Blood Blockade Battlefront
Episode 3

by Jacob Chapman,

Bad news! In the wake of his apartment complex's appropriation as a tourist site by enterprising aliens (due to the sudden appearance of yet another godforsaken eldritch deity in the lobby), Leonardo has been evicted! Libra will have to find him a new place to stay without bumping up his income in the process, as per Leo's direct wishes. It sounds like our poor hero is in for a real hassle.

But not this week. This week's episode is all about Klaus V Reinhertz, the leader of Libra, and just what kind of man he is. (The short version is that he's an awesome man, but of course it is my job to analyze the long version.) It seems like normies are being killed for a new drug on the black market called Angel Scale that promises superhuman abilities to those who consume it. The actual superhumans of Libra think this sounds like a load of dookie, (which begs the question of where they got their own powers) but their extensive investigation has turned up absolutely nothing about the illegal racket or how to stop it. The only creatures who might know the answer are the mighty brain-beings of the Netherworld. Fortunately, Klaus is buddy-buddy with one such monster by the name of Don Arlelelle. They're "chess mates," you might say.

Like the first two episodes, there's a metric ton of ideas floating around in episode three, but one of the most prominent returning ones is the idea of Hellsalem's Lot as a gathering point for not only bored aliens, but also humans seeking their forbidden powers. It's a city where "anything is possible," but that doesn't mean everything is a good idea, and Libra aims to protect humanity from those "bad ideas," and the cruel fates that eldritch aliens have in store for human curiosity...even if it means protecting people from themselves when they don't want you to. Needless to say, this takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice and compassion, and we see just a little bit of "what it takes" in Klaus' heroic adventure to get the information he needs while saving the life of his own "enemy." (On that note, I could go on all day about how much of a spiritual sequel to Trigun this show has already become, but I'll spare you my obsession and just focus on Blood Blockade Battlefront standalone as much as I can.)

We haven't learned much about her yet, but Klaus picks up an old flame named K.K. for backup on his way to meet Arlelelle in the jaw-droppingly gorgeous and kooky Beyond. She's an eyepatched, chain-smoking, no-nonsense lady who's clearly here mostly to give us a reference point for how beloved Klaus is by all who know him. She reacts with quiet rage when she finds out Arlelelle has an appointment prior to Klaus with a man named Ulchenko, because she knows exactly what Klaus is going to do to keep this other man out of danger. You see, this is no ordinary chess game they'll be playing. It's actually a superhuman form of chess called Prosfair that's meant to be played at high speed while additional chessboards and pieces are added to the field over time, at first flat boards and then spherical ones. It's such an advanced game in fact that the goal is often not to win, but just to survive for a certain number of hours without your mind breaking. Arlelelle himself is a giant, inhuman stack of mutated brains, impossible for any human to outsmart, so he plays Prosfair with humans based on bets of survival: don't lose within a certain number of hours. The reward can be great, but the cost for failure is the player's sanity, followed by their life.

Ulchenko is hinted to be better at Prosfair than Klaus, but his desire for power is strong. He's decided to try and play to win, for the reward of nuclear weapons for Ukraine. (Nuclear weapons are a pretty on-the-nose reward for a philosophy of "playing to win," come to think of it.) Klaus pleads with him to play only to survive through the nine hours of his bet, and this only convinces Ulchenko to bump his bet up to ten hours and the elimination of Klaus and K.K., since he doesn't want any living witnesses to his visit. Gee, what a nice guy. Klaus, however, is much more forgiving than the audience. Just as K.K predicted, Klaus immediately volunteers to play his game for Ulchenko's life when he staggers out of the Prosfair room broken in body, mind, and spirit before the ten-hour goal. The cost for this wager? Survive 99 straight hours of Prosfair.

What makes Klaus' struggle inspiring is that it's rooted not in naive self-sacrifice, but a time-weathered compassion for other people's sacrifices. He adopted Leonardo into Libra so quickly because he respects people who survive and dream on, even when the world beats them down, and even when they make terrible mistakes in the process. Klaus isn't as good at Prosfair as Ulchenko, but he can still beat Arlelelle because he is patient. When the brainy Don confronts Klaus about playing for the life of a man who played for his own execution, he responds "People are weak, and because of their weakness, they make decisions that disrespect themselves. But so what? That's no reason for me to alter the way I live my life." You can't stop the continuation of evil in the world, but you can survive it, and through that survival, protect others. That's what Klaus believes, that's why Libra respects him, and hopefully, the audience does now too.

It's a touching story told simply on paper, but with ten thousand bells and whistles in Matsumoto's direction. The Prosfair room is striking, with its dripping hourglass sand that forms a desert, and slightly alien sunrises and sunsets illuminating a giant clock that ticks backwards and forwards simultaneously. The episode's themes of good, evil, and the weight of life are supported well by the twisted, floating cathedrals that fill the part of the Beyond where Don Arlelelle lives, and the characters' journey through these buildings is hypnotic as well. For all the episode's visual splendor, the soundtrack steps up and almost overtakes it. Klaus and K.K.'s drive into the Beyond is scored by an equal parts soothing and creepy ballad with funereal undertones. The climactic chess match is set to the less overused parts of Beethoven's 9th, saving that overblown ODE TO JOY for the very last minute when it feels most satisfying. The fact that this show has a compelling story and likable characters is almost icing on the cake for how solid the production is across every single frame.

I didn't even get into all the foreshadowing surrounding "White," a friendly blonde ghost that Leonardo is quickly falling in love with. She's "trapped" in the hospital he stayed at last episode, but may be less ghostly than she's letting on, considering she shows up on camera and has a living brother with an unsettling interest in Leo's god-eyes. White, her brother, and the secret behind Leo's eyes will probably form the backbone of BBB's larger story, but right now, I would be happy with more episodic adventures and character vignettes at this excellent level of quality. Now that we know what Klaus is all about, I hope we learn more about Chain sometime soon!

Rating: A+

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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