Monday, January 4, 2016

Anime Review: Blood Blockade Battlefront

Before this show aired I had so many people asking me "so are you going to watch BBB?" that I felt like my status as a Rei Matsumoto fan was in peril! It's true that I wasn't really expecting to like the series (the premise sounded a bit generic and the original manga is from the creator of Trigun which is a series that I didn't like) but of course I was going to at least try it. And wow, I didn't realize that I needed a mash-up of Kyousogiga and Baccano! in my life but apparently I did and it was fun

Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen)

New York City used to be a normal place but a few years ago the entire place went to hell, aliens came, portals to other dimensions opened up, and now the entire place is partially sealed off behind a giant barrier and called Hellsalem's Lot (if you speak Japanese then this sounds a lot like Jerusalem's Lot). It's not barred to outsiders however and young Leonardo Watch has come to the city to try and find a cure for his sister, his family had previously visited nearby for the same reason and it all ended rather pear-shaped so he's extra desperate now. He catches the eye of an underground group who try and keep the city safe for its many varied denizens and soon Leo and his special abilities have found a home in Libra and it's just one unpredictable day after another.

To talk about the elephant in the room first, the final episode of this show never aired. It did come out on DVD (and international streams) but did so over four months after the show was supposed to end and for me that definitely colored my view of the ending. I was a bit confused by parts of it and yet I saw some very nice, informative posts on it so clearly not everyone was( ie if episode 12 had aired only a week after episode 11 then I would be remembering the show rather differently and I think more positively). I'm not sure what could have been cut from the extra-length episode but I also don't think it needed to be that long in the first place*. 

Let me get back to that last episode later however since I did really like a lot about this show and there's a lot to like in it. It's done remarkably well in Japan (last I checked it was going to be the second best-selling show for Studio Bones ever) and I both hope it does fantastic here in the US and suspect it will, it has a lot of elements in common with fan favorite series here. It's an episodic series with a loose focus on Leo as he goes about the city meeting people, getting his friends out of trouble, and more often than not just being dragged into trouble unwillingly. I like the choice of Leo as a main character, it is a bit too obvious that he's around so things can be explained to the viewer but at the same time he has an actual character and is quick to point out when hey yeah, this isn't making any sense! The story has a large, ensemble cast who drift in and out of the show and this is where the biggest difference between the original manga and the anime come into play, Matsumoto introduces two new characters for the sake of giving the series an emotional arc and I think this was the best way to give the story not only a beginning but an ending. 

These two new characters, White and Black (both voiced by Rie Kugimiya who also did Koto in Kyousogiga which got a bit odd at times), were among my favorite parts of the series and I think that speaks to how well Matsumoto does families. There are endless anime out there about the important of families (both your blood relations and those you make) but I felt like this story did it better than most with showing how families make messes, how you can fail to make the right choice or make the wrong choice for the right reasons and then everything gets even worse. The story didn't over-emphasize the relationships between members of Libra like I expected (instead it's portrayed as a deep camaraderie, like a friendship that's so close you stop caring about what it's called) but still leaves you completely sure of who each character is and what their view of this wild and crazy world is.

But there were also part and episodes I didn't like, funny enough my least favorite episodes was the fan favorite the burger episode and I also didn't like "Zed tries to troll everyone into eating terrible food" one. I actually liked "Klaus plays space chess" and "Leo gets kidnapped by a laundry truck" so it's not that I didn't like the characters or the whimsy of the show, even though I didn't hate any of the episodes there were some that just fell a little too flat, a bit too unnecessarily weird for me (Hope on ANN seems to have teased out all of the meaning in the episodes and much like the last episode, while I do honestly believe most of that was the intent I completely missed it). The show wasn't precisely lopsided but these little moments are also what held it back from being one of my favorites of 2015 (even though I was sure it was going to be when the series started). It was a near miss but a miss none the less which I guess is how I feel about that final episode, even though it did everything I expected it to (plot-wise and emotionally) something missed a little bit for me. 

I did like the show and plan to buy it in English, probably check out the dub since this feels like the kind of show you need to watch in English, and I do hope it gets another season yes with Matsumoto at the helm! But I don't think I'm going to fully sort out my feelings for this wonderfully animated, gorgeously composed (music-wise) show until I give it another full watch in a year or two. I do recommend it, it's not just solid it' a good show with a lot of appeal for folks who like action and character drama but it somehow just missed "great" status for me.

*and the staff credits speak to it being a rather beleaguered effort, extra key animators suggesting a tight schedule and IIRC an unheard number of assistant directors which also sounds like a short time leading to a lot of people sharing the work load. That, plus the fact that the show even had a recap episode to gain time and was apparently being animated early suggests that something was going on behind the scenes, I'm nosy so I'd love to know the details myself.