Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Blood Blockade Battlefront
It turns out that hanging around the world's most powerful mortals puts you in constant, extraordinary peril. Leonard Watch may have the All Seeing Eyes of God, but that doesn't mean he's walking on easy street. There are Blood Breeds afoot, and its his job to stop them alongside his coworkers at Libra, an organization dedicated to protecting humanity from the Beyond's depraved temptations. Over these three volumes, our heroes fight everything from gangster plant monsters, microscopic mad scientists, and jerk truckers. alterworld's depraved temptations. Jerusalem's Lot, after all, is a place of untold possibility, but also danger, possessing everything that you could ever imagine… except for a decent place to eat.
These are the final three volumes of Blood Blockade Battlefront's source manga to have been released in English. There's been renewed interest in this series since the anime (directed by Rie Matsumoto) came out in Spring. So how does this latter half of Yasuhiro Nightow's manga stand up to the anime, or its preceding volumes? It turns out, pretty well, if you've accepted that this is a series of vignettes and not (as of yet) a sequential narrative. Since I'm covering so much dense content in one review, I'll go over each volume sequentially.
All of the fifth volume was put into the anime. It includes the chapters on hamburger fanatic Nej and the two-parter, Z's Longest Day. This was some of the anime's best material, and it stands out here too. “Don't Forget to Don't Forget Me” is Blood Blockade Battlefront's most heartwarming episode. It depicts Leo's friendship with a bullied Beyondian and the sacrifices they make for one another. The Z's Longest Day, in contrast, is pure action/comedy. It features the series' raunchiest moment (prepare to meet Zapp's “little” blood blade), but I dig that. Zapp's former master is a joy, and his total, self-annihilating commitment to training almost makes Zapp shine in comparison. We're also introduced to our (so far) final major character, Zed O'Brien.
Zed is Libra's newest recruit. He's Zapp's master's junior disciple and an amphibious Beyondian. On his own, Zed has less personality than the rest of the crew, but shines as the straight (fish)man to Zapp's aggressive degeneracy. He's inherited the second elemental aspect of the Big Dipper blood fighting style, harnessing wind rather than Zapp's fire. The style only reaches its full potential when the two are working in tandem, which is a problem because Zapp won't stop trying to haze Zed. Fortunately, he's bad at it, and Zapp can put his ego aside in order to save the day.
The sixth volume is my favorite. It has the best balance between action, comedy, and pathos, as well as an adventure dedicated to the Blood Blockade Battlefront's most underutilized character, Chain Sumeragi. Plus, we finally learn what “invisible werewolves” are. Sadly, they can't turn into wolves, but they do become more than invisible. The “werewolves” are a group of women with the power to phase in and out of existence. They're employed as espionage agents and perform otherwise impossible infiltration missions. Here, the werewolves face off against a former member who made a deal with a Blood Breed in her quest for vengeance. In order to stop her, Chain expends her powers to her limits, and Libra must use a “special something” to save her. Chain is great because, like Zapp, she refuses to show anyone affection (while secretly caring), but unlike Zapp, she's not a pest. I can also relate to her room filled with discarded cans and empty pizza boxes.
Other chapters include “Lunge!! Launch!! Lunge!!,” where Leo, Zapp, and Zed try (and fail) to find a place to eat for 60 pages. This features Nightow at his most inventive, as our heroes are repeatedly repulsed by a barrage of restaurants serving increasingly absurd “foreign” cuisine. Highlights include soup filled with masochistic fairies, a place that prods your brain as you eat, and a deli staffed with giant roaches. It's Nightow at his most riotous and amoral, and it's a good counterbalance to the final story, which is pretty much just a morality tale. Klaus joins a botany club and redeems a tortured gangster/mad scientist/Swamp Thing. It's sweet, as Klaus stuff always is, but feels more pulled out of the playbook than other stories. It's tough to beat Klaus holding his own against a mass of disembodied brains in interdimensional chess for four days.
By the seventh volume, it's all material that wasn't covered in the anime. The stories here consist of Nightow's take on a “Fantastic Voyage”-type scenario and more Zapp n' Zed buddy cop antics. In the first, Leo is visited by an emissary from a microbial race. Meanwhile, Leo's wimpy friend, Real, is transformed into a giant muscle-Kaiju by a mad-scientist. As Real grows to gigantic proportions, Libra is left at a loss, and they only secure victory via the help of a certain funky monkey. This is another storyline that embodies Blood Blockade Battlefront's thematic proclivities – particularly, championing moral restraint in a world of endless temptation. The trouble happens because Real couldn't accept his limitations and chose to “improve” himself something else via dangerous, Faustian means. As usual when Klaus is involved, however, decency triumphs, and humanity's survival is ensured for another day.
This second ZZ adventure is probably the weakest in the entire set. It's not that it's bad, it's just not particularly memorable, and there's a better, similar adventure earlier on. It's also where Nightow's art is the messiest. He tries to do this Rube Goldberg sequence, where a small object causes a chain reaction that ends in a major catastrophe, but it doesn't work very well because his panel layouts don't flow into each other very smoothly. I love the alien, writhing masses that inhabit Jerusalem's Lot, but they can make it hard to tell what's happening when the situation gets chaotic. At his worst, Nightow will also overstuff his stories to the point of near-incomprehensibility, and this happens a few times this chapter. Z n' Z are supposed to be delivering a letter for Steven, but then they get involved in a brawl, then a heist, then giant monsters are soaring around Jerusalem's Lot (seasonal ones, apparently, and not the ones that always do that), and then they're trapped in a safe somehow? Oh, and there's a bomb. The Z-team nearly dies, but then they're okay, and there's a punchline where Steven is disappointed that they forgot to buy him a sandwich. If other chapters are slightly more interesting days in Jerusalem's Lot (where a dozen things are constantly about to kill you), then this feels like an ordinary one: a more mundane and inconsequential sequence of near-death experiences.
Overall, Blood Blockade Battlefront 5-7 consist of more raucous, episodic action in Jerusalem's Lot. Is it building up to anything else? There's still no telling. If you want Blood Blockade Battlefront to cut to the chase and start on an overarching storyline, then you may be disappointed. But if you're fine with more fun adventures alongside the Alterworld's deadly denizens, then these are worthwhile. While some chapters are better than others, there's enough consistent entertainment that I can't call this series hit-or-miss. As someone from the United States, Nightow's gonzo interpretation of my culture remains amusing. (Although I do have to wonder how he got it into his head that Johnny Rocket's is a good burger joint.) There are no deviations from the anime as significant as, say, the differences in Aligula's presentation – except for, maybe, some exaggeration in the likely size of Zapp's “package.” More of the same isn't necessarily bad, and I'll never refuse another slice of Nightow's nightmarish imagination. More, please!
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ consistently hilarious, endearing characters, creative setting, very fast-paced, constant shake-ups
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