Blood Blockade Battlefront (TV)

In the spirit of Halloween, here's an anime that may not be all that scary, but features plenty of ghouls, vampires, and werewolves to scratch that supernatural itch. That's right, after a multitude of delayed finale airings, last season's Blood Blockade Battlefront is finally over and done with (if only Ufotable's God Eater was so lucky), allowing me to finally weigh in on how I felt about the show. The first thing I'd like to get out of the way is that in the lead up to the release of Blood Blockade Battlefront my anticipation was incredibly high. It's an adaptation of a manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, the author of the manga that inspired one of my all time favorite anime, Trigun. It's directed by Rie Matsumoto, the director of one of my favorite anime in recent years, Kyousougiga. And finally, it was being animated by studio Bones, which as I bring up every time I talk about them is a studio responsible for many shows I love (Soul Eater, Eureka Seven, Noragami, so on and so forth). So all in all, Blood Blockade Battlefront had a lot to live up to when it finally came around.

Blood Blockade Battlefront takes place in a universe where our own human world has collided with that of the paranormal. As a result of a catastrophic event known as "The Collapse", a portal to another dimension opened within New York City, causing it to mix and mash with another world known as "Beyond", resulting in a city populated both by ordinary humans and supernatural creatures, a city that is from then on known as "Hellsalem's Lot". The show follows the story of Leo, a human boy searching for information on the supernatural due to a tragic event in his past, and to do so confronts a secret organization known as "Libra" which is dedicated to regulating other-worldly activity in the city, along with trying to keep the city safe (even if they don't do an especially good job of it). From the beginning Blood Blockade Battlefront makes it clear that it is not a show interested in slowing down and reflecting on things, or not very often at least. The first episode moves at a breakneck speed, which is understandable for an introduction to such a sprawling story, but I expected for it to follow up with a few slower episodes to ease the audience in. Instead, the show continued on with pacing so brisk and erratic that it can be difficult to take it all in. But if you can wade through all the frantic confusion, there is quality beneath the surface.

The bulk of Blood Blockade Battlefront is focused squarely on the comedy, which is fast-paced, zany fun that never ceased to be entertaining throughout the run of the show. Nightow's knack for crafting wacky, over the top humor that remains charming and doesn't overstay its welcome is in full form here. The show is constantly switching between crazy action and even crazier humor that ranges from legitimately clever visual gags to shamelessly juvenile slapstick humor making for a slew of memorable and hilarious moments. Most episodes left me with a constant smirk planted across my face, constantly surprising me with new wacky situations to put the characters in. This focus on laughs over plot, and big moments over exposition makes for a show that's both easy to enjoy, but difficult to get pulled into. There were times I was simply watching things play out with only a vague idea of what was actually going on when it came to the nitty gritty details. In a way I didn't mind this, after all, I've always been a fan of keeping the explanations brief to make room for more meaty content. At the same time though, the lengths the show went to in order to skim over important details in relation to the plot, setting, and characters, at times prevented me from getting fully engrossed in the narrative because I only had a paper thin understanding of the what, who, when, where, and why in a given situation.

A big reason why the humor works so well is the characters, or at least some of them. The central cast of Blood Blockade Battlefront are a bundle of fun, Leo is a thoroughly likable protagonist, Zapp is endlessly entertaining, Klaus is a badass dork, and White is as interesting as she is adorable. This primary group of characters get all the big moments, character development, and meaningful relationships, and while the main cast is great, the show does have an issue in terms of giving the less prominent characters their time in the spotlight. It's a given in a show with a cast this extensive not every character is going to get perfectly equal amounts of screen time and exploration, especially in a mere twelve episodes, but the extent to which many of Blood Blockade Battlefront's intriguing side characters are shoved into the background with little to no characterization or attention is far too significant. There were some characters in the show with names, that were frequently on screen, but I knew near nothing about from personality to basic character traits. Characters like Gilbert Altstein, K.K., Steven, Patrick, or Neyka, who are introduced and mostly stand in the background or spout minor lines of exposition while almost never getting the chance to actually set themselves apart from the rest of the cast. Although I understand the difficulty of balancing this many characters, it still feels as if much of Blood Blockade Battlefront's cast was left totally ignored to the point I questioned why they were even there. Also, Chain, the best character in the whole show, didn't get to do nearly enough. This is a complaint entirely based around my personal bias, but on the other hand she's great and should have gotten to do way more.

A large chunk of the more serious moments of Blood Blockade Battlefront are focused on two anime-original characters, a pair of mysterious twins named White and Black. The drama of the show certainly takes the backseat to the action and comedy, but still has a notable presence, especially towards the end of the show. Rie Matsumoto has previously proven herself as being excellent at tackling this kind of tragic family story in Kyousougiga, and the scenes following White, Black, and their interactions with the main character Leo are no different. The more their pasts and motivations are revealed, the more heartbreaking it becomes. In a show with so many crude, cartoonish-ly over the top characters, the two siblings are remarkably believable, and their story is refreshingly sentimental. It's an emotionally engaging tale, with many scenes towards the end of the show doing an excellent job tugging at the heart strings, and it all culminates in a grand conclusion that felt satisfying, albeit slightly cluttered.

Although the show handles its comedy excellently, and also handles its drama excellently, there's a pretty major snag between them. These two aspects, while strong separately, absolutely do not blend well at all. As a point of comparison,  a previous adaptation of Nightow's work, Trigun, was prime example of excellent balance of tone. The show managed to tactfully switch between comedy and drama on a dime without sacrificing its overall feeling of consistency. It all felt like one big story, just one that had different attitudes with different purposes at different times. In Blood Blockade Battlefront however, the switch between comedy and drama is drastic and jarring. The comedy is so random and ridiculous and the drama is so direct and genuine the two almost feel like totally different shows. It's a stylistic clash, as the show tries to mix together Nightow's hectic, senseless comedy, with Rie's focused character driven narrative, and while neither of these separate parts are bad on their own as a whole they simply don't mesh. What results is a show that's entertaining to watch, but disjointed. It succeeds at what it tries to accomplish but only on a fundamental level because the gaping disconnect between the contrasting goals sticks out like a sore thumb, preventing each other from reaching their full potential.

From a production perspective, Blood Blockade Battlefront is as solid as one should expect from studio Bones, which is very solid. It's not their best looking show, characters can get a tad unpolished with wonky looking faces on occasion, and some cases stiff character acting animation, but this is counter-balanced by how good the rest of the show looks. It features some terrific action animation from great animators like Yutaka Nakamura and Bahi JD, awesome backgrounds creating a world that blends human and abstract architecture that looks wholly unique, and gorgeous cinematography and storyboarding work from director Rie Matsumoto. It also features an excellent, jazzy score that perfectly complements the show's action, drama, and overall aesthetic. And for those curious, I did see some of Funimation's dub and the casting and performances from what I listened to were pretty spot on, a totally acceptable alternative to the original voice cast.

Blood Blockade Battlefront is a messy show. It doesn't always properly explain itself, neglects some of its intriguing characters, and has a lopsided tone, often unable to properly balance between its in-your-face comedy and restrained drama. With all that said, I'd still fully recommend watching it. Because despite all its flaws, when it works, it really works. Even if it at times had trouble pulling me in completely early on, I still had an absolute blast with every episode, ended up caring about all the major characters, and was genuinely touched by the final few episodes. It has issues, but under the rough exterior is a delightfully eccentric, constantly entertaining, and occasionally poignant action fantasy series with an immense amount of heart.


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