It mostly holds interest through the motivations of the different factions and the secret of the Eleventh Yard, as well as the gradually revealed details of Jiro’s past and how it relates to his present. It’s not perfect (although, how many anime shows are?) but it’s small quirks make it something a little more than merely mediocre. For example, the way the different vampire bloodlines formally introduce themselves hint at the kind of long standing traditions that you want to see in a show about long lived creatures, and the attitudes and arrogances (not to mention abilities) of each of the players in this little ethnic drama actually do make them act a lot like you would expect vampires to act. I’m not talking the glossy, sexualised, and heavily stereotyped covens of Rise of the Lycans here, but beings with immense power and a somewhat alien way of life, beings that barely pass for human in some cases and generally don’t feel the need to at any rate.
And better still, most of the humans in the show aren’t too bad either. Particularly Katsuragi, who surprisingly isn’t always the fainting damsel in distress. In fact, she only faints in fan-service ecstasy when Jiro drinks her blood (only out of necessity of course); the rest of the time she’s a gutsy, pushy, no nonsense working class girl you can actually mostly respect. Top that off with a bit of in-fighting and subterfuge, superficial themes of intolerance and ethnic cleansing, and chuck in Jiro’s lone wolf issues and you have yourself a reasonably engaging show.
Which in combination is enough to keep you watching, and by the time you get to the third and last disc in the collection (the episodes are pretty short so you could knock the whole series over in an afternoon) it’s almost disturbing to realise how you’ve actually been enjoying it. After all, the action is good but not great, the plot is interesting but not brilliant and the characters are cool but not incredible (except for maybe Zelman Clock. With a name like that, how can you not be incredible?). Basically Black Blood Brothers isn’t so bad that it seems like a waste of money, but then again it’s not so great that you’re glad you went out of your way. It’s flawed, but it’s quirks elevate it a little. It’s easy to like and hard to hate and in the end maybe sometimes that’s all anything needs to aim at being.