Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond
Episodes 1-2

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (TV 2) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (TV 2) ?

Blood Blockade Battlefront is Back, Baby! Studio Bones' thrill-a-second action extravaganza in a demonic NYC was one of my favorite shows of 2015. It would've easily taken the top spot, if only Ikuhara's meddling bears hadn't shown up to steal the first place spotlight that year. Now BBB (&B) has a second chance at the prize—if it's still up to snuff, that is. This sequel series comes with a few caveats, due to some important changes in staff.

First thing's first, the reviewer for this series has changed from the first season. My predecessor, Jacob Chapman, was sent off to a critic's farm upstate, where he now roams free, managing site-wide editorial and plugging away at his upcoming video game. I hope that I can be a passable substitute for him in terms of quality (though not word count, dear lord). Fortunately, this second season may be cutting me a break when it comes to the length of analysis necessary for any given episode. This takes us to our second major change, one you may have picked up on from watching this new season's start. Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond is noticeably less stylish, less crisply edited, and most importantly for my purposes, slowed way the hell down relative to how it was before. This is all generally attributable to the absence of a crucial figure from the first season: director Rie Matsumoto.

The first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront worked as the lovechild of two distinct, immensely talented creators: the aforementioned Matsumoto and the original mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow (of Trigun fame). As artists, they both complement one another greatly – both love cartoonish ultraviolence, both are mile-a-minute storytellers, and both tend to craft stories that act as humanist interpretations of religious belief systems. Under Matsumoto's control, Blood Blockade Battlefront's first season concluded with a DBZ-style power battle between a Jesus Christ figure and Literally Satan, all while one everyman, the Embodiment of Human Decency in The Face of Overwhelming Darkness, was making his way over to save the world through one brave act of kindness. So I consider Matsumoto to be one of the most talented young artists working in anime today. Many of the first season's aesthetic qualities – from its color usage to its dynamic comedy-action to the sheer busyness of every single moment – are hallmarks of her style. Matsumoto cuts no corners and takes no pauses, and these qualities were evident in every frame of BBB season one, for better or for worse. Her absence is a major loss, but not necessarily a crippling one. It all depends on what the remaining animation and art team (which is largely unchanged) can do on their own.

This season's debut takes us back to Hellsalem's Lot, some time after the events of the first series' conclusion. Things are back to normal for the city that never sleeps (even in death), meaning that Leo has to constantly save the world from situations that don't involve the possibility of him getting a girlfriend anymore. This week, Femt's terrorizing humanity again, this time with a bunch of brain-jar monsters programmed to wreak havoc for the next six hours, six minutes, and six seconds. (I assume that he's a big fan of Digimon Adventure's Myotismon.) The resulting action scene reintroduces us to most of the cast, as they use their crazy powers to fight off Femt's beasties. This stuff is all pretty basic by Blood Blockade Battlefront standards – there's slapstick, pop culture references, and a monster that gets bisected by a giant cross made out of blood. Business as usual.

The episode's second plot is longer, but amounts to much of the same nonsense, when a US ambassador's cranium gets stolen by a dastardly headhunter. It is, of course, up to Leo to get the guy's head back in in time for the big conference encouraging peaceful relations with the dimensional rift. (Even though it's Leo's day off and a new entry in his favorite video game franchise was just released. Even the apocalypse couldn't get me out of the house on the day Super Mario Odyssey comes out.) This whole sequence seems to be a callback to the first season's ending, where Leo raced through the streets of Hellsalem's Lot in pursuit of White, receiving help from his friends along the way. While it's not as impactful as the original series' absolute tour de force conclusion (understandably enough – they had an entire season of build up before the three month-delayed finale), it's a fun way to get us reacquainted with all the characters as well as the city's landscape. This whole episode leans harder on the comedy than much of the first season, but there was still room for Leo to have a meaningful conversation with the ambassador, in which he reifies why an ordinary guy like him would ever choose to live in Hellsalem's Lot. (Despite Leo's sheer normalcy, he's got a lot of guts, a strong sense of duty, and a desire to live life to the fullest. And what place is more lively than this?) In the end, Leo reunites the ambassador with his bottom, and he makes a speech encouraging the USA to think positively of Beyondians. But was it all worth the cost of Leo's dearly departed XbonX 720 Revolutions S 9? (Yes. Yes it was.)

Other than that, my favorite bits include how quickly it took folks on the street to decide that they didn't care about the explosion that wrecked Leo's house, as well as the low-tempo rap number they used to recap basic info about the setting. For as much as I've talked up Matsumoto's absence, there are some inspired choices in this premiere, and I think that she'd appreciate the rap interlude in particular. Unfortunately, the pop culture references are a little tepid this time around. While I appreciate Femt's enthusiasm for BBC Earth, The Avengers and Ghostbusters jokes are a little weak for a series that's previously referenced Scanners and Twins. When you've started down the path of making gags about ironically hilarious Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito comedies, it's Junior jokes or bust from that point on.

Moving on to the next adventure, I found the second episode to be weaker than the first, as it suffered from being mostly setup in a series that's never really bothered with those types of episodes before. Even when the show was setting up information for later on down the line, it was still wrapped up in a total engrossing standalone story, making every single episode action-packed and enjoyable in isolation. But perhaps that's unfair of me. They do try to wrap episode two up into a neat little conflict, it just doesn't work so well. Basically, the story is that Zapp gets seriously injured (how and why doesn't matter) and has to be taken to the hospital. Klaus and Stephen tag along, but upon their arrival, they get thrust into a sudden flashback sequence. Apparently, they visited this very hospital three years ago on the day of the Great Collapse, when New York City was replaced by Hellsalem's Lot. On that day, they defended the hospital from a Blood Breed, who nearly schooled them while mentioning something about there being greater forces at work in all this. Ever since the city settled back into something that passes for normalcy, Klaus and Stephen have been searching for this hospital to no avail, and now Zapp's led them right to it because he fell down a manhole or something. Good job, Zapp.

At the hospital, Klaus and Stephen reunite with some old acquaintances. The most prominent is a doctor named Luciana Estevez, who seems like she'll be an important character going forward. At some point after the Great Collapse, Luciana made a deal with a Beyondian for the ability to split herself into different bodies, so she and her clone-selves could staff the hospital pretty much singlehandedly. She can also put herself back together, becoming an adult woman (the more she splits, the younger each instance gets) who kicks ass. She uses this form to chase off the Blood Breed from three years ago, who's come back for a somewhat poorly justified reason. As far as I can tell, this Blood Breed's pet monster put its spores inside all of the people in the hospital on the day of the Great Collapse, leaving them in a sort of hibernating cocoon state. (Hopefully this doesn't include the baby Klaus rescued – that would just be sad.) Since the spores are hatching today, Mr. Blood Breed has arrived to pick up his pet. Luciana manages to beat the baddies up, but it's down to Klaus to seal away the Blood Breed for good. He does so handily, demonstrating that he's grown in strength since the last time they fought, when the Blood Breed would likely have bested Klaus if not for a timely distraction. The day is saved, and our heroes head off to party in an incredible Matsumoto-helmed credits sequence.

So this episode mostly serves to introduce Luciana and elaborate on the events of the Great Collapse. Most of what we see in the flashback could've been extrapolated already, so it's not incredibly exciting. However, this episode does give us something that was mostly absent from Matsumoto's version – straightforward exposition. So the Beyond and its crazy mist exists in the dimension next to ours, leaking in whenever something that we'd consider supernatural happens. They still haven't given a direct explanation of what Blood Breeds have to do with the Great Collapse or even what they are (extradimensional vampires as far as we know), but it's a step. I'm also not totally sold on Luciana as a character yet, but she's charming enough. If the show plays its cards right, I think I could see myself loving her as much as the rest of the cast, but only time will tell. Otherwise, the fight with Blood Breed Zoolander or whatever looked cool, but it lacked the emotional oomph I'm used to from Blood Blockade Battlefront. I know that's a high standard, but that's what this show has set us up for. There was a lot of good in this episode – Blood Breed Zardoz was an Extremely Nightow character design, from his weaponized shoulder pads to his lanky spandex-coated figure to his cocky attitude. I also hope that we see more of Bradbury Memorial Hospital, since “tower with a green Lillith monster hanging from it” is a cool design. “Slightly less stylish than the first season” still means that the show is pretty damn stylish overall.

There's still a lot to like about this second season of Blood Blockade Battlefront, and its biggest handicap is really just the towering example of that phenomenal first season. Thematically, this season looks like it will be delving into the lore of Hellsalem's Lot, as well as the relationship between the Beyond and the human world. Leo's sister Michaela seems like she'll be playing a bigger role, which suggests that we'll be learning more about the All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods and why exactly they were given to Leo. This is a good direction to take. If I were to knock the first season for something, it'd be the lack of clear explanatory plot details. While the necessary information was present most of the time, it was largely smuggled in through easy-to-overlook implications and ancillary details. The main advantage Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond possesses over its predecessor is that it may be more watchable for those who were intimidated by the first season's sheer rapidity. Matsumoto's storytelling sensibilities run at 8000mph and slow down for nobody – even when that quality hampers her work's ability to attract a wider audience. Of course, despite this barrier of entry, Blood Blockade Battlefront was still a solid hit, so let's see if people come back for this reunion tour.

And there go my ambitions of rambling any less than Jacob. “Biting off more than you can chew” is basically a tradition for Blood Blockade Battlefront at this point, and it looks like I've fallen sway to it already. Hellsalem's Lot pauses for no one, least of all sleepy anime reviewers like me. Oh well, I can imagine worse ways to die. RIP Gabriella, she partied too hard and wrote too hard. Amen.

Grade: B+

Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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