Anime Reviews: Blood Blockade Battlefront
Extremely lively and energetic, Blood Blockade Battlefront packs a punch with its high-flying animation and entertaining cast, though its story lacks coherence.
Title: Blood Blockade Battlefront a.k.a. Kekkai Sensen
Production: Studio Bones
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 4/4/2015 to 10/4/2015
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, some suggestive content)
Summary: Hellsalem's Lot, known around the world as New York City before the Great Collapse 3 years ago, is a chaotic melting pot where a portal between the human world and the Alterworld was opened, allowing all sorts of monsters and madness into the city. As time goes by, an equilibrium is reached, and soon, Hellsalem's Lot becomes just like any other city, albeit where businessmen wait at a crosswalk alongside wasp-men while skeleton-trucks drive down the road. Amid this bizarre setting, a young man named Leonardo Watch seeks to join Libra, a secretive organization that keeps Hellsalem's Lot's streets safe from hostile forces, in the hopes that he'll find a way to help his sister. Six months prior, a demonic beast appeared before Leo and his sister, taking her eyesight and giving Leo the All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods. Though this new power is a great boon, Leo will stop at nothing to arrive at a future where his sister can see once more...
The Good: Bombastic and lively visuals; the humongous cast is a riot, and the series as a whole feels like an awesome party...
The Bad: ...in which you get wasted immediately and wake up half a week later, inside a dumpster, wearing nothing but a feather boa
The Ugly: Hoping and praying that no one gets any funny ideas about making Prosfair into a real thing...
Yasuhiro Nightow's got a hot new project going on, and it's...not exactly what I was hoping for. I was hyped to see this series because of the man's past works (the introspective and dynamic space Western, Trigun, and the cool, tragic mafia/monster tale, Gungrave), but it turns out Blood Blockade Battlefront would be something entirely different. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did lead to my expectations being sky-high and thus disappointment reared its ugly head. This is partially my fault for hyping myself up so much, but it is also true that BBB is probably Nightow's weakest work to date. Does that mean we've finally fallen below the arbitrary 'good' line? Nope. It's still pretty darn good. Let's stop wasting time and dig in, shall we?
As per usual, the visuals. How are they, this time around? Well, considering Studio Bones is responsible, the answer is "frickin' great." The colors are bright without being obnoxious, the character designs have translated well to animation and give the series a varied and unique look with both its human characters and its more monster-based characters, the setting does look pretty much exactly like New York City would after an event like the Collapse with its grim steel skyscrapers and more colorful streetside shops, and the action scenes are huge and high-flying with lots of debris shooting around and characters performing crazy attacks all around in gloriously high-quality TV animation. I also love the little touches you'll see in the background, like English signs being mixed with alien letters, giant centipede-dragons flying around town but nobody cares because it's just a monster bus or something, giant skeleton trains being conducted by their own eyes and brains traveling alongside normal trains...it's just all so cool. I can guarantee that every episode will have at least one thing you've never seen before or never thought you'd see.
Special mention also needs to go to the series' opening and ending themes. Opener "Hello, world!" by Bump of Chicken is a rousing pop-rock track that gives insight into Leo's perspective of the setting--about becoming accustomed to daily madness--that also manages to be a catchy tune all the while. The ending theme, "Sugar Song & Bitter Step" by Unison Square Garden more perfectly captures the "party" feel of the show, with its much lighter and upbeat melody put to animations of the cast dancing the night away. They're both fun songs, they fit the show like a glove, and the animations are great, as well. For an opening and ending theme, you couldn't ask for more.
Of course, if BBB is a party, what would it be without its resident partygoers? Our protagonist, Leo, is the dedicated "normal guy" who has to brave the madness of Hellsalem's Lot, and there's a lot of fun to be had in watching said madness unfold all around him--of course, his noble goal of finding a way to help his sister brings his story down to earth, and it's only natural to want to see him succeed.
The first Libra member we meet is Zapp, a dark-skinned, white-haired womanizer with the badass power of creating swords from his own blood (and setting them on fire with a butane lighter) and a just-plain-bad attitude. Zapp constantly finds amusement in Leo's naivete about this strange city, and he's more than willing to throw his weight around ordering Leo to grab lunch and whatnot.
Another major member of Libra--its leader, Klaus--is a gorilla-man who is usually calm and sophisticated, but possesses incredible fighting skills and the ability to manifest all kinds of weapons and spells from his blood. Klaus is also proficient as Prosfair, a mind-bogglingly complex variation of chess which utilizes multiple boards and upgrading pieces, proving that Klaus is a mental giant as well as being a combat beast.
Another important character is a capricious girl who hangs around a hospital cemetery, takes an interest in Leo, and calls herself White. Referring to herself as a "ghost," she nonetheless enjoys hanging out with Leo and giving him moments of normalcy and calm in the mad, mad world. White's brother, Black, also plays a big role--he is a humble boy who possesses psychic powers, and he befriends Leo because of their mutual goal in looking after their sisters, but he seems to hold some dark secret. Both Black and White are surrounded in mystery, adding more questions to this already-puzzling world...
There are just too many great characters to go over in detail within a mere review--I haven't even touched on Stephen and K.K. (a pair of vampire hunters who bicker like an old married couple), Femt (the King of Depravity himself, who seems content with causing chaos in this already chaotic city), Chain (an "invisible werewolf" who excels at reconnaissance and making Zapp's life miserable), Dog and Deldro (two men forced to share the same body, with comedic results), Aligula (the Queen of Monomania, who kidnapped Dog and Deldro and fused them together to make her ideal boyfriend), and so many others, including my absolute favorite: Lucky Abrams (a dogged detective cursed with bad luck by a vampire, but because of his innate good luck, only those around him experience the misfortune intended for him). The cast is huge, and while you'll never be able to remember all their names, their appearances and personalities will certainly stick with you.
As for the "party" itself, BBB is relentless with its fast-paced comedy and over-the-top action, making every episode an absolute blast to behold. However, this begins to encroach into the series' biggest flaw: What the hell is even happening right now? The action is stylish and bold, but we're never given any indication on what each character's limits are or how their powers even work. The story, when it emerges, seems to revolve around Femt and the mysterious King of Despair orchestrating a major disaster of some kind, but the moving parts in their plan are largely unexplained or vaguely-defined, so these more climactic moments don't hit home like they should. Mysterious elements are pointed out, questioned, but then never addressed again. Ominous concepts are introduced, but never elaborated on. I guess you could say the story's incoherence and leaps in logic are part of the point--being that this is a world that isn't supposed to make sense--but it would've been nice for them to throw us a few bones here and there, just for the sake of narrative satisfaction.
So that's the sticky position BBB finds itself in--it's a whole lot of fun until you begin to ask questions about what's going on. Like you had a great time at a party, only to wake up later and realize nothing you said or did at the party made any sense. But if you can get past that, you're in for a wild ride. In the end, this is the kind of series where the plot is secondary, anyway--the true purpose of a title like this is to just throw a bunch of entertaining characters and situations at the screen and let the fun unfold, and that's exactly what we got. Yeah, I do kinda wish the plot were as solid as Trigun's or Gungrave's, but for me to complain about having this much fun feels a bit disingenuous. As the philosopher of our age, Yui Hirasawa, once posited: "Fun things are fun."
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10. Blood Blockade Battlefront holds absolutely nothing back with its visual vibrancy and wildly-entertaining cast, but I can't help but feel like its undercooked and underexplained plot could have been hammered out into something amazing instead of weighing the series down.