What better way to start a new year than with vampires?
With most Fall season shows wrapping up at the end of 2015, we, anime fans struggling to hide away from relatives who want to ask us how dating is going and if we put on weight since last time we saw each other, always try to find ways to occupy time until the next season starts. Some of us like to tackle our backlog – I, myself, had a wonderful time with four seasons of Marimite last year; some of us turn on TV and enjoy specials with detectives on BBC; and some of us think, “Man, it’s been a while since I last watched a dorama.” These holidays, I fell with the latter group.
Yes, that group. I know you’re not actually a urban legend.
Through thorough search and research, I came across South Korean drama Blood. Upon seeing the promo picture, I giggled to myself and thought, “Oh boy, I cannot.” Then a friend of mine said, “It looks so chuuni, I must check it out!” And because, as a good anime fan, I have no sense of shame, I decided to check it out.
Let me tell you, friend: I have zero regrets.
Blood tells the story of Park Ji-sang, an infected man who’s searching for a way to become human. I use the word “infected” because that’s literally what vampirism is in this show. Born out of parents infected with a virus called VTB-01, Park Ji-sang cannot experience early morning sunlight. Regular sunlight doesn’t burn him, but he’s considerably sensitive to it. He’s agile, strong, and can grow out claws and fangs. He can eat, although he has no sense of taste for regular human food – he even has a list of foods he especially avoids –, and he’s thirsty for blood. Luckily for him, Park Ji-sang’s mother was a doctor and scholar, and she developed a repressant pill called Atisan, which, for a while, completely controls his bloodthrist, allowing Ji-sang to become a renowned surgeon.
Ji-sang , however, doesn’t feel lucky. His father died when he was a baby, while protecting him and his mother from a man who wanted to use VTB-01 for his own purposes, and Ji-sang is a key piece to his research of the virus. Ji-sang’s mother escapes to an isolated house in the woods, and the boy grows to loneliness, bitterness and self-hatred. However, neither he nor his mother can escape from the other infected, and in the midst of a lot of good action and drama, our vampire moves out to the world.
What I expected to be silly turned out to be a well-thought out twist on the vampire story. Aside from the hospital setting. we also have the infected themselves. Although they are portrayed to be strong, superior beings, we are bombarded with many different concepts about monstrosity and humanity. Lee Jae-wook, the man responsible for the death of Ji-sang’s parents and Director of the hospital the show is set in, uses an entire ward of the hospital to perform scientific research regarding VTB-01 on poor, homeless people, but forbids any of his minions to drink fresh human blood. To him, their superiority lies in their lack of animality. Without Atisan, the Director develops his own concoction to quench his bloodthirst, and even uses a different compound to make himself more similar to humans – with a normal body temperature, heart rate and etc. It also smartly makes him unable to be detected by other infected, who could otherwise be drawn and noticed by one another. Most importantly, the Director is not the only face of evil, and there is a number of other characters, in special those in positions of power, who makes it clear that monstrosity is not, and never was, limited to vampires.
Blood also shows us discussions about religion, faith and God. Yoo Ri-ta, the show’s other main character who’s always clashing with Ji-sang, lost her parents at a very young age and was raised not only by her uncle, but also by a nun called Sister Sylvia. Sister Sylvia is admitted to the hospital and offered, more than once and by more than one character, the opportunity to live longer, but she’s a humanitarian who raised thousands of orphan children and feels that her work on Earth is done. Her tranquility puts the other characters in their own place, and, in a remarkable conversation, she even gives the Director her own concept of God as an advice, since he’s so keen on becoming Him. The Director is never disrespectful to her, to the show’s strength, and tells us that at no point he wants to become God; he merely wants to not be dependent on Him.
Naturally, the show is not without its faults. The drama can be heavy-handed at times, and a lot of actors have moments where they simply cannot convey honest actions, reactions and emotions. On the other hand, some acting flaws can become strengths. Ji-sang is mostly emotionless, but he waltzes across the hospital floor with the true grace and charm of a vampire, with a wardrobe that would make Anne Rice vampires kill themselves in jealousy. Yoo Ri-ta is melodramatic, but since you can always tell how she’s feeling, she demonstrates her honesty and good heart. My favorite character, Min Ga-yeon, is an awkward resident who gets bullied by her seniors, but her hard-work makes it hard for both the cast and the audience to dislike her. The comedy can be rather cringe-worthy, but that very corniness made me smile and actually laugh out loud more than once. And while the narration tells us several points of view, making it hard to follow exactly how much of a subject a character really knows – so many characters, so many depths of information –, the show is constantly giving us flashbacks to try and keep us up with the pace.
Relationships grow, plot-twists are around every corner, romantic music shower every episode with a saranghae. There are robots, difficult surgeries, hospital struggles, personal tragedies. Park Ji-sang grows from a scowl, to sarcastic smirks and heart-warming smiles. Allies turn into enemies then turn into allies again. Good can be bad and bad can be good. And still, at every moment, our protagonist refuses to taste human blood. Blood will remain a favorite of mine for a while, despite all its flaws, for all the excitement it provided me. I encourage you, reader, to broaden your horizons and live this adventure. And when everyone least expects it, you can do like me, and hide away in your room while everyone else is snoring, to live a South Korean vampire romance at 1am on a Monday.
Wait, no. Maybe scratch that last part.