It feels strange to be writing a series review after an episode 10 – definitely a first for me – not to mention doing one on the 9th of September. I’m certainly conflicted because while this was yet another excellent episode, it ended up being just as I feared – not really any sort of ending at all. To be blunt, while Brains Base obviously knew this would be a 10-episode season from the start, the finale plays as if they were planning for 12 and only found out when they were almost finished that the season was getting cut short.
It’s pretty remarkable how many plates the anime managed to keep spinning, and how many characters it managed to introduce without any of them getting totally shafted. The last major piece of the puzzle to be fitted in was Bells father Hydra Heads, played by Fujiwara Keiji in Blood Lad’s attempt to employ pretty much every big-name male seiyuu over 40. This is a pretty classic Fujiwara character – a cool but slightly goofy older (by anime standards) dude with lots of power who mostly acts like a regular guy. Most of all he’s a loving father to both his daughters, including the one who isn’t his by birth – and the entire dance Staz has been put through in the final two episodes is really mostly about Heads trying to do right by Fuyumi.
That thread was nominally the main focus of the final episode, but it had plenty of company. We have:
- An invasion of Staz’ turf by Snowman’s crew, with Deku, Mamejirou (sadly underused in the final few eps) and Yoshida forced to try and fight it off.
- Braz dealing with Beros, with Liz’ assistance.
- Wolf Boy being summoned to heaven by Wolf Daddy (hard to imagine anyone didn’t spot the connection).
- Bell confronting Fuyumi over her feelings for Staz.
- Braz and Franken conferring over the secret project Braz has forced Franken to work on.
As you can well imagine, with all of that going on, there just wasn’t time for anything to truly be wrapped up in satisfying terms. Some threads, like the Wolf family one and the reveal that Braz was trying to resurrect his father (apparently successfully) were only teased and never followed through on whatsoever. Stuff like the invasion of East Demon World doesn’t really need a lot of screen time, but the issue of Bell’s feelings for Staz never being properly addressed is one that especially stings, because it played a major role in the series. Yet, paradoxically, it’s threads like that which are hardest to follow in this sort of rushed series finale. Considering that director Miya Shigeyuki didn’t really have any good options, I think he did about the best he could.
Clearly, the issue of Fuyumi’s future and the feelings of those around her was the one thing that demanded to have at least some embellishment if not closure, so triage dictates that the final episode would focus there. It was well-handled – Heads’ motivation was presented very clearly. The unsung hero in all this is Fuyumi’s human father, who literally gave up his wife (post-merger, someone had to) to Heads so that he could raise Fuyumi alone in the human world. Ultimately, what Heads wanted was to give Fuyumi the choice about her own future – he just needed to ascertain as best he could whether Staz could be trusted to shepherd her to the next step. This desire on Heads’ part was apparently in conflict with his wife, who still views Fuyumi as her daughter, and seemed intent on not giving her up.
This ties into the way the anime (I have no idea if this is also true in the manga) chose to frame the finale – through Staz deciding that he wanted to be a hero, after all. A “dark hero”, certainly, but a hero nonetheless – someone who would honor his pledge to honor Fuyumi’s wishes (though the whole curse thing is a scam) and make things right with her father. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, such as whether Fuyumi really will forget her time spend with Staz if she’s resurrected and even if Braz will follow through on his promise to do so (I think it likely he will). What we know of course is that Staz was a hero all along – he was always doing the right thing, even if he sometimes did it the wrong way. And sadly for Bell, it seems clear that his heart has settled on Fuyumi, and as much more than a novelty to satisfy his otaku fetish. That’s about as much closure as you get – the future is wide open but to find out what it holds, you’ll have to read the manga (although there will be an OVA in December, I’m happy to report).
Now that we’ve reached the end, the decision to greenlight Blood Lad for only ten episodes makes no more sense to me than it did before. There was certainly nothing in the finished project to reflect that it was done on the cheap – while not necessarily lavish it was a stylish and highly competent production with all-around excellent visuals and a top-notch cast. While I don’t expect the show to be a huge seller by any means (I’ll be thrilled if it hits 3K per volume, and 2K seems much more realistic) there are innumerable less commercially-viable series that have received full one-cour seasons. It’s a puzzler in every way and a real shame, and I really wonder if – as I suggested last week – Blood Lad’s production was a Seinfeld-like scenario of one person restlessly pushing against reluctant producers until one finally relented and allowed a short season to be financed.
I started out my coverage of Blood Lad reflecting on the obvious superficial similarities to Hataraku Maou-sama. And while as expected the two shows ended up being not much alike in terms of content, the other observation I made in that post seems quite on-point:
It seems very possible Blood Lad could fill the same slot for Summer that Hataraku did for Spring: the well-executed, smart character-comedy that simply delivers the entertainment value without being too flashy about it.
Indeed, I’d argue that was pretty much what happened. Blood Lad delivered the goods, week after week (more consistently than Hataraku did, in fact, even it its highs weren’t quite as high). It had a superb cast led by Ohsaka Ryouta, who really showed in the final episode just what a tremendous range he has, and why he’s possibly the finest male seiyuu to emerge in the last two years. This was just good, solid, straight-up anime – dumb in a smart way the way the best comedy so often is, imaginative, clever, really interesting visually and overflowing with style and wit. These are the kinds of shows that get taken for granted because they don’t reinvent or redefine anything – they just execute what they do exceptionally well. I love seinen anime and I love Brains Base, and Blood Lad is a good illustration of why.
If I were to point out one single element of this series that I find most exceptional, it might just be the way it was able to introduce such a huge cast in such a short run, yet still manage to turn almost all of them into highly individual and entertaining characters. From the Haruhara Haruko-homage of Bell to the hilarious furball Mamejirou, this was a great and diverse cast. Even the relatively stock additions – like the imouto character in Liz and the shounen-rival vibe with Wolf Boy and Staz – were handled with originality and intelligence. Blood Lad made me smile repeatedly and laugh almost as often, and delivered a really coherent and complex story in the process. It’s just a really good anime, plain and simple, and it seems appropriate to lavish it with the same praise I offered for Hataraku – it’s really hard to make it look this easy.