Bloody Escape -Jigoku no Tōsōgeki- is a film of tremendous highs and lows on nearly every level. On the one hand, its world is wonderfully over-the-top. The mixture of future technology, magic, and fantasy races leads to wildly fun clashes in tone and style. Kisaragi, our main protagonist, is a cyborg vampire ninja who has to feed on normal vampires to survive. His blood is also highly toxic to vampires—and that’s something he utilizes in numerous creative ways throughout the film.
On the other, we have the story itself. It’s predictable to the extreme—both in the twists and character reveals. It’s not hard to know with absolute certainty where things are going—especially once the adventure devolves into Mad Max: Fury Road with trains instead of cars (complete with its own enemy-mook-turned-ally comic relief character).
The characters themselves are also a mixed bag. Many are one-note—especially the aforementioned mook-turned-ally (whose main job is to be stabbed or shot in the butt at every opportunity) and the team of mercenaries who help people escape their clusters to re-settle in new ones.
But then we have Lunalu, who is surprisingly nuanced—especially in how she deals with the personal trauma she experiences throughout the film and how she grows stronger because of it. Likewise, Kisaragi’s decent arc goes from a man who has no reason to live (or die) to one who manages to find meaning in his life by the time the credits roll.
However, it’s not just the writing quality that varies wildly but the animation as well. The action scenes are well-choreographed and imaginative, with excellent camera work that makes it easy to understand what is happening on screen despite all the visual chaos. Polygon’s 3D animation takes center stage here—culminating in a frankly awesome fight between a “web-slinging” hero and flying villain across two speeding trains. The fights are filled with great little visual storytelling beats—like Kisaragi constantly being out of breath from all the physical exertion and how the villains are quick to chop off any limb of theirs infected by Kisaragi’s blood. But outside of action scenes, the camera work is typically dull and uninspired. Simple, head-on, static shots with bland backgrounds litter the film’s more dialogue-heavy moments.
Speaking of the aural side, the voice acting (most notably Lunalu’s) is on point. Still, the character animation can’t quite match the extreme feelings in the characters’ voices—leaving an odd sense of dissonance in what should be the film’s most emotional moments. This brings us to the only aspect of the film not plagued by ups and downs: the music—which is competent (if forgettable) throughout.
Overall, Bloody Escape feels like an anime film destined to be forgotten. For every moment of wild creativity, there is an equally cliché counterpart. For each scene of explosive visual style, there is a blandly directed conversation highlighted by one-note characters. It is a film that succeeds at its most ambitious moments and fails at its most grounded ones. And, when it comes down to it, it’s a film I’m glad I watched—though I doubt I will ever do so again.