Blood Blockade Battlefront
by Jacob Chapman,
At last! After ten thousand years, I'm free! It's time to review the final episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront!
Seriously, it's been three and a half months since the penultimate episode of this series, and the stakes were left so high that I thought I might not survive the wait. Luckily, Studio Bones spent the extra time buffing all the wrinkles out of this finale, resulting in the most emotionally powerful and thematically cohesive entry in the series thus far, with a whopping 46-minute runtime to wrap its main story up in a bedazzling bow. Instead of packing extraneous sideplots or tiny tangents into the doubled episode length, the production team committed to just beautify what they already had planned for the ending. This season finale is stunning in its simplicity, and I can't wait to dig right in and discuss this great show for the last time. (Until season 2? Please give us a second season. And a movie!)
First, we all need a refresher on just what the hell actually happened last time. White's fate and Black's motivations were both left uncertain in the madness of episode 11, so this episode slows way down to paint a much clearer picture. The one thing we don't know (and perhaps never will) is if William actually caused The Great Collapse with his desire for power, or if he just happened to be at the epicenter of our world's link to the Beyond when it happened, attracting The King of Despair's attention during the catastrophe. Tragically, we do get a firm answer for what happened to Mary around that time: she died. White was mortally wounded in The Great Collapse, and her parents wrapped their part of the Hellsalem's Lot barrier around her heart to keep her alive. The price for this is steep, of course. Mary can never live outside the barrier-protected city, so her brother resolves to stay by her side. This also explains why Black wanted to keep her inside the hospital: he wanted to keep her as close to the center of the city as possible.
The King of Despair's presence threw a monkey-wrench into this relationship, which leads us to White's betrayal of Leo in the previous episode. I had a few details foggy on that whole exchange too, so I'll break it down more clearly this time. First, White sold Leo out to the King of Despair in return for her brother's freedom. Black knocked the heartbroken Leo out, fitted him with magical specs to control his god-eyes, and then dragged him down to the catacombs where the bones of fallen casters lie, along with the core of their great magic seal. He used Leo's eyes to decipher the seal, break it, broadcast an announcement of The Second Great Collapse to Hellsalem's Lot, and then went back upstairs to take care of White. She had fallen asleep in the cathedral, on the brink of death with the barrier weakened to only a whisper. Now that neither William nor Mary could fight back against him, the King of Despair put a bullet in White's heart, destroying her part of the barrier and dissipating her magically preserved body. Poor White vanishes, finally becoming a ghost in the truest sense of the word. The barrier continues to collapse at a rapid pace, the League of High Order Spirituals are completely freaking out trying to keep things stable, and soon the city becomes overrun with ghouls in the guise of Halloween trick-or-treaters. (Aligula thinks this is a very cliché way to go about the end of the world, but Femt tells her to just turn her brain off and enjoy the show.) Libra mounts a counteroffensive, but realizes they probably can't do anything without Leonardo's powers. Leo, ignorant to all of this, resigns himself to death and despair, all alone in an empty tomb.
But as Klaus puts it, "If you look closely through this white darkness of fog, you can still see the light." Thus begins Leo's journey from ordinary corpse to extraordinary hero...or maybe just "ordinary" hero after all.
Before we get to that, I'm sure everyone is dying to know the "true name" of The King of Despair. Who is our ultimate enemy in Blood Blockade Battlefront? Could it beeeeeee SATAN? Yes. It is actually just plain Satan, the Alpha and Omega of evil in Western culture. We got a pretty big hint last time when Despair-kun said he "once loved Mother Mary," and this episode's clues continue in that vein. Klaus claims that Despair-kun was doomed to his fate out of a desire for "the light." Femt, who represents Depravity, says he is friends with Despair-kun under many names, like "Devil," "Fallen," and "Watchman." The first two names carry obvious meaning, but what about that third one? Well, this is where the show gets bizarrely in-depth about its Judeo-Christian mythology and, believe it or not, presents a complex psychoanalysis of The Devil himself that ties into the show's themes at large.
Femt goes on to explain that Despair-kun has been a powerless bystander since "Rome," referring directly to the death of Christ and mankind's freedom from the wages of sin. (We even see flashes of the world's greatest moments of evil, with the ballsy implication that the Devil himself had nothing to do with any of them. He was barred from controlling mankind's fate after Calvary happened, so even Hitler is totally not his fault, so sayeth Blood Blockade Battlefront.) The Great Collapse gave The Devil power again by connecting the Beyond to the mortal plane and giving all gods and demons old and new a fresh lease on life (or unlife, I guess). The Devil saw The Beyond and completely lost it. He had already become damned and powerless by trying to take the place of the Almighty, and now here was this eternal dimension of promise, power, and potential that he could never surmount. As Klaus insinuates during their battle, Satan is really imprisoned by his unquenchable desire for power. If he cannot have everything (even including the ability to die!), he feels as though he has nothing. If he cannot be the greatest, then he is the lowest. In his own mind, there is nothing worse than being "ordinary." And so the greatest evil of our world became humbled and humiliated, transforming him into The King of Despair, swearing to destroy his entire world and himself along with it through his own personal Great Collapse. Geez, no wonder Femt and Aligula thought Despair-kun was a boring buzzkill. Clearly, they're demons who know better how to appreciate (un)life!
This also answers the series-long question of whether the Thirteen Kings and the Elder Blood Breeds are the same thing. They are not! The short version is that the Thirteen Kings are our world's demons made flesh by the power of Hellsalem's Lot. Elder Blood Breeds are otherworldly in nature, demons from an older dead mythology, which certainly explains why they rest under the Tree of Yggdrasil. That said, all these forces are basically like uber-vampires, so it's probably not worth it to split hairs.
Words cannot describe how much I love this show's commitment to absurdly high-concept demonology, and how well its universe reinforces Yasuhiro Nightow and Rie Matsumoto's worldviews as artists. While Leo continues to languish in angst over his own helplessness, Klaus steps up to the plate to beat Satan back without killing William. It's a direct echo of the Prosfair match in episode three, where Klaus had to combat an unstoppable evil without compromising his own beliefs and with no promise of victory. The Devil mocks him for this, saying he's "too innocent to even be called a fool," but nothing deters Klaus, because he knows he's only fighting to keep up the diversion. His beliefs haven't changed since the start of the series, and the point is not to defeat evil (which can often be impossible), just refuse to let it defeat you. That's the kind of hope Klaus V Reinherz believes in, and the resulting clash between greatest Hope and greatest Despair elevates to cosmic levels as they wage a war of both fists and words throughout the episode, running out the clock until Leo and White can find the strength inside themselves to separate Black's two halves and save the world.
This ultimate showdown between the Emblem of Hope and the Emblem of Despair is personified by the colors Red and Blue, and this contrast of colors is actually the most persistent element of symbolism in Blood Blockade Battlefront that I never commented on before. Apart from seeing red and blue contrasted through different species of flower or the different clothes that our cast would wear, I wasn't entirely sure what the colors meant. I'm glad that this episode made it as explicit as possible. Red is the Hope of Mortals (humanity specifically) and Blue is the Despair of Immortals (demons specifically). The most hopeful demons are those who became entrenched in human life and beliefs, like Femt and Aligula, while the most despairing humans are those who gave too much of their lives for otherworldly power. I haven't discussed it up to this point, but it's such a powerful part of the show's core worldview that this episode basically expects you to apply it to everything you're seeing, equating characters with concepts and vice versa. For example, the Devil tells Klaus that "saving" William from him is pointless, because William "invited him (Despair) in of his own free will." (More on that later.) Likewise, he knows that even if Klaus dies during their fight, the "next version of him (Hope) will revive in his place." (This also suggests a direct comparison of Klaus to Christ, which is its own crazy high-concept can of worms.) Giving a villain such cosmic dialogue that still makes sense to the audience is no easy feat, and the result is just plain exhilarating. Too many one-cour anime settle for a standalone micro-climax to their first season in the hopes of getting a continuation, but Blood Blockade Battlefront ends with a world-shattering duel against Satan and still leaves tons of room for more adventures in a future season. Wow.
Alright, I've talked about Satan for almost 1,000 words already, but the Red of Hope is just as important to this finale as the Blue of Despair. It's time to go back to the basement with Leonardo Watch. Femt keeps prodding him with his cane, but Leo asserts that he's dead and can't be bothered. So Femt tries to get Leo's juices going with a game instead. They'll flip a coin and if Leo calls it right, Femt will share all his knowledge about The King of Despair. If Leo calls it wrong, he has to stay in the catacombs until he dies. In classic Hellsalem's Lot style, this is a gamble for power at the cost of life, and even though he has nothing left to lose, Leo ultimately decides not to play. Instead, he struggles to his own two feet, with his hands tied up and eyes completely blinded, then slowly climbs the long staircase up and out of his grave. Femt and Despair-kun lament that this is a painfully ordinary response to such a potentially dramatic game of fate. But that's kind of the point: Leo is ordinary, and that's what makes him strong.
As I discussed in the previous episode review, Blood Blockade Battlefront is all about celebrating the value of the ordinary life. In a world full of life-or-death gambles like Hellsalem's Lot, joy comes from the experience of being yourself in a city full of insane amusements, adding your own perspective to the melting pot while opening your eyes to other points of view. Leo's life was improved by finding a new family and purpose in Hellsalem's Lot, offering his sensitive heart to the superhuman tangle of weirdos at Libra and becoming the best version of himself in the process. The real danger crops up when you try to take advantage of the city for yourself, giving up a part of your life or soul for some power you were never meant to handle. William and Mary's lives were destroyed largely because they couldn't accept themselves as ordinary people, always looking past one another to try and "fix" whatever part of themselves they saw as unworthy of greatness. They only want to live their lives together, but this temptation forces them apart as martyrs for one another and pawns to an unspeakable evil instead.
So when Leo starts to give a stereotypical speech about how he's become strong enough to fight this final battle on his own, Zed cuts him off and says he's got it all wrong. Leo is stronger now, but that's not what really matters. More importantly, Leo should understand that he was always valuable to Libra, even as an ordinary boy with powers he didn't know how to use. His newfound bravery has just become an updated version of his own "normal," because growing as a person is normal, but your own personal brand of strength is yours alone, and that doesn't change no matter how small of a fry you might be in this big, crazy world. All the other members of Libra encourage Leo in their own way, as he continues his journey to the lofty cathedral where Black is waiting. So the last giant question for Blood Blockade Battlefront is "what can he do when he gets there?"
Klaus is crumpled in a heap and drenched in his own (bright Red) blood by the time Leo finally arrives, and The Devil doesn't seem very threatened by his former captive. He even runs down the kid's only option for him. If Leo can figure out how to use his powers as a weapon (and that's a huge if), he could destroy Black flat-out, killing William in the process and leaving Satan temporarily powerless again. No skin off his nose; he'll just be back whenever he finds the next suitable vessel, and if they can't do anything about the evaporating barrier, he won't even have to return. Remembering the wisdom of his patient mentor, Leo decides to look inside himself and try to see things clearly before making a decision. With his god-eyes, he can see the real William inside Black's body, begging him for a second chance at life. This is all he needs to make his final decision, so he yells across dimensions to the ghost of White, begging her to help him make things right before it's too late.
I guess if Leo's god-eyes can see The God of Chow, it's pretty easy to perceive the land of the dead. White is right there with them, in the veil between life and death, and Leo's the only one who can bring her and Black back together. "Your other half still wants to live. He hasn't given up, so you can't give up either." Before Satan can say "oh snap I should have just killed him shouldn't I?", Leo bursts forward, headbutts Black as hard as he can and uses his shared-vision powers to help him rather than hurt him. (I'm pretty sure that's a first!) Borrowing Leo's eyes, Black can see his sister's ghost, and her forgiveness finally lifts him from the pit of his own despair.
True, White is dead and nothing can change that. She's been living on borrowed time for three years now, and Black's inability to accept that has left him chained to his contract with the King of Despair. He breaks down in White's arms, crying that the world might as well end if they can't be together anymore. White's response reinforces the show's message about the human condition. Yes, even if the world doesn't end today, the Blood Breeds, the Thirteen Kings, human foolishness, or any other number of evils may eventually cause the world's destruction. It's going to happen...but we can never just let it happen. Pushing back against darkness, despair, temptation, and death, both for ourselves and for others, is what keeps us all living, one day at a time, until that darkness seems much fainter than it was before. White promises her brother that there is a world outside of their relationship, and nothing can take away what they had in the past. She discovered a bigger world when she met Leo, and she knows Black saw a little of that promise through Leo too. The world is worth fighting for, even if we lose some of those dearest to us along the journey, and even if there are no permanent victories. It is worth it to live even the most ordinary of lives.
After they reconcile, Will is able to free himself from the King of Despair's control using his extraordinary psychic powers, and then tells White that he will convert what remains of her ghost into a new barrier to re-seal Hellsalem's Lot. White will always be with them as part of the city itself, and I'd like to think that Leo can still visit her spirit whenever he wants. (Probably no smoochy-times, though. Sorry, Leo.) Black moves away from Hellsalem's Lot to begin his own life anew, Klaus says he's proud to call Leonardo a member of Libra, and Leo closes out his letter to Michaela with an apology...he's going to be staying in HL for a little while longer. Michaela opens her eyes to reveal (slightly creepy) hollows of hopeful starlight, and I am left emotionally exhausted but very, very, very satisfied.
This was an incredible ending to an incredible series, and I could easily go on about it for another 3,000 words. (Don't worry, I'll spare you.) The artistry was gorgeous. (This is a predominantly dramatic episode, but the moments of humor and action are as wonderful as they've always been.) The music was terrific. (I didn't even get into the classical music references throughout the finale.) I didn't spend any time talking about these outstanding elements that could carry even a mediocre script on their own, because I was so busy talking about how damn thoughtful and gut-wrenching the story was. This final chapter of Blood Blockade Battlefront was well worth the wait, and I'm ecstatic that the series has been so successful in Japan. With any luck, there'll be more BBB in the future, but if this is all we get, it's been an amazing ride. I'm breaking the scale for this one. Hey, anything can happen in Hellsalem's Lot!
Blood Blockade Battlefront is currently streaming on Funimation.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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