ANIME REVIEW: BLOOD BLOCKADE BATTLEFRONT
Genre: action, super power, comedy, shonen
Original year of broadcast: 2015 (season 1) 2017 (season 2)
Director: Rie Matsumoto & Shigehito Takayanagi
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (manga) Kazunao Furuya & Yasuko Kamo (series composition and principal scriptwriting)
Number of seasons: 2
Number of episodes: 24
Runtime per episode: 23 mins
STORY AND CHARACTERS
You may have noticed the “super power” and “shonen” tags at the top and already decided that this show is not for you. However, I would advice reading the rest of this review first before deciding on anything. I myself am not the biggest fan of shonens either. I often find them irritatingly repetitive and lacking in terms of story. But there have been shonen anime that really surprised me and even ended up in my favourites list. So, now, whenever a shonen series comes along that looks interesting and seems to be hyped even among the more hardcore anime crowd I often feel the need to check it out and see if the hype is in any way warranted.
Spoilers: in this case it absolutely is!
Blood Blockade Battlefront follows a boy named Leonardo Watch, as he deals with family issues and feelings of guilt. More specifically, those having to do with a certain incident that left his sister blind and him bestowed with the mystical “All Seeing Eyes of the Gods.” This ability grants him near-godlike perception and other cool abilities that basically make him a superhero in all but name only. Unfortunately for him, he lives in the city of Hellsalem’s Lot where species of all kinds gather and most of them are quite a bit stronger and more powerful than the average human. Thus, there is a special organization called Libra, consisting entirely of super-powered individuals that’s meant to keep the citizens of Hellsalem’s Lot in check. And just as fate would have it, their newest recruit is none other than Leonardo, or Leo, as everyone calls him.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is a show that lives and dies by the rule of cool. It's filled to the brim with kinetic, hyper-stylized action punctuated by a soundtrack filled with rock, jazz, and blues. Thus making for an all round really fun time. I absolutely love this show! It’s one of the most fun times I had with anime all year and I enjoyed every second of it. That’s not to say that it’s flawless because it certainly is not.
One of the first things you’ll notice once you start watching this show is how dense it is in terms of the information it communicates both through its overcrowded visuals and rapid-fire dialogue. Not a single second is wasted in this series and more often than not, while one story is unfolding in the foreground, a completely different event occurs in the background. While I do very much appreciate this unique and very stylish sense of storytelling, it can be a bit too much at times. The term “running at 180 miles per hour with you desperately trying to keep up” is something that tends to be thrown around a lot with more fast-paced anime. But I don't think I've ever come across a show that embodies that expression quite as well as this one does.
The problem here isn’t actually the complexity of the information you need to process, but rather, the density and speed with which it is communicated to you. With so many things happening on screen at the same time, it’s very hard to focus on one specific thing. Even if you can take in everything that’s happening at once, it’s only for a second because as soon as you’ve registered what’s happening, the next thing occurs and it keeps going like this from start to finish. While I did have a great time watching this show I never watched more than one or two episodes on any individual sitting, because I was utterly exhausted afterward due to the ridiculous amount of information I was given to process.
Mind you the density of information and lightning-fast pace of the show is one of the very few gripes I have with this show. This show really is a ton of fun to watch. The style of storytelling of this series can best be described as 50s Neo-Noir infused with a more modern-day Hollywood blockbuster feel. It’s also chock-full of pop culture references, from Edward Hopper’s 1942 realist masterpiece Nighthawks all the way to the XBox. There’s also a lot of references to American super hero comics. Not being the biggest fan of those myself a lot of them kind of flew right over my head but if you’re more caught up on the whole Marvel and DC universes I’m sure there’s a lot of fun to be had there.
As for the actual comedy in this show, a lot of it can be described as very sarcastic and sometimes downright cynical, which will certainly turn off some people from watching it. But even then it shouldn’t be too big of a deal because while the show can be very sarcastic at times it has very endearing and charming characters at its heart that definitely get the love and respect they deserve.
My only peeve, as far as the characters are concerned, are the villains. The show does have a megalomaniac super villain that every story of this type needs. But he only shows up in a handful of episodes and doesn’t really do anything except act weird and laugh maniacally. Instead, the first season has its own anime-only antagonist. However his story really only relates to Leonardo, since he this new character is somehow tied to a girl that Leo meets during a short stay in hospital. The relationship between Leo and the girl is actually one of the highlights of the first season and plays very well into Leo’s backstory and his feelings of guilt, that this girl is trying to help him cope with. But the antagonist of the season really feels very tacked on to that storyline and the further that arc develops the more it starts feeling very tonally inconsistent with the rest of the show. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have evolved into a compelling narrative. But the way that story was handled in the show felt very forced and I, for one, really wasn’t fond of the way season 1 concluded. Season 2 more than makes up for it though, so at this time of writing the whole point has become kind of moot.
ANIMATION AND SOUND
Blood Blockade Battlefront is animated by Studio Bones and as we’ve come to expect from them, the animation is really second to none. But it’s not just the animation that makes this show such a feast for the eyes. Despite its extremely frenetic storytelling and dense visuals, it boasts a completely consistent visual aesthetic with a very well chosen color scheme of mostly muted colors only briefly interspersed with very bright colors, usually for the monsters. This makes the city of Hellsalem’s Lot truly feel like a living, thriving hub where species of all kinds come together to co-exist and, for the most part, live peacefully together.
Besides the insert songs I mentioned earlier, there’s also the opening and ending songs which are all absolutely fantastic. Particularly the second opening song “Fake Town Baby” by Unison Square Garden. While it’s not the best opening song of 2017 (that honor goes to Re:Creators’ “GravityWall" courtesy of the always brilliant Hiroyuki Sawano), it is my personal favorite song of the year.
Unless you really can’t stand shonens, sarcastic humor, over the top action or a multitude of pop culture references, you should have a really fun time with this show.
It does have its flaws, of course. Because of all the pop-cultur references and the anime only arc in season 1 that doesn't really work with the rest the show the story can at times feel very disjointed. I also noticed some minor plotholes here and there. Though that might be because I missed a vital piece of information earlier due to the show’s blistering pace. There's also the problem that the anime-only arc feels so tonally inconsistent with the more lighthearted aspects that were lifted straight from the manga it does give you something of an emotional whiplash towards the end of the first season.
In all honesty though, these are minor quibbles and really did very little to influence my overall enjoyment of this series which, as I said, was immense. Right after finishing the first season I picked it up on DVD and I can’t wait to do the same thing for season 2.
Blood Blockade Battlefront has been licensed in the US by Funimation Entertainment and in the UK by Anime Ltd and can be purchased on DVD and Blu-ray in both regions. It can also be streamed in sub on Crunchyroll and dub on Funimation’s own website.
As far as alternate anime recommendations go I’d like to recommend two other shonen series I really enjoyed.
First of all Re:Creators. The premise of this show is thus: characters from anime and manga of all kinds end up in modern-day Tokyo and a war erupts between them with the future of the human race on the line. As it turns out the only one that can put a stop to it is one very dedicated otaku and his army of disparate anime characters. If you think this premise sounds like another shitty meta-comedy isekai story I agree and it could have so easily been that. But what we got instead was a thoroughly entertaining action blockbuster with surprisingly witty and well-timed comedy.
The second recommendation goes to Eureka Seven. This is, more so than either BBB and Re:Creators, a genuine shonen series and definitely a bit more serious in tone than either of those. But it still has brilliant moments of comedy and a fantastic story revolving around family, morals and the ever-changing nature of war. With some really cool mech battles to boot. Check it out if you want a good shonen action series that’s a little meatier in the story department.
See You Space Cowboys…
Anime Review: Blood Blockade Battlefront
Kerberos reviews the smash hit shonen action series by Yasuhiro Nightow, the author of Trigun: BLOOD BLOCKADE BATTLEFRONT
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