Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Blood Blockade Battlefront
One day, a dimensional rift opened up over New York City. The metropolis was transformed into Jerusalem's Lot, an urban waystation for the denizens of other worlds. Invaded by alien Beyondians and planned like M. C. Escher's nightmares, Jerusalem's Lot is known as a place of untold dangers and unlimited possibilities. Amateur photojournalist Leonardo Watch is drawn there in search of a cure for his sister's paraplegia. Instead, a mysterious entity offers the siblings an ultimatum – one loses their eyesight, and the other gains the All Seeing Eyes of God. His sister offers hers up, and Leo is granted an unbelievable power. One year later, Leo is back in Jerusalem's Lot in search of answers for what happened to them. He stumbles his way into Libra, an elite organization that tries to mitigate the damage Jerusalem's Lot could cause the rest of the world. Libra is staffed with ragtag warriors who employ their own blood as powerful weapons. Alongside them, Leo is brought into a world of violent crime, mass destruction, and daily run-ins with death… and yet he's never had so much fun! In Yasuhiro Nightow's follow up to Trigun, his penchant for comic ultraviolence and stylish pop-culture sensibilities take the Big Apple.
Dark Horse licensed Blood Blockade Battlefront – the second series by famed Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow – way back in 2011. It was an obscure property, however, until this year, when Studio Bones released an anime adaptation (directed by Kyousougiga's Rie Matsumoto) and its popularity exploded. Now, due to renewed interest, I'm taking a look at the original. Is there a charm to this version, or does the anime blow it out of the water?
Content-wise, the biggest difference is the absence of the anime-original framing story about the siblings Black and White. Without them, Blood Blockade Battlefront comes off as more of a series of vignettes about its ensemble cast. Leonardo Watch is less the lead and more of a focal point through which we learn about Libra and Jerusalem's Lot. At the same time, a good seventy five percent of what happens in these four volumes made it into the anime with little alteration. Material seems to have been excised based on character – Chain Sumeragi, Steven A. Starphase, Gilbert F. Altstein, and K.K.'s dedicated chapters were cut, while Klaus von Reinhertz, Zapp Renfran, and Blood Hammer's remained mostly intact. The manga-only stuff tends to be more purely comedic, while the anime covers most of the major cataclysms to befall Jerusalem's Lot. These first four volumes only get up to the anime's seventh episode. (Although the sixth episode, which concerns Leo's friendship with a mushroom-like alien named Nej, doesn't happen until the fifth volume. For some reason they switched the order of this and the boxing episode.)
For those unfamiliar with the anime, Klaus is Libra's leader, a gentleman warrior whose commitment to maintaining the balance between good and evil in the otherwise lawless Jerusalem's Lot embodies Nightow's idea of virtue. Zapp is a degenerate Libra agent and Leo's “protector” (read: bully) who can harden his blood for combat. Blood Hammer is actually two characters – chill human Dog Hummer and criminal blood parasite Deldro Brody – who exist in a symbiotic relationship. He's Nightow's version of the Marvel Comics character Carnage. Chain is an “invisible werewolf” and Libra's reconnaissance expert. Her character is something like Neon Genesis Evangelion's Misato Kisaragi – a beautiful but slobbish professional woman who's played for both comedy and sex appeal. (She's also my favorite.) Steven is Klaus's best friend with mysterious ties to the criminal underworld, Gilbert Klaus's loyal battle butler, and K.K. his old flame/deadly sharpshooter. Despite some bad attitudes (mostly from Zapp) they're all warriors dedicated to preventing Jerusalem's influence from leaking into the larger world. They guide and protect Leo, whose omniscient eyes make him a target. There are also some big, villainous players, like Femt, King of Depravity and Aligula, Queen of Monomania. They're members of the Thirteen Kings, a cabal of extra powerful Blood Breeds (vampires) who exert a chaotic influence over the city.
Aligula is also the most improved character in the anime. In the manga, she's a serious presence, while the anime makes her a peppy, ludicrous cartoon person. It's way more entertaining, and also the most significant deviation beyond the framing story. The anime is somehow both loyal to and different from the source material, and it creates an odd situation for recommendations. I think it boils down to this – if you're favorite part of the anime was by far Black and White's story, this isn't for you. But if you enjoyed the comedy, action, and episodic storylines, jump right in. Blood Blockade Battlefront's anime is very much the marriage of Nightow and Matsumoto's creative visions, but that part is all Nightow.
Otherwise, the biggest difference is tonal – the emphasis is less on Libra's noble quest to protect humanity from the alter world's encroach, and more on the madcap antics that take place on Jerusalem's streets. Much of it is crude and sexual. One omitted chapter sees Zapp cursed with finding a witch's cat or his “member” will fall off. Episodes also more violent than what happens in the anime. For example, there's a gag where some jerk tourists are manipulated into spending too much money at a bar. Lacking cash, they're instead told to “pay in flesh.” The next time we see them, they're just heads attached to jars of organs hopping around outside. This is par for the course in Jerusalem's Lot. Each narrowly avoided catastrophe has casualties in the millions, but the city can always absorb them, so the status quo remains unaffected. Although Blood Blockade Battlefield's manga is, like the anime, a very moral work, it takes more glee in violence than its counterpart. While I think that this tonal difference works, it may repel some readers.
As an artist, Yasuhiro Nightow is better at comedy than action. While he can produce some impressive action spreads, his panel layouts tend to be cluttered. I most enjoyed looking at Blood Blockade Battlefront when there was a funny character expression or freaky alien design on display. Fortunately there are plenty – it's hard to find a page without them, and the content moves at a rapid pace. Most gags, especially facial expressions, are translated directly into the anime, and the manga only has more. As shown in Trigun, Nightow's greatest artistic strength is his ability to create cool, memorable character designs and distinct alien worlds. The aliens are insectoid masses of writhing flesh, exposed brains, and biological machines. If Trigun's biggest visual influences were Star Wars and Mad Max, Blood Blockade Battlefront's look is based on David Cronenberg and H.R. Giger. While Trigun's look is based on Wild West-like scarcity, Blood Blockade Battlefront comes from urban plentitude. Both of Nightow's creative visions are filtered through his obsession with Western pop culture, and it's neat to see how this pops up in his work. Jerusalem's Lot is a foreign caricature of New York City – a seedy, exuberant melting pot where the immigrants aren't foreigners but rather extraterrestrials. Keep an eye out for Christopher Lloyd's cameo.
Note that there will be some localization differences between this and the anime. For example, it misses out on a Japanese pun by rendering the city's name as Jerusalem's Lot. Funimation's translation for the anime is Hellsalem's Lot, which is clunkier, but more accurate to the Japanese pun. (Hellsalem and Jerusalem rhyme in Japanese.) Otherwise this localization is brisk and readable.
The Blood Blockade Battlefront manga may have been saved from obscurity by its hit anime adaptation, but that obscurity had nothing to do with the quality of the manga; it has plenty to offer on its own. Although a larger narrative hasn't taken shape yet, there are hints of conflict in the situation with Steven's covert goon squad and the Thirteen Kings. Although a lot repeats between the two versions, the manga is still a worthwhile acquisition for fans. They'll enjoy the clearer lore – yes, Blood Breeds are vampires – and extra time with characters who were sidelined by the anime's full-to-the-brim pacing. Blood Blockade Battlefront is a show that leaves you wanting more, and this a is more, so picking it up should be a no-brainer. For people who haven't seen the anime, Blood Blockade Battlefront holds up as riotous, creative comedy-horror for an adult reader.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ fast-paced and hilarious, iconic characters, material concerning characters who received little attention in the anime, clearer lore
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