A Strike the Blood review

How many other males does the protagonist of Strike the Blood know? Two. And females? More or less all of them. This is about as nuts-and-bolts basic as you can get for a premise: bland teenager is gifted extreme supernatural powers and proceeds to play “Gotta catch ‘em all” with the young ladies in his life. Spear wielding overseer? Check, comes free with sword wielding friend. Goth loli teacher? Check. Childhood friend and uber hacker? Check. Superpowered little sister? Check; and the list goes on. And of course the context for all of these females orbiting him? He must feed on them - oh right he’s a vampire - to unlock his magical familiars.

oh you walked in on her undressing again? you scamp!

Feel free to play “spot the jugular vein” during the opening few episodes because with almost every new female introduced, a key to unlock a new glowing critter for perpetual hoodie wearer Kojou is revealed. And of course given the setup, all of the ladies emit supremely suggestive noises and flush the brightest of reds when he begins to chow down on their necks. Yes it’s primitive but, apart from a few absurdly questionable scenes, it works thanks primarily to a refreshing lack of pretension and a handful of good natured character relationships.

It’s definitely not going to come from any kind of character progression; the amount of backstory afforded to each cast member is minimal with even Kojou’s transformation into the demigod of the “Fourth Progenitor” kept a mystery. Likewise the magical leanings of Asagi and Natsuki are hinted at but never explored, just as wannabe DJ and one third of the series’ recurring male contingent Motoki’s allegiances are ignored. Coming from a voluminous light novel source this is not unexpected, however the amount that is introduced then never explained in a full length twenty four episode series is shocking. Faceless characters move about in the shadows and strange occurrences play out but as the credits of the final episode draw to a close, you’re none the wiser in so many regards.

Perhaps it’s holding out for a subsequent season or even a movie, both would suit the competent story structure that splits each arc into its own handful of episodes complete with subtitle. It affords a sense of self-contained development without bogging itself down with a overarching story that would no doubt be clumsily handled. The jumbled mishmash of magic and supernatural forces demonstrated goes for variety rather than depth with vampires and wolfmen sitting comfortably next to angels, attack mages and alchemists. It’s left as an exercise for the viewer to decide whether the rest of the world is in the know with regards these creatures, but with talk of domains and warlords it’s likely so but not worth elaborating upon.

The heart of the series isn’t the magic or the world but boils down to a campus love comedy logically expanded beyond school grounds. Kojou and his female du jour go on adventures, visit parents and generally make googly eyes at each other until one of them is slain (then resurrected) or Kojou needs to make another part of his body glow. It’s obvious and predictable - oh you walked in on her undressing again? you scamp! - and helped only by the base level of zaniness running throughout. How else could you drive a bright pink half-track through a city? Or end up with a miniature woman who is the most powerful alchemist in the world? Or a misandrist swordswoman with a foot fetish?

That last point is the yang to the romance’s ying because if the show can undress its females, it’s probably already gone and done it. Underwear, costumes, bath scenes, nothing is off limits, even some Ikkitousen-esque shredded clothing is in there for good measure. As the series progresses the raunchiness only increases which means of course the blu-ray advertising censorship lights come on, obscuring vast swathes of the screen in hurried attempts to avoid showing too much. Coming from studio SILVER LINK this means that what is shown is bold, colourful and chunky but oddly for the company that brought us Baka Test and Dusk Maiden, stylistically indistinct. There’s a peculiar tilt-shift / channel-displacement effect that is used whenever magic is in play - especially disconcerting during the battles in the “Blue Mage” arc - and some serviceable CG enemies but otherwise characters and locations lack personality, feeling like an HD remake of a forgotten series from long ago, or rehash elements from other franchises like the alchemist who is almost a carbon copy of Kara no Kyoukai’s Cornelius Alba.

The same criticism could be levelled at the set piece fights which inevitably round out each arc and involve each character taking part to sequentially unleash their signature move until whatever was moving, isn’t anymore. No clearer is this than in the final, interdimensional time travelling story that sees every character do so at the same time. It’s definitely a shame for Yukina and Sayaka whose positions as war mage and war dancer respectively gives them much more potential creativity when it comes to tackling enemies. Contrast this with Kojou who just shouts a pseudo latin name and hopes whatever luminous beastie pops out annihilates the right person.

Elsewhere, the opening tunes stand out with the first featuring the Akeboshi Rockets - of High School of the Dead fame - as well as, like them or loathe them, ALTIMA who are pulling the same trick as Ali Project by making every song they produce sound identically crackers. Ending themes and the rest of the soundtrack are largely forgettable which is on the whole how Strike the Blood turns out. It is the familiar story of a plain-as-bran-flakes teenager making good through no effort of his own, relying on his earnestness and beta-male status to inadvertently woo the women who collide with him. It’s enjoyable in a schlocky, brainless kind of way and assuredly targeted squarely at the hormone geyser teenage boy market but there is nothing distinctive to make anything last beyond an episode’s runtime.

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