Blood Blockade Battlefront
by Jacob Chapman,
This episode was, as Gandalf would say, "the deep breath before the plunge." It was the big "something's coming" episode that puts all the narrative and emotional pieces into place for everything to explode during the finale. Weirdly enough, this means that very little actually happens in the episode! In the first half, Libra intercepts the Blood Breed delivery they were promised last week and seals the monster away down with style, teamwork, and a little rogue silliness. In the second half, the full details of Black and White's tragedy come to light, painting a much clearer picture of what's in store for the siblings, Leonardo, and even the fate of the entire world beyond Hellsalem's Lot. This is a rare episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront that you can follow with ease and doesn't beg for a second viewing to fully appreciate.
At least, it was supposed to be. In fact, you might have to watch this episode twice to fully parse it, but I don't mean "right away." This is more of a "go back and watch this episode after the entire series is over" situation. Between its two distinct halves, there's a central conversation between Femt, Aligura, and the "King of Despair" inside Black's body meant to hold the episode together. It's not a poorly written chitchat by any means, but it plays a real nasty trick on the audience that I can't say I'm a fan of. I'll have to go down a tiny rabbit trail to explain why, so just bear with me.
I consider BBB to be a show that "demands engagement" of its audience, which just means that I don't think you can watch it passively and appreciate or understand what's going on very well, even if it is a wackadoodle action-comedy. Because of both its rapid pace and reliance on film language to communicate its ideas (rather than spelling them out in plot or dialogue), it doesn't work as entertainment that you can just let wash over you. This is not the same thing as calling a show "smart" or "dumb," mind you. (I would argue that many anime demand audience engagement but seem extremely dumb when the layers are peeled back.) it's a hard quality to define, and people are bound to have widely divergent opinions on what works as passive entertainment and what doesn't. Using classic titles as examples, I would say that both Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex are extremely intelligent shows, but the latter demands engagement to appreciate and the former does not. Using two of this current season's most critically praised series as examples, I might say that Oregairu demands audience engagement to appreciate, while Sound! Euphonium can be enjoyed passively, and that doesn't mean I consider one better or smarter than the other. They're just different types of entertainment.
My point is that shows like BBB that "demand engagement" are almost constantly accused of purposeful obfuscation at best or "pretension" (an abused term) at worst: being vague or arty or subtle for no other reason to seem smarter than they actually are or substitute a puzzlebox for simple storytelling. As a lover of "engagement-reliant entertainment," I'm usually in the camp that combats these accusations, and it's a camp I feel like I can defend pretty well, but not this time. The other camp is right on the money this time. The three vampire kings' banter in this episode is 100% pure taunting obscura, meant to dangle the mystery for as long as possible and not make any sense to anybody until you've seen all the cards laid out at the end of the show. Femt and Aligura's normally exuberant and plain-spoken personalities have been locked up as tightly as possible to allow for a conversation with Black where no one really says anything that can truly be deciphered yet, apart from "the big plan is going to happen." There's no reason for them to not hint at more details or blurt more personal motivation in this context: they're cementing the final terms of a deal, for crying out loud. Still, their dialogue doesn't even try to hide that it's just not telling the audience anything on purpose. There are three, count 'em three separate allusions to the King of Despair's true name where the camera cuts away right before a reveal in this episode alone. That's going way past intrigue and straight into tryhard. It might work for some anime, but BBB has developed a reputation as a show that delivers hard and fast, not the kind that spends too much time giving everyone blue balls.
So the plot may be stringing us along this week, but if you came for action or pathos, this episode delivers as hard as you've come to expect. It turns out that the "part 2" in "Z's Longest Day" meant not a second hardship for Zapp, but a second "Z" for the cast: Shizuyoshi's new pupil Zed. He too uses the Big Dipper thread-style of blood battle, but wields a blood-trident with wind powers to contrast Zapp's blood-sword with fire powers. Zed is everything that Zapp is not: reliable, stalwart, respectful, and obedient. He's also a fish-person, in a blatant homage to Hellboy's Abe Sapien, right down to his color scheme. Zapp finds this incredibly hilarious for some reason. Zapp, that's species-ist! Still, it takes two to subdue a Blood Breed, and with their powers combined, (along with a little help from everyone else on the team,) their efforts make for a kickass fight scene. Shizuyoshi is so impressed by their "garbage potential" as a team that he leaves Zed in their care. Yay, Libra has a new member! It's too bad that he seems so much less interesting than all the other members. I guess they can't all be Dog Hammer and Deldro Brody. (I'm so glad they came back in this episode!)
After the action settles, the pathos kicks in. As White convulses from tremors caused by the culmination of Evil Black's plan (whatever it is), we flash back to her brother's possession by the King of Despair to discover that her story is identical to Leo's right down to the staging and even specific lines of dialogue! ("If you must take from one of us, take from me!") Fortunately, the other parallels between her life and Leo's are more subtle. Both of them are living lives ruled by guilt and obligation to suffering family members, while resisting their own possibilities for a future and new connections. In Leo's case, the choice is less loaded. He's risking his life and working his ass off to send all his money home to his sister, but he's also saving and enriching lives as a hero he never knew he could be. He's a good kid making good decisions, and the last thing holding him back is full commitment to Libra. I suspect he's been laboring this whole time under the assumption that he'll be headed back home to his sister, and he doesn't want to think too hard about how happy he's found himself working for Libra. Klaus sees this too and offers him a few words of encouragement: "It wasn't just your eyes that we welcomed into Libra." Leo may have stayed in HL out of guilt and obligation, but he's also found a whole new family here, if he's willing to accept it. (Maybe his sister can even move in!)
Things aren't so simple for White. She's not out discovering a new life for herself, she's trapped in a prison created by her brother's selfless decision. (This is why you don't make deals with the devil!) She's been forced into a position where she's forced to choose between her best friend (or more-than-friend) and her brother, with no truly happy outcome. If she doesn't betray Leo and take his eyes, the King of Despair will kill her brother or subject him to a fate worse than death. If she does betray Leo, her brother may be spared, but the entire world will fall to the King of Despair's evil plan. Either way, that barrier is fraying fast, and Hellsalem's Lot is probably screwed if she can't make a choice soon. This could have been an eleventh-hour sob story crammed into the show to support Leo's journey, but the show has done such an impeccable job of making us care about White that it even outshines the first half of the episode's fun-filled fight sequence. I hope she and Leo can rescue each other and protect their loved ones while still looking to the future.
This is a good episode, but since it was 90% bait-dangling and teasing by volume, it doesn't carry the honest emotional kick it easily could have. The purposeful obfuscation is made even more torturous by next episode's preview, which seems to imply a fun comedy filler romp between Libra's two troublesome Z's next week, meaning we'll get a two-part finale and a solid two weeks to wait for answers. Blood Blockade Battlefront, why are you so cruel to me?
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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