…sigh. All right.
One day, New York City as we know it vanished overnight into a mysterious fog. Now known as Hellsalem’s Lot, it has become a place where another world beyond imagining is connected to our reality. The balance within this new world is protected by a secret society known as Libra. Leo, a journalist and photographer who arrives in the city, is unexpectedly recruited to join their ranks. (ANN)
Disclaimer: This review does not encompass the second season, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond. Only the first season.
So Kekai Sensen, or Blood Blockade Battlefront, is an interesting concept in theory. The barrier between Earth and a supernatural plane was sundered, three years ago in New York. Now people and the denizens of that dimension coexist peacefully (for the most part). The blend of the normal world with the supernatural ultimately creates a very visually interesting experience. The name of the game, in this case, is style.
The style aspect of the series plays into the action as well. The action set pieces are, for the most part, excellent. The animation is sleek and the powers are cool to watch, for the most part. Honestly, if anything was missing in the action department, it would have to be the action, itself. Looking at it all, I just noticed that there wasn’t as much as I’d expected. And when the action was present, it was seldom on screen for long. With the exception of a couple episodes, there wasn’t much time to really admire the awesome action set pieces the show had.
The world-building was excellent, making this feel like a lived-in environment. There were tons of references to American culture and whatnot. For example, a comic book reference that amused me. But it also did a pretty interesting job of capturing the aesthetic of Manhattan. NYC has a very distinct visual style and appeal that I honestly think a lot of media, be it anime or otherwise, fails to capture. This one really managed to capture it. Of course, it also added to things with its supernatural twist to spice things up a bit.
And then we move on to characters, which… all right, look. They’re… likable enough, I suppose. But if I’m honest, this series is kind of a mess when it comes to them. First up, we’ve got our main character, Leonardo Watch. Leo is a pretty normal guy, except for one thing. He has the eyes of a god. Said eyes allow him to see and read pretty much everything, as far as I can tell. He can see something moving at supersonic speeds, read texts written in an archaic language, and so-on. Cool. How did he get this “gift?” Some amount of time ago, it was forced on him by some otherworldly entity, all in exchange for his sister’s eyesight. His sister, standing up for him because she was always the “stronger” of the two, took that burden on. As his sister was already in a wheelchair (because of course she was), Leo feels an absolutely crushing degree of guilt over this. It leads him to believe himself a useless coward, and blah blah blah.
Leo’s fine, though by himself he’s a little… plain. He’s a nice guy and certainly does have his moments. But it honestly reminds me of the issue I had with Konohana Kitan‘s main character. Aside from that single solitary aspect of his past, we know… basically nothing. He’s an aspiring photographer, but that ultimately winds up falling to the wayside less than halfway through the series. So he basically just falls into being a kind-spirited, but self-loathing guy, and that’s it. In the beginning, it seems like Leo is intent on asking Libra about his eyes. But he evidently just forgets about this after he’s made to join them. Granted, it’s why they ask him to join in the first place. But it’s still odd that he just stops at figuring out what they are without worrying about trying to reverse it. And that ultimately plays into the whole “lack of a goal” problem that I pointed out about Konohana Kitan. Leo is kind of just along for the ride. Yes, a part of his arc is growing a spine, but the dude still has to want something for him to struggle to pursue. Otherwise, things just seem pretty aimless.
The members of Libra are equally as… fine. Zapp and Klaus get the most screen time among them. Their individual characteristics are entertaining enough, I suppose. But we’re not really given much information on any of the members in the long run. At least not as much as I’d like. So I’m more or less forced to stop at them being entertaining, not especially interesting. But then the focus was never intended to be on them. It was on Leo and his interactions with two other characters in particular – White and Black.
And thus we get to the core of the series. The plot revolves around one of the twins, Black, being possessed by some sort of otherworldly force that wants to cause another great collapse. Why? To spread despair or something. The motivation behind it isn’t really the main crux of the series. Most of it focuses in on the similarity between Leo and Black’s ordinary self. Both have younger sisters, except in Black’s case, he’s the one who took the fall for her instead of the other way around, letting this thing share his body. The parallels are well integrated, and I would be lying if I said the storytelling around this aspect of the show was handled particularly badly, with the highlight being the relationship between Leo and White, who also share a few parallels of their own.
But what all of this ultimately leads to is what I personally find to be a somewhat weak climax. Leo discovers where Black is and has to take off immediately to reach him and save the city. What we get is essentially just a scene of him literally running through the chaotic city streets, making a beeline towards a building. He’s helped out by his allies from Libra… kind of. Except he very well could have gotten there much earlier if he didn’t keep stopping along the way. “But they were clearing a path for him!” That argument would be sufficient if they didn’t have Hummer around. You know. That member who’s basically the Hulk and could easily clear several blocks in one jump?
And I’ll just go on and say that I’m not a fan of the ending. “But it was meaningful and emotional and-!” So was Gurren Lagann’s and I hated its ending too. As I’ve had to tell many people over the years who don’t get my hate of that ending, the fact that I know what they were going for and get the message does not nullify the fact that I don’t like it. Now I’m not saying I think it’s bad. Far from it. I’m just not into bittersweet endings. I’ll take happy or ambiguous, thanks. This one was especially rough because after it was over, the only character I actually cared all that much about was gone. Don’t get me wrong, the other characters are cool, but I didn’t have any real emotional investment in them. So while I would have certainly been bummed if any of them bit it as well, this was pretty much the only way it could have ended to actively aggravate me. Well… not the only way, but you get the idea.
Was it done poorly? No. I find that there are two especially annoying ways to do a bittersweet ending wrong. The least common would be something like the case of Gurren Lagann. A fair amount of the point of the second season was saving Nia. So her “dying” at the end was kind of a gut punch. Then there are the times like Tales of Xillia, where it’s a sad or bittersweet ending for the sake of having one, and yet the characters didn’t stop to consider all of the ways that ending could have been avoided or made better. Put more plainly, there were plots holes in the story that the writer overlooked because they were more concerned with having a meaningful and/or emotional ending. So when you, the viewer, notice those holes, it more or less invalidates that ending in its entirety. Because you can then point out exactly what could have been done to make it go better.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is free of those problems. I could say that if Leo got there earlier, he might’ve been able to stop Black from expending his energy on Klaus so he could have fixed things. But I don’t know for sure if that’s the case, and it’s a stretch, regardless. So, for now, I’ll settle for being dissatisfied. Like I said. It’s a matter of personal preference. Things come full circle and all that, so if you don’t mind bittersweet endings, have at it. This is a moderately well done one if nothing else.
What you ultimately get with this series is something that hits most of the right beats, having plenty of weaknesses, but some unmistakable strengths. It could be a little stronger in the department of characters, but it does have a solid emotional core. Not all of the humor lands, though a decent amount of it certainly does. It’s visually stunning and does have a strong handle on its storytelling. So overall while I certainly don’t intend to watch it again, due to personal preference, I can say I certainly Recommend it. But if you’re of a different mind, we have plenty of other content for you to check out.
If you’re curious, Blood Blockade Battlefront is available to stream on Crunchyroll. The current season, Blood Blockade Battle Front & Beyond is Simulcast there, Saturdays at 3:10pm EST. And stay tuned because soon I’ll be doing a catch-up of it as well. Will I like it better than its predecessor? We shall see, won’t we?