by Nick Creamer,

Blood Blockade Battlefront (Episodes 1-12 Streaming)

Blood Blockade Battlefront
Three years ago, New York City was destroyed when a portal opened to another world, resulting in an influx of demons and monsters and all manner of strange new creatures. Today, the former New York City is now Hellsalem's Lot, a transit hub where human and otherworldly cultures collide. While some of these creatures are friendly, many are not, and to those who represent a threat to either human or otherworld culture, the underground group Libra raises a firm and magically enhanced fist. Into this clash of humans and nightmare-beings stumbles Leonardo Watch, a young boy with a sister to protect and a few strange powers of his own.

There's a lot to get through with Blood Blockade Battlefront, so I'll just start at the top. The show starts off by introducing us to Leonardo Watch, a boy who three years ago was caught in the “Great Collapse.” As New York City shattered to pieces in the distance, Leo and his sister were visited by a strange, otherworldly being - and before Leo himself could act, his sister moved to protect him, saying the creature should take from her and spare her brother. And so his sister's sight was stolen, and Leo was bequeathed the All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods, a strange power fitting for a strange new world.

In today's world, New York City is now Hellsalem's Lot, a bridge between the human world and the bizarre destinations opened by the Great Collapse. There, humans and demons and fish-faced dudes all mingle and bustle through their daily lives; but the dangers of this supernatural place demand supernatural supervision, and there to provide it is Libra, a shadowy organization that protects humanity from being abused by their new neighbors. Leo travels to Hellsalem's Lot in hopes of meeting Libra and helping his sister, and swiftly finds himself caught up in all manner of trouble as their newest member. So it goes in the strangest city on earth.

Blood Blockade Battlefront dumps out all of this information in its manic first episode, an episode that also features a new threat to destroy the city, the destruction of Libra's headquarters, and the hasty explanation of Libra's blood-based superpowers. This is not a show with time to waste - Blood Blockade Battlefront hits the ground running and keeps charging forward from there, moving from that manic intro through a series of episodic Libra adventures. There's always a new threat to the city, and always a few of Libra's champions standing in its way. Whether it's cosmic chess or an interdimensional smuggling ring or an underground vampire-funded fighting arena, Leo and his new friends never find themselves short of adventures.

The show sells these episodic stories on the strength of its constantly inventive aesthetics. Hellsalem's Lot is one of the main stars of the series, with its somewhat retro-Americana look and the show's madcap pacing combining to make BBB occasionally feel reminiscent of an alien-infused Baccano!. Based on a manga by Trigun's Yasuhiro Nightow and directed by the supremely gifted Rie Matsumoto (the creator of 2013's transcendent Kyousogiga), Blood Blockade Battlefront itself feels like some kind of cross-world creation, with Nightow's bewildering fight scenes being elevated by Matsumoto's tremendous eye for shot composition.

Blood Blockade Battlefront is an almost ostentatiously pretty show. The combined squalor and beauty of Hellsalem's Lot is clear in every carefully composed shot, and even background details like the subway graffiti or paralleled lighting contribute to both the atmosphere and the storytelling. Special attacks are announced with giant block letters, and styles of combat are color-coded to create vivid contrasts even in gloomy scenes. The show occasionally feels overly busy, and the animation definitely isn't as strong as the art design, but almost everything it does is purposeful, and the overall effect comes off as legitimately cinematic more often than not.

BBB's soundtrack also contributes to its hustle-bustle atmosphere. The show features a mix of classical music, big band tunes, and jazzy piano, all perfectly calibrated to evoke a retro New York atmosphere. More than anything else, Blood Blockade Battlefront is a show that demonstrates how much episodic action-adventure can be elevated through aesthetic execution.

I focus on that execution because the actual storytelling is a lot less impressive. Blood Blockade Battlefront is largely a series of supernatural crime-fighting adventures, with the central thread of Leo both integrating into his new family and engaging with the mysterious siblings Black and White adding some structure. These episodic adventures aren't all equally strong (with almost all of the show's best episodes showing up in the first half), and can occasionally demonstrate the rough edges of the show's many variables. The show's sense of humor tends to feel the most out of place – in contrast to its gorgeous scene-setting and melancholy central narrative, BBB generally leans on simplistic slapstick and silly faces to keep things light. If you're big on repetitive slapstick and broad humor, all of this might work for you; if not, it will feel like an intruder dragging you out of the world everything else is trying to create.

BBB also has unfortunate trouble sticking the landing. Adapted from a series of episodic chapters of Nightow's manga, the show is given a central hook through the anime-original characters Black and White. Their story of family sacrifice generally serves as a clever mirror of Leo's journey – their relationship acts as a counterpoint to Leo's bond with both his own sister and his “family” at Libra, and the way they tie into both the barrier keeping the human world safe and the vampires threatening to overturn it is a solid feat of narrative construction. Their contributions to the narrative peak in the episode's penultimate episode, but the finale unfortunately doesn't live up to that episode's promise. BBB's last episode is long, dull, and archetypal, seemingly more interested in setting up more adventures than providing the best possible conclusion to this one.

But that ending wouldn't be such a disappointment if the show weren't so generally compelling. There's a whole lot of fun to be had with Blood Blockade Battlefront - the show is brimming with artistry and energy, full of creative fantasy worldbuilding and dizzy storytelling spectacle. Even Funimation's dub is pretty solid, though there are slight issues here and there. Some of the characters come off as a little stiff (Leo in particular doesn't quite sell some of his wilder lines), Klaus lacks some of the gravity of the original performance, and Megan Emerick's performance as White doesn't seem quite as perfectly suited to the character as Rie Kugimiya's (unsurprisingly, given that Kugimiya's prior experience as Koto in Kyousogiga likely meant this role was always meant for her). In spite of those complaints, it's overall a reasonable take on a show that seems eminently suited to a broader audience. Blood Blockade Battlefront is not the most consistent ride, and its wild stew of variables can occasionally feel awkwardly jammed together, but the highs definitely make it an easily recommendable show. I enjoyed Blood Blockade Battlefront, and look forward to returning to Hellsalem's Lot some time soon.

Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A-

+ Presents an engaging set of action-adventure vignettes; the show's art design and music are excellent
Not all episodes are equally strong, particularly those that lean on the show's simplistic humor; the ending doesn't quite pull itself together

Director: Rie Matsumoto
Series Composition: Kazunao Furuya
Script: Kazunao Furuya
Michio Fukuda
Tetsuo Hirakawa
Tomohiko Ito
Rie Matsumoto
Yoshikazu Miyao
Kenji Nagasaki
Kotaro Tamura
Episode Director:
Masashi Abe
Jiro Fujimoto
Tomoyuki Kurokawa
Rie Matsumoto
Masahiro Mukai
Ikurō Satō
Seung Hui Son
Daisuke Tsukushi
Hideaki Uehara
Unit Director:
Masashi Abe
Masahiro Mukai
Music: Taisei Iwasaki
Original creator: Yasuhiro Nightow
Character Design:
Toshihiro Kawamoto
Koji Sugiura
Art Director: Shinji Kimura
Chief Animation Director:
Toshihiro Kawamoto
Koji Sugiura
Animation Director:
Atsushi Hasebe
Hitomi Hasegawa
Takashi Hashimoto
Kouichi Hayashi
Koichi Horikawa
Kazumi Inadome
Toshihiro Kawamoto
Kenji Mizuhata
Noriko Morishima
Kōta Moroishi
Takashi Murai
Chiharu Sato
Koji Sugiura
Ryuji Tomioka
Takashi Tomioka
Sound Director: Rie Matsumoto
Naoki Amano
Daisuke Furuya
Ryu Hashimoto
Toshiaki Kaneko
Ryosuke Mori
Mai Murakami
Wakana Okamura

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Blood Blockade Battlefront (TV)

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