To resurrect their Blood franchise, Production I.G. enlisted the help of CLAMP to spawn the latest entry, Blood-C. Beginning like a relic of the past with stereotypical do-gooder Saya, candy-sweet twins, a mysterious café owner and flowery nonsense spouted by an unseen narrator, the opening episodes settle into a comfy monster-of-the-week format with a dash of playground idealism. Then people start to die. A lot of people. Starting with innocent bystanders then progressing to, what was assumed to be, main cast members, the carnage is relentless - the final episode a murderous orgy of violence and bloody slaughter set to a grand orchestral score.
It's certainly unexpected.
The first time the show springs a meaningful death - not overall-wearing red-shirts - it is brutal, unequivocal and has all the trademarks of a hideous dream sequence. Amazingly, it's to the series' credit that this discord is maintained. Even the denouement, a clever in-context breaking of the fourth wall, feels like protagonist Saya is should wake with a gasp and clutch at a fevered brow. The ribbing of so many tropes is elegantly done, whether it's the ethereal dog's comment on Saya's lack of prudishness or the hardened father's love of sweets.
Saya herself has changed drastically from previous incarnations and now sports the recognisable CLAMP styling. Her clumsiness at the beginning of the series, though painfully stereotypical, seems warranted given her outlandish new body proportions and her demeanour hints more at a domineering office-lady rather than demon slayer extraordinaire. As before, the continuity of the Blood franchise is non-existent, only the sword-wielding school-girl core is retained with the bat-like chiropterans banished to grainy flashbacks and replaced with stunningly crafted "Aged Ones".
Ranging from a menacing Jizo statue to a giant multi-legged frog, their strength of design is matched by their casual malevolence. No one is safe, least of all the witless bystanders who are tossed, smashed, devoured, skewered, disembowelled and torn apart with grotesque abandon. Such reckless carnage has echoes of series like Elfen Lied or even the atrocious Deadman Wonderland; unlike them however there isn't the crushing sadism of humans, only the ambivalence of fearsomely powerful creatures. Far closer then to the Devilman OVAs or even the works of H.P. Lovecraft, both of which pitch humans at the centre of a maelstrom of angels and demons, no longer at the top of the food-chain and like ants before their powers.
The battles themselves are gripping, thanks mostly to their brutality, with the final battle a particular high point. Slick and kinetic, there is a nagging feeling that if Saya brought out her red-devil eyes sooner, the ensuing massacre would have been lessened but the details are never predictable even if the outcome is - never is there a single move which always ends the skirmish. Conversely, the story's finale was entirely unpredictable. Outlandish when taken as a whole, it's the telling which makes it fascinating and though the exposition was accompanied by a glorified reset, it was satisfying while still adequately positioning for the upcoming movie.
Not for the faint hearted, some of the final deaths are downright nasty, Blood-C took its time to reach full steam but used the puppies and rainbows opening episodes to great effect to juxtapose the wanton bloodshed. A step up from the monumentally protracted Blood+ series and a fine example of expectations being pleasantly challenged.