Momiji Fujimiya is kind-hearted, if a bit dim. She's a nice, normal schoolgirl... well, apart from the bit about her being the Kushinada and fated to be a human sacrifice to save the world. It runs in her family. Since ancient times in Japan, the blood of the Kushinada has had power over monsters called Aragami. Momiji's sister Kaede was the same, but she seems to have disappeared into the earth and/or blown herself up. Now the Aragami are running wild, a government organisation called the TAC wants Momiji and a man with blue seeds in his flesh is trying to kill her.
Blue Seed's reviews were puzzling. I can normally get a good idea of what I'm buying, but popular opinions about this one were all over the shop. Some people were distinctly offhand, while others adored it. Well, I bought it. I watched it. It says something that I happily sat through all 29 episodes (including the Blue Seed Beyond OVA), but I've since resold my discs on Ebay. It's pleasant and likeable, but it's also not very good.
The problem is the characterisation. This show has a leaden touch and little clue about how to tell a character-based story. It has a large regular cast, but does almost nothing with them. Momiji is a good-natured idiot. Similarly her love interest, Mamoru Kusanagi, is less interesting than he should be. He has conflicting motivations, being an Aragami agent who changed sides and has history with Kaede from before he got involved with Momiji, but despite all this he comes across as a macho knucklehead. He's likeable but shallow.
After that... uh. The TAC staff are fine, but they get little to do but their jobs. They destroy Aragami. Good for them. Some early episodes turn the spotlight on individual TAC members, but thereafter they're sidelined. As far as emotional or character development is concerned, it's the Momiji-Kusanagi show. Most prominent after them is the Chief, a lugubrious old geezer with a philosophical bent and a love of bad puns. Koume is a violent girl in a pink jumpsuit who loves guns and explosions. Yaegashi is the computer nerd. And that's as good as it gets, I'm afraid. Admittedly there's a further semi-regular in the team's rival... Sakura the self-obsessed exorcist, who speaks Engrish in a loathsome pseudo-American accent and pisses off the TAC and the audience alike. She's fun, but even she's basically comic relief.
When the TAC staff actually get something to do, they can be good. The Chief is interesting and there's some office romance in episode 17. However that kind of thing just isn't Blue Seed's forte. They're good at comedy, but less so at the emotional stuff. Episode 5 is risible. Episode 6 is an improvement but still corny. Even when things are getting heavy in the closing episodes, there's something clumsy about the storytelling. Episode 21 should have been dramatic, but the lightweight cast undermines it.
Admittedly if you're ten years old, this might be the best thing ever. The complaint I've been outlining is a subtle one and if you can buy into the characters and the situation, this is a well-constructed show. It's lively and likeable, with badass monsters. However the odd thing is that I don't often see this particular problem in anime. More often I see shows coasting on their characters, bubbling along with charming little vignettes even when nothing much is happening. Unfortunately Blue Seed is just ham-handed with its cast. Its attempts at emotional stuff can be laughable. A classic example is episode 18, in which Sakura ends up having to kill her own mother. Amazingly it's forgettable. It's clunky. Most annoying of all is the Blue Seed Beyond OVA, which can't think of anything better than doing a Ghostbusters 2 and breaking up pre-established relationships just for the sake of putting them back together again.
That said, there's plenty to like here. I've seen this called a horror series, which is absurd but still a good sign. The Aragami are big vicious monsters that actually kill people, led by ecologically minded supervillains considerably more thoughtful than most of the heroes! They care about what mankind's doing to the Earth. The series builds well, with dramatic choices as we head for an apocalyptic climax, though in the end it's unfortunately a Power Of Love ending. Oh dear. There are also some nice ideas, with our heroine being potentially more in danger from her friends than her enemies. She's the Kushinada. The Aragami can't afford to kill her except under certain specific conditions.
Oh, and we see Momiji's panties so often that twice it's made into a plot point.
The production side of things is fine. The art is soft and almost painterly in the TV series, then slicker for the OVAs. I have no complaints about the monsters and action scenes either.
Easily the best thing here are the Omake Theater extras, which are animated throwaways they knocked up for the Japanese video releases. There are thirteen with the TV series and a fourteenth with the OVAs and they're absolutely brilliant. If only they'd put half this much creativity into the main show! They're insane in more ways that you can imagine, throwing up jokes you couldn't possibly put into a real episode. They don't all work, but when they do they're stunning.
There's also the Blue Seed Beyond OVA, which has often been inexplicably hard to find in the West. It's good-looking but a bit corny and stupid, so in other words if you liked the rest of the show you'll like this too. Two years have passed and suddenly the gang must reunite to fight some mysteriously revived Aragami. I groaned anew at the bone-headedness of Momiji and Kusanagi, but otherwise it's lightweight fun. The last episode is a hot springs episode for all you fanservice addicts, albeit strangely nipple-less. To see those, check out a nude transformation in the first OVA episode.
I can see why this show has its fans. Like Momiji herself, it may not be too clever but it's good-natured and likeable. If nothing else, it has a sense of humour. I like its light comedy. Incidentally it's all based on real Japanese mythology, with episode 16 even lifting from the same creepy myths of immortality which inspired Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid's Forest. This series is inoffensive and perfectly enjoyable in its own low-rent way, but not nearly good enough to recommend. It's not bad, but it's shallow and mediocre. The right ingredients are all there, with an unfolding central relationship that's well paced and rather impressive given that both parties are idiots. As supporting characters in their own little subplot, Momiji and Kusanagi would have been good. However as the spine of the show, I tired of them.
In fairness I enjoyed most of Blue Seed. It's probably worth watching once, but don't set your expectations too high.