We have a real treat for you guys in honor of the new CLAMP movie Blood-C: The Last Dark; a love letter to that one show that everyone loves to hate.
illegenes: Ah, Blood C. Perhaps the most controversial and hated show of 2011, it caused backslash and hate flames everywhere. Despised for its ‘clumsy’ writing, weak protagonist, lack of Blood+ content, and almost over the top gorn, Blood C was probably the one show anyone could agree on that year as being a downright horrible show. Pick any review, and I can assure you that there’s a 90% chance that the article would be abundant with words like “outrageous” or “disgusting” or “dumb.”
There’s a few percentage of people who enjoy Blood C, despite the overwhelming majority saying that it was terrible. The group can be divided into three sections: rather sick people who somehow get off gorn, diehard CLAMP fans, and people who actually enjoyed the show from start to end for what it was. I fit myself in with the last group, and while I may be one of the very few, to me Blood C is a show that pays tribute to classic horror elements while making fun of them at the same time; a genuinely fantastic show that is self aware and understands exactly what it’s doing. But before you turn back and boo at our post, let me clarify. I don’t expect you to like Blood C. I don’t expect you to love it, or to agree with me, but what I do hope is that I persuade you to understand that Blood C is not a great show, but it is definitely a lot more interesting than what people give it credit for.
For starters, Blood C plays with the definition of what it means to be a monster, by tackling two sides of a heated debate that’s been going on for centuries: nature versus nurture. At the heart of it is Saya Kisaragi, who is a young teenage girl forced to encounter and fight brutal blood-draining monsters (called the Furukimono) who end up threatening her very way of life. It’s only toward the end that we understand it is this way of life is a lie; that her true nature has been chained as she stakes her life on a simple gain with the antagonist of the story, Fumito Nanahara. And so, we must ask ourselves: what do we define as a monster? It’s the same question Mary Shelley asked in Frankenstein.
Shelley’s Frankenstein is the conflict of two men – or monsters – and their drive to find one another and seek revenge, while contemplating their nature along the journey. On one side, we have Victor Frankenstein: a genius scientist driven by his passion to become greater than anyone humankind has ever seen. In the process, he brings a dead man back to life, which becomes a monster that ends up killing the people he loved. We could compare Victor to Fumito, as both characters experiment and toy with something that should not be tampered with, and both suffer loss as a result. Though, Victor shares remorse and guilt for his actions while Fumito only bathes in pleasure for it. But nevertheless, the examination is the same. Frankenstein also focuses on the Monster that Victor created; a disfigured, ghastly thing that is shunned by society and is torn between a desire to destroy its creator or live a life of its own. For the majority of the novel, the Monster walks from landscape to landscape, just like Victor, seeking solace and a place to call home – eventually, another monster to procreate with. He is denied all of this, much like Saya, who was also born a monster, and was denied the real comfort of a home or family. Saya and the Monster both share an instinctual, primal nature to kill, and they both share a deep loneliness and limited understanding of how the world works. Ultimately, the two characters are consumed by their drive to kill one another out of revenge; likewise, Fumito only sees Saya as a treasure to possess, obsessed with only her and nothing else in life. Saya also becomes obsessed with Fumito the minute she wakes up from her cruel dream, pursuing him under the name of revenge. Superficially, the two series are alike, but more importantly, they raise the same question: Who is the real monster? Is it Fumito, who so perversely controls Saya and her life and power, ruthlessly using others as tools to fulfill his objectives? Is it Saya, who, by nature, must feed on the monsters she kills to stay alive, and has no qualms about slaying the beasts in the first place? What is a ‘monster’ and where does it live?
Both Frankenstein and Blood C clearly give the answer: in all of us. That is the horror. Not the gorn, not the tragic death of Saya’s foster father. It is the fact that the monster is everywhere, residing in our own personality, in nature itself. We are all monsters waiting to happen, and that itself, is more frightening than anything in this show. It’s not a groundbreaking message – on the contrary, it’s quite a typical one. But that’s the point. Blood C is classic horror fiction material, purposely made that way because it is a tribute to horror and the elements that define it.
This can also be seen with other pieces of horror fiction – namely, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None/ Murder on the Orient Express as Blood C also examines the idea of justice and “you get what you deserve” in the system as one character after another is killed off despite coming into the game for personal reasons. But horror tropes set aside, the show also pays tribute to the regular format of a horror drama, almost relishing in the standard and lazy format. The first three episodes of Blood C are the most mundane; they feature Saya singing to school, eating at Fumito’s cafe, and then coming back to kill a Furikimono. For the most part, we see this as an overextended introduction to Saya’s life, but this three parter exists for other reasons: to lure the viewer in and show how a regular, boring day in the life can turn into a monstrosity. The places that Saya takes refuge in – her school, the temple, the cafe – are all turned against her. The people she cares about turn against her. Everything and everyone flips onto their true nature, leaving Saya to turn on hers. And thus Episode 4-9 focus on the increased violence, whereas Episodes 10-12 finally lay out the answers, giving us little time to remain shocked.
The format of Blood C strictly follows a typical horror series; the buildup, the climax, and resolution are all similar to that of classical horror. The show at the same time, turns these tropes into something to be laughed at. We have stock and extremely stereotypical characters that we attempt to laugh at, only to understand that we were never meant to actually like them, or even care about them in the first place. The sense of disbelief is purposely inserted to forcefully make us understand how surreal everything is. Over the top gorn is added in as the most unsubtle of the comedy to show that Blood C understands horror and constricted storywriting elements, but also ridicules them for being banal and conventional. The violence is senseless. It’s supposed to be. That’s what makes it terrifying, but also very important: we are watching a B+ horror flick, but we’re also watching a show that’s sending a rather mocking message to the constrictions of horror writing: you could be better.
That said, Blood C also takes time to subvert these stereotypes with its main heroine, Saya – an excellent deconstruction of what it means to be a ‘strong female character’. This is a trope many anime use as a lazy, conventional way to sell their female characters. Most ‘strong female characters’ are serious, heavily masculinized (and thus only enforcing binary roles in gender, by proving that in order to be ‘badass’ a girl must have masculine traits) and can wield a sword. Saya can do all of this. Her eyes turn blood red in parallel to an increased lust for killing; she mercilessly slays every monster she finds. Her desire to kill is in contrast with her desire to protect the people she loves. And at this point, we would have thought that Saya would have won. She would have defeated the Furikimono, killed Fumito, and regain justice in this world.
Except it doesn’t happen. On the contrary, Saya is brutally punished for her idealistic ways. Not only does everyone she tries to protect end up getting killed, but it turns out that those people are nothing more than actors who didn’t care about her in the first place. Saya’s characterization is repeatedly beaten to the ground as character after character is gobbled up, torn apart, and drained of blood. In the end, Saya’s eye is blown off, and she is left on the shores to heal and wait for revenge. She receives no happy ending, no true friend, no romantic interest. Instead, she is broken by the system. Blood C gives its hero no redemption tale; it only points at the flaws of the ‘strong female character’ trope and points out why this trope fails. At first, we would consider this to be none other than the typical “Break the Cutie” trope. This, however, is avoided by the fact that the show does not demoralize Saya nor laugh at her conviction. Despite failing to live up to her heroic ideals, Saya is still very much a heroine; she still has her own agenda in a Truman Show-like game where her agenda is seemingly taken away. At the very end of the show, Saya breaks the system that broke her first, something that could only be done if she was in control in the first place. She regains her personality, but does not revert back to her character before the show started. She combines the personality she was forced to create during the game, and the personality she had before the simulated game was created. In essence, she is a monster, with a character built by her interaction with the people around her. Even if her life was a farce, it still happened – the bonds she formed were real in the sense that she benefited from them. How? She gained moral consciousness. It is that moral consciousness that drives her revenge, which is set up in the movie, Blood C: The Last Dark. And it is that moral consciousness that keeps Saya as a heroine we root for, as she allows herself to cry for the people she loved and lost, and then gets back up, to fight again. This sort of personality is something that does pop out of usual anime stereotypes, as Steven will explain.
gallifreyians: Oh Blood-C, where to start! I guess to clear the air we fist need to firmly establish this: Blood-C is/was never meant to be really related to Blood+ in any way beyond the nominal. Ahh, don’t we all feel better? Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about the show itself. There are two things that make the show great: the horror and the protagonist. Since Natasha has already talked about the classical horror aspects of the show, let’s talk about Saya.
One of the most consistent things I’ve heard people say about Saya is how stupid she is. “How did she not see that everything was faked? I saw through the ruse right away!” It’s as good a jumping off point as any, and to it I say: That’s the entire point of Saya and Blood-C; Saya believes in the fiction of her life and more than that, wants to believe in the fiction of her life. Saya and Fumito “made a bet” about if Fumito changed everything about Saya — her surroundings, her personality, and her past — whether or not Saya would actually change; and despite all of Saya’s protestations, her incessant chant of “I will not change.”, she did. Blood-C is fantastic not because of the gorn (or really even because of the horror), it is fantastic for it’s exploration of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous quote, “We are what we pretend to be.”
The exploration of Saya’s identity and of the larger concept of nature vs nurture, despite arriving textually late to the game, is subtextually – and sometimes subconsciously – woven throughout the narrative of Blood-C. However, I will concede that to see this does require a lot of the audience; one needs to take a metatextual look at the construction of the story like Natasha did with Nisio Isin’s Katanagatari anime adaption. It is easy to see through the flimsy façade of Fumito’s constructed world, but we have to consider why this is. Tsutomu Mizushima wants us to see through the viel and pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and by doing this leads us to question why Saya isn’t seeing what we’re seeing purposefully. I guess unfortunately the ultimate answer to that question can’t be apprehensible until the very end of the show; not due to any sort of bad writing but to the very nature of the narrative crafted around Saya, which is only complete when we know her background and the end she meets in episode twelve.
Saya started as the thing that hides under the monsters’ beds, then she met Fumito and became a whole other person entirely because of his sinister machinations; something else entirely, but something happy. Does a monster who lives in solitude away from both Furukimono and people ever feel happiness? Does it feel the unconditional love of a father? Does it feel the bond of friendship? The warmth of having someone being there for you? — No.
As much as Fumito tortured, manipulated, and experimented upon Saya, he gave her something she could never have had before: love and happiness. As Kisaragi Saya: Schoolgirl she had a loving father, a budding quasi-romantic relationship with Fumito, tons of friends, a secret admirer, a teenage crush, and a supportive teacher, which are all aspects that help real people live fulfilling lives. While in reality these relationships are entirely fabricated and one-sided, for Saya this was reality.
I am a person who doesn’t handle betrayal well, when people betray me I gain this intense loathing and cold hate that is unstoppable to reconcile with the previous status quo, it just takes over and replaces all of the feelings I’ve ever had. Other people are different though, inclined to not necessarily to forgive, but instead to hold onto those past feelings and try to treat the person in a way that both is in line with their emotions and fits with the new paradigm of the relationship. Saya most certainly falls in with the latter; her reality was that they loved her and she loved them, so even when she finds out that everything was a lie it’s natural for her to still harbor the love that she felt before. Saya keeps the resolve to save everyone because on an emotional level they still matter just as much, so when we see that shot in the last episode of Saya screaming out as she chases Fumito through the town it’s all the more powerful; that’s real and that’s so understandable.
The fiction of Saya’s life became her reality, and instead of taking the easy way out where Saya remembers her past life and completely reverts back to being a monster, this show takes the harder path and really nails it. In Saya the Monster pretending to be Saya the Schoolgirl, she became Saya the Schoolgirl, and that doesn’t just go away because it was a lie. It has stayed with her, turning her into Saya the Person.
Next Time: An Actual Review About Blood-C: The Last Dark