The formula for this series is astonishingly simple, really. Take characters that are fun to watch and put them in amusing situations. Make it colorful, with witty visuals and funny sound effects. Hire a top-notch cast and stay out of their way. Blood Lad isn’t quite as good as Hataraku Maou-sama was after four episodes and thematically it’s much less similar than it appears, but the shows do share that same reliance on basic, unassuming charms. Just be entertaining, and you really can’t go wrong. It’s not going to do it for the self-styled avant garde fans out there, but it works pretty damn well for me.
My affection for Hydra Bell is rapidly growing past her obvious Haruhara Haruko roots. Hydra is really funny in her own right, and Sarah Emi Bridcut – surely among the strangest names in voice acting – is starting to get noticed for more than that name with some very strong comic performances lately. The first half of this episode is really all about Hydra and Wolf, and they carry it off splendidly. As with most of the characters here there’s more than meets the eye with Wolf, and his sandpaper directness is a nice contrast with Staz’ restless snark. Both of them have pasts that aren’t so pleasant and both do a lot of posturing as overcompensation for their own neuroses, but in very different ways.
The main point of the episode is to get Staz to his fated return to Demon Acropolis and a meeting with his brother Braz D. Vlad (Kimura Ryouhei) but the charm of Blood Lad is in the journey as much as the destination. I really like the give-and-take between Staz and Hydra – they have much more chemistry than Staz and Fuyumi, and it’s not even close. The flirty bickering at her apartment (over cans of Deviweiser) and the trip to the sushi bar were great fun to watch, not because of any great happenings but just because they’re good together. There’s a kind of dance going on, where Hydra tries to assert her dominance when it’s really clear what she’s trying to do is impress Staz, and Staz actually being sort of impressed but refusing to rise to the bait. Staz also opens up to Hydra about his grisly past with his brother, who’s a serious psychopath is Staz’ version is completely accurate (probably, but I’m not assuming that yet. There are only bad kids in the demon world). What seems indisputable is that Braz has sealed Staz’ powers inside his heart, and only he can remove the bullet that seals them there.
Once we get to Acropolis, there’s another new face – Staz’ little sister Liz T. Vlad (Nanri Yuuka). She’s loyal to her eldest brother and considers Staz a disgrace to the family, presumably for running away from his brother’s abuse. With her fire-engine hair (and eyes) and Darth Vader mask complete with breathing effects, she’s quite a striking figure – and she immediately seals Staz away inside her personal prison. It’s obvious that Staz is eventually going to escape and meet up with Vlad, but Liz is going to make him fight his way out. Every character who’s been introduced (with the possible exception of Fuyumi) has quickly proved to be more than they first appeared, and I have no doubt that will apply to both of Staz’ siblings – but for now, she’s one antagonist he must fight through before getting to face the other.
There’s a fair amount of plot going on here, but it doesn’t feel especially hurried or overwhelming. In addition to the drama in Acropolis we also have Fuyumi starting to disappear again, with Wolf taking it on himself to save her (there’s actually more spark with Fuyumi here than with Staz). He takes her to see Franken Stein (Inada Tetsu), a kind of mad scientist of the demon world (fittingly enough). The cast continues to get bigger and bigger, and because this is only a 10-episode series we’re already almost halfway through – which is a real shame, because there seems to be the potential for a much longer run than that here. With a cast this likeable and a premise this open-ended, the sky’s the limit. But I’m not expecting too much here in terms of sales, so it’s the usual mantra – any time we see an anime that isn’t 100% formula tripe and manages to be entertaining to boot, we should be grateful for whatever we get.