DVD Review: 'Marvel Anime: Blade' Gets Weird With Vampires, Still Works

The version of Blade that makes his way into Marvel Anime: Blade is as distinctly unlike the version of the character you've probably conjured in your head based on the three New Line films. This isn't the cooler-than-cool professional badass that Wesley Snipes portrayed in the movies, nor is it the street-level monster hunter from the short-lived TV series. It's not even all that much aligned with the magic combatant and vampire slayer version that took hold around the time of Captain Britain and MI6.

No, Madhouse went another way, seemingly drawing inspiration from samurai films (as Blade '98 did), while also mining the far-flung elements of the character's fictional history (for instance, I'd forgotten that in the comics he was raised in a London brothel after his mother's death). So Madhouse gives us a Blade that walks and talks unlike any version we've seen before, but is still familiar.

And then he starts killing evil harpies and things go sideways (in a good way).

As with Marvel Anime X-Men and Iron Man, Blade is based--roughly, I'd imagine--on a story by Warren Ellis. It takes Blade to Japan and later on an extended tour of Southeast Asia to hunt down Deacon Frost, the vampire that fed on his mother and made the boy who would be Eric Brooks the half-vampire Blade. And that means using his trusty katana to slice through an endless army of vampire henchman who burst immediately into flames while picking up Frost's trail.

I mentioned the samurai film influence and as voiced by Lost's Harold Perrineau in the English dub (and Akio Ohtsuka in the Japanese), Blade carries himself with (for the most part) the easy cool of a longtime killer. You won't get a lot of quips here, he doesn't have an opinion on some mother******s and ice skating--nope, he simply carves his way through the series' interesting take on vampires. He's not without style, though, copping the bald/tatted look from the comics and finishing major enemies with a flourish using one of three secret sword techniques.

About those: here they're presented as shape-shifting monsters (at least the mid-boss ones), that I'm guessing might be drawn from some indigenous mythologies. Consider the "vampire" that splits at the torso, it's top half held up by a writhing mass of snakes. Or the feline-looking creature that commands the rats beneath the streets of Tokyo. If nothing else, the show is visually impressive.

Blade's joined in his hunt by Makoto (Kim Mai Guest) a young woman who hunts vampires using silver-tipped stilettos in her boot heels and Noah Van Helsing, Blade's longtime friend and ally. Both characters serve to humanize him and give the series a less tunnel visioned POV when it could easily be Blade slicing and dicing suckheads. Makoto in particular, is a surprise, consistently presented as competent, rarely having to be pulled out of the fire (if you're familiar with how these things go most of the time, you'll understand my surprise). Wolverine also wanders in for his ubiquitous cameo in the Madripoor-set episode along with mutant swordsman Kikyo who allows us a flashback to Blade's early training as a swordsman.

Where the series falters is in its villain's final, ridiculous plan (which seems pulled, in part, from the first movie). It doesn't really make a lot of sense, and depends on Frost knocking Blade out at certain intervals and taking some of his blood. Why he doesn't keep Blade caged up the first time he knocks his nemesis out, I don't know, but it makes Frost look like a villain with poor planning skills. Plus, it's surprising how bloodless the series is--none of the Marvel Anime titles have really gotten past what would be a TV-14 rating, but Blade feels especially anemic.

For all that, though, it's still an exotic and interesting take on the character, which has him bouncing around the far corners of the Earth, killing vampires left and right. Of the series I've reviewed so far, I think this is the one I'd love to see more of if Marvel opted to take another stab at this whole anime thing.

Special Features

The first disc includes the featurettes "Blade Re-Awakened" and "The Vampire Hunter: Origins and Adaptations. The first looks at the character's transition to animation while the latter provides a brief overview of his publication history. Disc two has a chat with the Madhouse team behind the series and is actually a lengthy, pretty in-depth discussion of the show's production.

Marvel Anime: Blade is available now on DVD from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment.

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