I’m quite pleased with this series, which is shaping up as the most interesting work from Brains Base since Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. It’s not lavish, ultra-fluid or spectacularly detailed but it does have the distinguishing feature of the studio’s best work – lots of creativity that makes the series stand out visually despite those qualities. Brains Base has a way of offering a worldview that’s slightly off-center and techniques that are just unconventional enough to make their shows pop without the excessive grandstanding of SHAFT and its imitators, and that’s on display here.
Though this episode was certainly more serious than the first, Blood Lad reminded me less of Hataraku Maou-sama this time as the superficial similarities receded and it began to cement its own identity. People are also tossing around Soul Eater’s name a lot, and while I can see a commonality in the character designs, content-wise I think that’s a stretch. The series that popped to mind for me this week was actually the great FLCL – but that’s entirely due to the introduction of Hydra Bell (Sarah Emi Bridcut). More on her shortly, but suffice to say she very much put me in mind of Haruharu Haruka – a character much-imitated in anime but never duplicated.
Blood Lad is trying to strike a balance between (mostly) irreverent and hard-edged comedy and earnestness, and thus far it’s in the sweet spot. Staz’ trip to the human world with Fuyumi definitely takes the series into its most serious territory so far, as Fuyumi comes face-to-face with her Dad (Tokumoto Eiichirou), her classmates and the reality of what’s happened to her. It also puts Staz’ own behavior in the spotlight, as he assesses just exactly what he feels for Fuyumi and what he plans to do for (and with) her. It’s not overtly sentimentalized but it’s clear he feels something more than simple prurient interest. For her part Fuyumi is still a pretty flat character (though obviously not physically) – passive most of the time and predictable emotionally – but thus far at least that’s her destined role. And there’s enough going on here that she doesn’t really need to stand out (though obviously not physically) for the series to work.
There are some good laughs in Staz’ first visit to Earth. He informs Fuyumi that demons have basically punted on fighting humans, outstripped by technology and sheer numbers. He’s brought with him a spray bottle of his own distilled spit that allows him to mind-control Fuyumi’s Dad and classmates (turns out he’s doing it to smooth over her possible return after she’s resurrected). While Staz enjoys playing the yokel tourist, he and especially Fuyumi suffer dimensional jet lag in dealing with the change in venue, though he puts her to right with a sip of his blood. And he declares the need to go home and rest up so he’s at full-strength to take on the top boss – Akihabara.
Most of the big laughs in the ep, though, come as a courtesy of Bell. She’s the magician who created the Black Curtain, though as it turns out it wasn’t she who opened it where Staz found it but someone who stole it from her – someone she vows to track down and wed (Atomsk perhaps?). Bell is a riot – full of preposterous dialogue, poses and facial expressions. She blackmails Staz and sends him on a wild goose chase to “Oniqlo” (one of the best puns of the year, for sure – Uniqlo humor is one thing this show and Hataraku have in common) where he demonstrates his power (which was Bell’s purpose all along) in fighting the clerk (Matsuda Kenichirou) over a pair of oni underpants. The upshot of all this is that Bell tells Staz she once had a book that spoke of human resurrection, and sold it to Wolf – boss of West Demon World, and an “old friend and rival” of Staz’.
What I’m really liking about Blood Lad, among other things, is that there don’t seem to be any throwaway characters. As the supporting cast is introduced each of them show off a big personality and their own comic niche in the larger picture. It’s quite clear that this series is smarter than the average comedy, and that there’s a lot of creativity in the world-building, characters and versatile humor. And it’s in good hands with Brains Base, which is giving it a snappy and stylish presentation as well as capturing the essence of what makes the comedy work. It’s a shame Blood Lad is only 10 episodes because it seems as if there’s a pretty deep well of possibility here, and I’d have liked to have seen it sticking around for a full cour at the very least.