The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond
How would you rate episode 1 of
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond ?
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How was the first episode?
Alright, let's get one thing out of the way first: Rie Matsumoto is not directing this second season of the anime. Possibly due to production issues (BBB suffered frequent episode delays leading up to a months-long delay of the double-length finale), she was unfortunately replaced by the more experienced but staunchly workmanlike Shigehito Takayanagi. Now while I love BBB author Yasuhiro Nightow's aesthetic and his ideas on their own merits, a large part of what made Blood Blockade Battlefront work in animation was Matsumoto's unique touch, and the show just won't be the same without her. With that said, can it still be a good show? (At least it already has a great title!)
It'll be hard to judge until we see which direction the anime-original bookend story goes this season, but this first episode bodes well for BBB&B's future. Despite various changes in staff, the animation director and many lead animators for the series have not changed, so the show's production values are impressive as ever, even if the cinematography and storyboarding feel slightly less ambitious than before. Honestly, if you're not obsessed with BBB and know the show back to front like some weirdos (me), you probably won't notice any difference except that the show is slightly slower-paced and (so far) less emotionally vulnerable. While the wild comedy that defines Nightow's style has transferred between seasons flawlessly (I loved the giant monsters barfing cute rainbows after they saw their comrade get dismembered), Leonardo's sensitivity seems dampened. In lieu of drawing on the emotional connection that defined the first season's premiere, this episode plays up Leo's wild overreactions much more than usual, despite the framing device of a sweet letter to Michaela (who's also rumored to play a bigger part this season). There's maybe one tiny moment of heartfelt contemplation, and the rest is pure action comedy.
For most viewers, this will feel like coming back to the same old BBB&B, as every moment of this episode explodes with energy. Still, I can't help but miss that depth of frame and sentimentalism that Matsumoto brought to the work, even if its absence is thankfully less egregious than it could have been. More than anything, I'm excited by the new seasonal plot this team has come up with, as a baffled U.S.A. works to reconcile their relationship with Hellsalem's Lot. It's a major piece of this world's puzzle that wasn't really commented on in season one, so I'm eager to see where they go with this new angle, while also adapting great missed chapters from the manga and throwing in plenty of America-centric references. I'm already excited for the invisible werewolves episode starring Chain, and I'm crossing my fingers that they'll animate Klaus' origin story too!
SimulDub Preview: Beyond's English dub retains the full cast from season one without any new recurring characters to introduce, so there aren't many surprises here. The good news is that with twelve episodes behind them already, Aaron Dismuke, Ian Sinclair, and the rest of the gang are firmly comfortable in their roles, so the comedic and dramatic delivery in BBB&B is noticeably stronger than in most dub premieres, an engaging listen with almost no hiccups and plenty of laughs. The adaptive script is stronger too, retaining the references and gags of the original with a little sharper and more natural word usage. Thinking back to the first episode of season one, when the actors were all trying just a little too hard to leave an impression in a script peppered with some awkward instances of "frickin", this episode is a heartening improvement in both script and delivery, certain to get dub fans pumped for another season. If there is one quibble to note, it's Ackerman's remark that the "heavily booth-tanned" Zapp didn't recognize him. The original Japanese remark was just that Zapp was "brown-skinned", which might also be rephrased in English but doesn't betray the probable naturalness of his skin tone; there's never been any indication that Zapp is a white guy who maintains an artificial tan, he was probably just born with dark skin. For a number of reasons, this is frankly a bad call, so maybe it'll be changed for the Blu-ray. At least the rest of the dub holds up very well.
Blood Blockade Battlefront has returned! The show's first season was an often dazzling, action-packed ride through a fantastical urban jungle. The show married Yasuhiro Nightow's over-the-top concepts and slapstick sensibilities to Rie Matsumoto's vividly creative directorial vision, resulting a distinctive production on all fronts. But with Matsumoto having left the production team, it was an open question as to how Beyond would carry on in her absence.
So far, the answer seems to be “echo her visual ideas from the first season as closely as possible, and also lean more on the comedy.” This first episode isn't all that dramatically impactful, but it's certainly fast-paced and full of ideas. Featuring both a new ploy by Femt and an attempted political kidnapping, it's a busy return to Hellsalem's Lot that retains much of the original's appeal.
Personally, my interest in Blood Blockade Battlefront always centered on Matsumoto's presence, and her absence is definitely felt here. There are far fewer of the ornate embellishments and distinctive, multi-plane compositions this time, meaning the actual city of Hellsalem's Lot feels less magical than before. Additionally, the hit-or-miss comedy that served as more of a garnish in the first season feels like the central focus here, replacing Matsumoto's more emotionally-focused tone. There are some solid gag ideas, like the way Femt's monitors seem to pursue Leo through the city, but also a fair number of lukewarm overreactions and slapstick interludes. This broad style of comedy was definitely a meaningful element of the first season, but now it feels frontlined to the point that it undercuts the episode's dramatic aspirations.
Somewhat diminished direction aside, the show still looks great on the whole. There are tons of lovely monster designs scattered throughout this episode, and many shots that make beautiful use of the city backdrop. The animation is also quite strong from start to finish, and the action scenes actually felt more coherent than the first season's. Even without Matsumoto, Blood Blockade Battlefront is a visually appealing show.
On the whole, I'd say Beyond should definitely satisfy fans of the original season. The world definitely feels less mythic in its framing now, and the increased focus on comedy doesn't really work for me, but this is still a very fine premiere.
Watching Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond is like catching up with old friends a few years after everyone left town. We haven't seen Leonardo, Klaus, Zapp, and the rest of the gang since 2015, and most of the lead staff on this new season is brand new. In spite of all this, BBB&B feels like it might as well have never left. It picks up with the same manic, overflowing sense of bizarre style that made the first season so refreshing and fun, and all signs point to this new entry in the franchise being just as madcap entertaining.
If there's one drawback to this episode, it's that I don't think it works well for newcomers, though it does go out of its way to try and get people up to speed. We get reintroduced to a central villain of the series (Femt), our hapless hero (Leonardo), and pretty much every member of the crime fighting team Libra makes an appearance afterward, with the show's trademark graphics popping up to summarize their basic character traits. Still, as introductions go, BBB&B is still insanely dense, one of the most hyperactively paced shows around. I watched the first season not that long ago, and I still found myself struggling to remember exactly who everyone was, what their powers were, and what any of it had to do with an American politician's head in a box.
There's still the rest of the season though, and this episode's standalone elements should at least be comprehensible to the uninitiated. New York City has been transformed into Hellsalem's Lot, and Libra exists to make sure that an entire metropolis filled with humans, monsters, demons, and other Beyondians doesn't completely destroy itself on a daily basis. The plot follows classic action-movie formulas, just with BBB's signature insanity layered thickly on top. Watching Leonardo desperately try to avoid a veritable army of mobsters and thugs to get the presidential envoy's sentient head back to its body was a thrill, even if I wasn't always entirely sure what was going on. The animation is as charming and stylish as ever, making up for its occasional lack of polish with pure unadulterated energy.
What I'm most curious about is what overarching story takes hold this year and how much it will tie into the events of season one. We get some hints near the end of the episode that familiar faces might return, but we'll just have to see what happens in the coming weeks. As a premiere, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond assuaged any of my fears that the series might have lost its touch. This episode was funny, thrilling, and filled to the brim with charm and gusto, and I can't wait to see where the series goes next.
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