Friday, October 23, 2015

Blood Blockade Battlefront Review

Screw reviewing the Spring Season of anime. Here's Blood Blockade Battlefront.

I've been having a bit of a moral quandary lately. As many of you may have noticed, I never made a write up for the Spring Season of anime this year, even though I watched a handful of shows that season. When the summer season rolled around, I held off about talking about three shows out of respect to Blood Blockade Battlefront. BBB was originally scheduled to have its finale air at the end of June, but it was delayed several times due to the production team wanting to give the finale all of the polish and time that it deserved. Because of that, I held off about talking about the other three titles I watched that season, Plastic Memories, Owari no Seraph, and Punch Line. If you want to know my feelings towards those shows, they all straddle the line of mediocrity for different reasons.

Plastic Memories is mediocre for having a concept ripe with potential, but instead telling a story that didn't fully embrace the setting. It was a great sci-fi world with interesting ideas, but the show wanted to focus on a love story between a man and machine, which is fine in theory, but not when it is done as a comedic slice of life. Owari no Seraph was a boring shonen action show that had a great first episode and premise, but again wasted it with unlikable characters and action set pieces that weren't all that great. Punch Line was probably the best of the three, but that isn't say much. It's a confusing mess of a story that is firmly split where half of the show is cringe inducing comedy, while the other half is somewhat interesting drama. Then again, I'll give Punch Line the benefit of the doubt for being written by the same man who created the stellar Zero Escape series.

So where does that leave BBB? Well, it had its finale finally air on October 4th, for a special hour length episode. And now that I have finally finished the series, I can safely give my opinion on it. Blood Blockade Battlefront is by far one of the best anime I have ever seen, and will most likely be my favorite anime of 2015, and possibly even one of my favorite anime period. It's the closest an anime will ever get to perfection.

Blood Blockade Battlefront (or Kekkai Sensen in Japanese), is the story of Leonardo Watch, a young reporter who enters the city of Hellsalem Lot, formerly known as New York. Several years ago, a dimensional rift caused monsters to appear in New York City and begin to inhabit the city. New York was cut off from the rest of the world, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The city, now renamed Hellsalem Lot, is still very much like NYC, just with monsters and magical beings walking around. Leonardo joins a secret organization called Libra, who maintain the balance between the monsters and the humans, while also keeping an eye on two separate beings; Blood Breeds and the 13 Kings. Blood Breeds are powerful monsters from the other world that have immense power, while the 13 Kings are theological and metaphysical concepts from our world given corporeal form.

Blood Blockade Battlefront is mostly an anthology series though. Each episode has its own self contained plot that doesn't affect other episodes outside of informing the audience about the world at large. But that isn't to say there isn't an overarching plot. The main plot of the show is actually an anime original story about two young siblings, Black and White. White falls in love with Leo, but things quickly escalate to end of the world levels not too long after they meet. In fact, their storyline actually becomes the main focus for the remainder of the series, taking up both episode 11 and the OVA length episode 12.

However, when it comes to BBB, there's one thing that I feel like forcing myself to talk about; the work of Yasuhiro Nightow. Nightow isn't one of the most familiar names in anime, much to my dismay. He isn't a Shinichiro Watanabe, Yoko Kano, Mamoru Hosoda, or Satoshi Kon, yet he has made some of the best anime I've ever seen. You may remember his one other major anime project, a little show called Trigun. I'll talk about Trigun eventually, but needless to be said, it's one of the best anime of the 90's, standing proudly besides Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star in the unofficial "space western trilogy" of the 90's. Blood Blockade Battlefront is the second anime he has produced, after over a decade.

So why is this important? Because you can see Nightow's fingerprints all over this show. From the love of American culture to the heavy Christian imagery and symbolism, this is a show that clearly has a singular author. Most anime nowadays all feel like they were created by committee. The purpose behind most creative works of fiction is to send across a distinct message that feels like it needs to be told. Authors want to express ideas, characters, philosophy, or even simple entertainment to their intended audiences, but in their own unique way. To me, what makes a good movie is the fact that it is from a singular author; from a person where you can clearly tell their ideals, perspectives, and see where their influences come from. Most anime, sadly, lacks the power of the author. Shows like Ikki Tousen, Love Hina, Star Driver, Owari no Seraph, and even shows I like such as Koufuku Grafitti don't feel like they were the product of a singular mind. It feels like they were manufactured to fulfill a purpose. Blood Blockade Battlefront, on the other hand, has purpose and meaning behind it.

Going into a little spoiler territory here, the ultimate villain of the season is the King of Despair, one of the 13 Kings that have been given physical form in Hallsalem Lot. Who is the King of Despair? Well, for lack of subtlety, it's Satan. His dialogue makes heavy references to Christian mythology and the nature of good and evil throughout time, and while he never confirms of denies it, as long as you are somewhat aware of your Christian history, it should be easy to piece together. I bring this up because no other person or show would even attempt to try and bring Satan as a villain, but do it in a way that feels natural. In BBB, a world of monsters, humans, and where concepts are given life, the anime makes it entirely plausible that Satan would be the ultimate villain here. Add in White constantly referring to herself as a ghost, the use of churches throughout the season, as well as the nature of martyrdom, and you have a very Christian, very Nightow, yet very subtle show.

And that's one thing that I'm sure no one would call this show; subtle. If you watched the first five minutes of this show, you would see that it is an absolutely insane action anime that runs a mile a minute. One episode has a skyscraper sized monster truck controleld by Aligura, the Queen of Monomania, chase a pretty boy supermodel throughout New York City because she's in love with the demon inside of him. Then there's the episode where Leo and his coworker Zap are trying to get lunch, but they keep on finding the most abominable things before Leo goes insane and meets the God of Chow, an Asura's Wrath sized deity that tells him to become better and to persevere. In this show, anything goes.

But if I was to choose the absolute best thing about this show, it would be the characters. Every character is charming, unique, and make the show an immense joy from start to finish. You can argue that the plot moves too fast for its own good, but the characters make the ride enjoyable, even if you have no damn clue what's going on. There's Zapp, the lazy, angry, and rude and crude swordsman of Libra that his own master despises. Then there's Chain, a quiet yet super fast woman who by the way is a werewolf, Steven Starphase, a cool suit clad ice mage, K.K., an aggressive thunder wielding sniper, Blitz T. Abrams, a man who has been cursed so many times with bad luck that the curses just end up hurting everyone around him instead of him, and Klaus Von Reinhertz, the head of Libra who is stronger than all of their members combined.

Each character has an opportunity to shine in the series, and that's not even getting into the side characters and the mishaps they go through. BBB is a show that oozes personality. Every scene of this show commands your attention, even if you have no idea what is happening. That's a sign of a good show to me. You may not know what you're watching, but you can't help but watch, and because the show is so good at what it does, you want to watch each episode again to look for all of the stuff that you missed.

Do you know what makes BBB so good though? It wants to have fun. It just wants to have a good time at any and all expense and will drag the audience kicking and screaming with it. After I watched the show for the first time, I marathoned it again before the final episode aired, and dear lord what a final episode it was! How did I forget to even talk about it? In short, imagine the greatest climax ever to an anime where we not only get intense action, but breath taking visuals, solid comedy, philosophical musings about life and humanity, all contained in an hour long episode because it couldn't be contained any other way. Dear lord this show is amazing! Plus it has hands down the BEST ED IN ANY ANIME EVER. I dare you to listen to the ED, "Sugar Song for Biter Step" and not fall in love with it.

This gif summarizes my feelings towards Blood Blockade Battlefront; it's a party that we're all invited to. There's nothing quite like it that has come out this year, and as of right now, it's on a fast track to being one of my favorite anime of all time. Hands down, this is probably going to be my favorite anime of the year unless any show this season can top this, but I don't feel like there's any hope of that happening. More than any other show, movie, or video I've talked about recently, you cannot contain the sheer love that I feel for this series. Stream it. Watch it. Import it from Japan. I don't care how you do it, but you NEED Blood Blockade Battlefront if your life. Take the word of a self-proclaimed cynical critic, this is the real deal. This is one of the greatest shows I've ever seen in my life. Give it all of the love it deserves.


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