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The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Blood Blockade Battlefront

How would you rate episode 1 of
Blood Blockade Battlefront ?
Community score: 4.3

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3

There is a lot going on in the first episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront, hereafter referred to as BBB. After some pastoral misdirection probably meant to evoke Clara from Heidi, the story throws us into a post-apocalyptic New York City. Ever since a gate to an alternate world opened up, the city has been known as Hellsalem, and humans and other creatures (let's call them monsters) have coexisted in the way that diverse New Yorkers have for centuries: sometimes well, sometimes not so well. In the midst of this city a young teen named Leonardo is chasing a white monkey who has stolen his camera. But wait! It's unnecessary flashback time, where we see how he came to be chasing the camera-stealing simian in the first place. While this does introduce a diner waitress who comes back in the end of the episode, all it really does is give us extraneous information that could have been given sans flashback by following a linear storyline, to say nothing of adding a few minutes...of reused animation of Leo chasing the monkey. It feels like a gimmicky attempt at making the show more interesting than it might otherwise appear, which I thought was an issue throughout the entire episode.

Eventually Leo, whom we learn is a cub reporter suffering from guilt over something that happened to his wheelchair-bound sister Michella, teams up with the superpowered group known as Libra. For some reason they think he's a guy named Johnny, who turns out to be dead, but things work out anyway because the same incident that did something to Michella gave Leo awesome godly eyes that can see anything, and apparently allow him to see through his closed lids. There are lots of battles with weird looking monsters, psychedelic colors, and plenty of daily life shots all jumbled together, making this a visually stunning but confusing half hour.

I actually enjoyed that part – there's always something to look at and you can play a sort of Where's Waldo with the backgrounds of each scene; in fact, I was tempted to pause in a few places just to take it all in. What was more of an issue was the storytelling style. There are at least two flashbacks in this introductory episode, which coupled with the jazzy score made it feel as if the story was trying to be Baccano!  and not quite getting there. Shifts between past and present are not always clear, further confusing things, and even when you know what time you're in, the plot and its trajectory do not always feel obvious, or even just plain old discernible. Leo seems like your average everyguy hero, surrounded by larger, lankier, or just more interesting looking men (the women all look very average so far), reluctant bearer of a Great Power that will undoubtedly prove him more powerful than anyone else. We already see that at the end of the episode when he manages to foil bad guy Femt's plot by simply not killing someone; clearly his compassion will prove even more powerful than his magic eyes.

Maybe when it gets going, BBB will settle itself and allow us the luxury of actually following the story with ease. It seems entirely possible that this first episode's goal was simply to hook us and make the story's world seem interesting. For me the whole thing felt like someone was playing fast and loose with the “fast forward” and “rewind” buttons on a remote, but I do tend to prefer linear storytelling. This episode is trying too hard, but it will likely be worth giving it a few more to see if it smooths out.

This series is currently available streaming at Funimation.com

Theron Martin

Rating: 4

Review: The source manga for this new BONES production was penned by Yasuhiro Nightow, who also created Gungrave and Trigun. While watching its first episode, though, I was frequently struck with the impression that the story, animation, soundtrack, and even some of the character designs were instead borrowing inspiration from an entirely different source: Baccano! When it comes to being compared in a favorable sense to another series, one could certainly do a whole lot worse.

The basic premise makes this another entry in a long line of anime series about where some kind of supernatural disruption creates an environment where humans live alongside decidedly not-human creatures. In this case it took place in New York City a couple of years before Leonardo Watch arrived there, resulting in the cross-dimensional city of Hellsalem's Lot coming into existence. (You have to love the naming conventions in the city!) Leonardo has come there because he has heard that miracles can happen there, and he is hoping to find some means to restore the congenitally crippled legs of his sister. A few months ago, though, an encounter with an otherworldly being resulted in him possessing special eyes which can see well beyond even what super-powered and otherworldly individuals can see, which turn out to be a big help when a madman who calls himself the Lord of Depravity unleashes a demonic creature to inflict terrorist-like attacks. Fortunately Leo's chasing of a pickpocketing monkey brings him into contact with Libra, a secret organization with vigilante-like qualities, and they are able to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement which ultimately thwarts the Lord of Depravity's plans – for now.

As ordinary as this sounds, quality execution matters, and this is directed by Rie Matsumoto, the same person responsible for working wonders with 2013's Kyousogiga, which in my book is a huge plus. That sense of artistic flair and world-hopping spirit carries over, which gives the setting a better sense of being truly bizarre than most, as the alien creatures are not just ordinary people with animal ears/heads and/or overtones. Some of the credit for that goes to creature designer Koji Sugiura, whose previous design efforts have been entirely conventional but who knocks it out of the park with all manner of fantastically weird designs; the highlight is probably the demon which has two full arms but others literally only half of a body (horizontally, not vertically). Brisk action full of dramatic moves and immediately likable characters are also highlights, and what hasn't been fully revealed about Leo's backstory with his sister, or who the mysterious person is at the end of the episode, raises intriguing questions, too.

This series is currently available streaming at Funimation.com

Nick Creamer

Rating: 5

After years of working on various Toei projects, Rie Matsumoto firmly established herself as a first-rate director with 2013's brilliant, beautiful Kyousogiga. That show possessed a sense of style and acuity of both overall direction and individual shot composition that set it apart from virtually all television anime. It was an unsung masterpiece, and anticipation has been high during the long wait between that and her next directorial project.

Well, it's here, it's Blood Blockade Battlefront, and it's absolutely gorgeous.

Adapted from a manga by Trigun's Yasuhiro Nightow, BBB takes place in the city of Hellsalem's Lot. Hellsalem's Lot was once New York City, but when a gate opened between New York and the alterworld, the landscape was changed forever. Now, Hellsalem's Lot acts as a junction between this world and another, full of humans and aliens that go about their days in the presence of near-gods. Leonardo Watch is a new arrival to Hellsalem's Lot, on the hunt for the mysterious Libra organization. Six months ago, Leonardo and his sister Michella were visited by a strange, massive creature that forced them to make a choice - one of them would “see this through” as some kind of observer, and the other would have their sight stolen forever. Michella sacrificed her own eyes to protect her brother, giving Leonardo the powerful All-seeing Eyes of the Gods, and now Leonardo is determined to find those who can bring back what was taken. Upon discovering Libra, Leonardo finds himself in the middle of a deadly game prompted by Femt the King of Depravity. The heroes of Libra must find a gate somewhere in the city, and stop a demon from crossing it to prevent any manner of untold horrors.

That's largely the plot of this first episode, scattered across a number of time skips and flashbacks and peppered with character introductions and little personal scenes. But talking about the plot feels like a poor way to convey Blood Blockade Battlefront - the key here is atmosphere. Hellsalem's Lot is brought to life by shots that convey endless details of architecture and daily life. The vaguely Baccano!-esque visual aesthetic is amplified by the diverse and lively music (big band horns for the intro, off-kilter chimes for the first big explosions, oddly appropriate salsa for the finale), and the eye for detail makes even the graffiti of this place seem real.

Even better than the meticulous amount of detail is the beautiful diversity of shot framing. Matsumoto really loves ostentatious and almost self-conscious framing devices, with a variety of shots here being conveyed through television screens, through camera viewfinders, through semi-translucent storefronts, and even through the reflection on a shining doorknob. Intricate foreground objects create compositions with depth and symmetry - one shot pulls back to frame characters between the gears of an elevator, another creates a stage through the careful positioning of rubble, and yet another makes a deliberate contrast between the color design of strongman Klaus V. Reinherz (the names are all ridiculous, incidentally) on one side and an unfocused rose on the other. That rose is then shot from another angle as Leonardo explains “six months ago...” - and then a match cut shifts from the wilting roses to red poppies in full bloom, visually conveying the sense of time going backwards while perfectly setting up the next beautifully framed shot.

The animation is also excellent, though not quite as ostentatiously pretty as the shot composition. The last fight in particular is a feast of dynamic movement, with highlights including the stylish black-and-white impact frames inserted in Zapp Renfro (again, those names) snapping his lighter to pull off his signature attack. Special attacks are announced with extravagant block letters reminiscent of Kill la Kill, and just like in Kill la Kill, the style is an accepted embellishment of the world - at one point, an attack by Klaus prompts a spray of blood that actually erupts on our side of the ostensibly non-existent title cards, again creating a sense of visual depth in this over-the-top comic brought to life. The direction makes every exchange seem lively, and the backgrounds arrive at a strange and wondrous marriage of lived-in detail and beautiful ornamentation.

Blood Blockade Battlefront is gorgeous, is what I'm telling you. The story seems like a classic coming-of-age template, but the creativity of the variables and the absolutely stunning execution make this a joy to watch. I can't wait to see more.

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