WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Mars Red, now streaming on Funimation.
Mars Red is a historical anime set in 1923 Japan that features one of the most interesting takes on vampires in recent memory. In this version of our world, vampires have co-existed with humans for millennia, but are having trouble adapting to the industrialized era. The creation of artificial blood should have made things easier for them, but the accelerated levels of infection have turned them into a feared and marginalized group. Vampires considered useful and compliant are co-opted by the government into special task-forces -- everyone else is ruthlessly eliminated.
The 13-episode series is based on a stage play by Fujisawa Bun-o, a theatrical writer and director with a vast knowledge of English and French literature. He has imbued Mars Red with a distinct stage flavor and cadence that is unlike anything else out in the anime landscape, with detailed drawings of historical buildings, vehicles and art populating every single frame.
"Actually, though, a lot of modern culture was being brought to Japan then, and Japanese people were very excited about that Western culture," says Fujisawa Bun-o in a Funimation interview. "The Taisho era was a time when Japan was really drawn to foreign things. So, I think it was similar to the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. The turning point from an old era to a new one. Things from the old era steadily disappear or become rationalized."
Fujisawa chose this time period to tell a vampire story because he wanted to focus on the frailty of the mythical monsters as their weaknesses -- which is their loneliness when time leaves them behind -- and technological progress destroys their ancestral homes and humans, fearful of their magical powers, finds new ways to take away whatever humanity is left in them. "They ask themselves how they can survive. Some old vampires choose extinction. Others join organizations, like Code Zero in this anime, and work for governments there, and so on."
Mars Red focuses on Code Zero, a government task force formed by vampires which had been focused on research and intelligence operations. When the series begins, they are reassigned to capturing and recruiting (or destroying) other vampires, with "the strongest of humans" as their leader. The two leading men are Yoshinobu Maeda, a stoic and battle-hardened officer who chose to sever his own arm to ward off a vampiric infection, and Shutaru Kurusu, an optimistic, newbie fledgling with powerful gifts who will act as the audience surrogate.
The pilot, which is already available on Funimation, sets the tone for the series by presenting Maeda as a patriotic investigator, unafraid to confront powerful vampires to assess their humanity and utility. In the first episode, he has to confront a traditional actress from the Imperial Theater who has been transformed into a vampire to assess her suitability for "the program."
But when Maeda's superior orders him to eliminate her, Maeda finds himself conflicted about his duty. The mission is ultimately a blunder -- the actress had been bitten by a powerful vampire, so despite having lost her mind, she was a force of nature -- but Maeda is still promoted and assigned to lead Code Zero, while the oldest vampire in the world, the one who bit the woman, Salomé, thrives in the wings of the Imperial Theater.
Mars Red, based on the eponymous stage play by Fujisawa Bun-o, is Funimation and Yomiuri-TV Enterprise LTD, written by Fujisaku Junischi (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), directed by Fujisawa Bun-o and Hatano Kouhei, designed by Karakara Kemuri (Laughing Under the Clouds) and Takeuchi Yukari (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba) and scored by Muranaka Toshiyuki.