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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Zero: Black Blood

Zero: Black Blood.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I adore Keita Amemiya's work, both on a creative level and a 'man, that dude has business savvy' sense. One day, the law will be passed that legalises marriage between a blogger and a designer and director that he has never met, and that shall be a most glorious day for me.

Garo, for those who don't know, is a Japanese superhero series, formulated after the fashion of early 21st Century Kamen Rider – itself a very long superhero series aimed at a roughly Doctor Who-oid audience – but more 'adult'. At its worst, this adult flavour is reminiscent of a teenage boy waving a porn magazine with one hand and a bloody butcher's knife with the other while breathing heavily in your ear. At its best, it is characterised by intelligent, often very touching writing.

From its humble beginnings as an extremely low budget TV series airing in a midnight timeslot on Japanese TV, it spawned multiple sequel series, a miniseries/TV movie, two cinematic films, and – this.

This … thing, which I'm not entirely sure how I'd describe.

Zero: Black Blood is a six part miniseries revolving around a supporting character of the first two series, Rei, written by Yasuko Kobayashi of Attack on Titan and CLAYMORE anime fame. I have enjoyed a lot of Kobayashi's work before, so I was rather looking forward to this.

As we join Rei, at some undisclosed point after the end of the second series, he's living in a fancy house and fancily frequenting a fancy bar when he's not fancily donning his fancy armour and fancily killing demonic monsters. His relatively serene life is interrupted when a human, poisoned with demonic blood, is abducted by a man in white; and shortly thereafter disrupted again when a young woman breaks into his home with a magic sword to fight him. 

Also, a dude with an umbrella and an irritating
moustache instead of a personality.

At which point, the plot kind of goes 'Whew, that was, like, fifteen whole minutes of set-up, I am bushed' and proceeds to fall apart on itself like a soufflĂ© dropped from a great height. Plot elements start being thrown out here and there in ways that don't really make sense and don't really connect to each other, often contradicting previous canon. A fine example of this is with the aforementioned young woman with a magic sword – while previous canon has established that women are forbidden from wielding said magic swords (with the implication that they're perfectly capable of doing so), the series repeatedly implies that women are wholly unable to use them, going so far as to introduce the plot device of her father's bone embedded in her arm, as if it were the feeble feminine bone marrow of womenfolk that precluded them from swording things up.

Then again, it's entirely possible that this is just poorly explained, as the series rarely gives a satisfactory explanation for anything. Plot points are introduced and, while never forgotten about, are never adequately explored, and tend to just become confusing. “What a mysterious singing woman,” the series murmurs, delicately cartwheeling by while you're eating your morning crumpets, “she has turned evil because she is blind.” “Wait, what, that doesn't even make se - ...” “Rivers,” the series tells you solemnly. “Rivers.”

"What do you mean ri - ..." "Unsubtle wedding imagery."

There are some genuinely interesting concepts here. For example, the main villain, Ring, is a demonic being who genuinely wants co-existence between humans and his brethren, and who has to that end set up a cult-like commune in which one human becomes food every month, in exchange for the safety of the others. While his position is decried as monstrous, he has clearly thought it through, throwing out statistical, historical, and philosophical arguments that support his position. It's a fascinating basis for a villain, and certainly different from anything seen in Garo before. I found the bartender to be a very interesting character too, with his knowledge of the secret war waging in the series' world set against his helplessness to do anything about it giving him a pleasing sense of gravitas.

Where the series falls down, really, is everything else. As I said before, the writing is often confusing, contradictory, and vague, but I could have forgiven that if the series had forged an emotional connection with the characters and a desire to see them succeed. It didn't. The main characters, both returning and new, were painted with very broad strokes, and while I certainly didn't dislike any of them, neither did they rouse any kind of affection in me. I felt nothing for them at the beginning, and by the end I still felt nothing for them, leaving almost everything that happened in the series with no emotional weight.

It wasn't even that they were poorly acted. The acting was all fine. It's just that at the very first question – 'Why do I care about these people?' - the writing stumbles and can't give me an answer, and resorts to instead stammering in a corner about bones and parentage. I felt a greater emotional connection to the bartender than to any of the other new characters, because his quiet, matter-of-fact helplessness against a force far greater than him is something that everyone can relate to, even if for most of us that force isn't 'a secret world of human-eating demons.'

I mean, I'm not saying I'd watch a miniseries about him,
but yeah, I'd watch a miniseries about him.

I don't want to say I didn't like this series. I did. But I am beset by an awareness that, as entertaining as I found it, there was potential here for something much better, and that potential was wasted. Still, with its end, the newest full length Garo series, Makai no Hana, has begun, and I'm interested to see how that turns out.  

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