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Blood Blockade Battlefront (2015)

New York City is no more. Well, it is not quite how it used to be. Everything changed 3 years ago when an inter-dimensional portal opened beneath the city laying waste to buildings and throwing into the sky a perpetual mushroom cloud of fog. It's not all bad news though as New York, now renamed Hellsalem's Lot has some new residents.

Monsters and creatures live alongside and rub shoulders with humans on a daily basis. There is a thriving new economy, all entertainment and restaurant tastes are catered for. It is all relatively harmonious. But like all societies, there are those nefarious types who would like to see it all crumbling down. Luckily there is the secret society, Libra, who maintain what appears to be a fragile balance by battling and attempting to prevent monster-crimes.

Leonardo Watch is a normal shy human who is looking to become a photo-journalist. Whilst trying to retrieve his camera stolen by a sonic monkey, a case of mistaken identity has him join the ranks of Libra. He is now part of a super-human team and his life is never going to be normal again.

When starting a new show where you have no knowledge or history with what you are about to watch there is that moment where you wonder what you are getting yourself into. Leonardo is a bit of a bland every-man kind of guy and is frankly a little bit dull. The series opens with a letter from Leonardo to his wheelchair-bound sister and I had an idea of what the next 12 episodes would be like. Blood Blockade Battlefront was not that show. Luckily Leonardo develops into someone with character and within minutes we are introduced to a cast of Libra and taken on a fun action-packed journey. Phew!

If I had to describe Blood Blockade Battlefront in a word it would be FUN. Yes, in capitals. Yasuhiro Nightow (of Trigun fame for those who watched anime in the late 90s early 00s) has created a vibrant and distinct set of characters who live in a wonderfully realised world. This cast of super-humans, monsters and regular humans are fun to hang out with. They go on adventures in Hellsalems's Lot crammed full of action, humour and slapstick that are sprinkled with pathos in all the right places.

As you can guess Blood Blockade Battlefront started life as a manga in 2009. The anime was developed and released in 2015 by Studio Bones (behind RahXephon, Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf's Rain and Space Dandy to name a few of their works). Kazunao Furuya has adapted the Nightow manga with Rie Matsumoto on directing duties. It is presented as a retelling of classified top-secret Libra files which gives it an episode-of-the-week structure. This structure does for all the main characters to be introduced at an appropriate pace and gives them their moments in the spotlight.

Libra is lead by Klaus von Reinherz. He is a superhuman with a significant under-bite who, with his facial hair has the hint of a beastman about him. Sporting a waistcoat he is the model of a gentleman and when in combat is more than capable of taking down the strongest of opponents with brain and brawn. His blood-battle ability enables him to seal away his opponents. Zapp Renfro is the impetuous member of the team. His distinctive white hair makes him stand out. He fights with a technique that lets him turn his blood into blades or be used for explosions. He is partnered with Leonardo a task he really doesn't appear to want. That said deep down he understands the potential of Leonardo and when given the task takes it on ... to an extreme.

There are other members of Libra like K.K. with her electrical blood-battle ability, Steven A Starphase who can freeze things with his kick technique, and the werewolf Chain Sumeragi. Sadly the episode of the week format means we don't get to spend much time with K.K. and Chain so they feel woefully underused and under-developed. Chain does, however, provide some of the comedy through tormenting Zapp.

Within the episode of the week format, we are taken on a journey through the world. All of the cast get to show off their abilities in some great action set pieces where their fighting moves are written big on the screen in a stylish manner (a bit like in Kill-la-Kill). Along the way we see how the two very different cultures of humans and monsters co-exist. In many ways how the monster world is much like our own. There is some stunning Escher-like imagery where you are not sure which way is up and the laws of physics are not quite obeyed. Normally this would bother me but with all the magic, illusion and monsters it just works. They also don't try to explain anything - you just have to take the world as you find it and go along with the ride.

This is extremely evident in the action sequences. Not once is the blood-battle technique explained nor put into some historical context. It just happens and the not knowing makes it kind of fun. You can sit back and marvel at the effect without worrying that it doesn't make sense. To be fair I was interested in it but to explain it would have ruined the flow of the show. If an inter-dimensional portal has opened on Earth why wouldn't we have superheroes who use their blood as a weapon? Comparison with Deadman Wonderland are inevitable (the blood-weapon idea) but Blood Blockade Battlefront doesn't get mired in gore, teen angst and keeps the story telling at a nice pace.

Along the way seeds are sewn for an ongoing narrative that further expands the world, draws the cast together and gives an exceptionally satisfying finale. Throughout, Blood Blockade Battlefront balanced the action and human elements well. This stayed right to the end - no one broke character or did anything to break the logic of the show. The best set pieces are saved for the end with all characters letting loose with their fighting abilities, all contributing to the greater good.

The story told and the team dynamics on show reminded of the cartoons of my youth. Within them were the messages of the power of friendship, teamwork and that you can make a difference in the world. This was all there in Blood Blockade Battlefront and is something that cartoons or animation does exceptionally well. I find that these positive ideals are not as prevalent in much live-action entertainment. It's nice to come away from something that makes you feel good and enthusiastic to go out there and do something positive.

The darker element of society were also hinted at within the show. The shadier side of life is going to be there. This is where the episode of the week format falls over a bit, but I appreciate there is a tension between creating a dynamic well-paced show versus exploring the world at leisure. Some of these more sinister elements suggested whether the abilities of a monster could be harnessed as a weapon by humans and, if you had enough money, you could live in a human only enclave. Whilst I found them interesting (and I hope they have been expanded upon in the manga) had they dwelled much more on these topics the show would have lost it fun-factor.

On the animation front Bones have done a great job showing Nightow's world. There is a recognisable New York within the cityscape and streets are full with everyone going about their business. The character animation is good and really takes off during the action set-pieces. Where Bones have done a super job is in how they show the other-worldliness. The colours are amped up for the more supernatural elements with vivid reds and slightly sickening greens. There is also some great use of CGI that doesn't look out of place. I particularly liked the way they depicted the multi-dimensional chess game Prosfair and showed how time passed differently during the game. Sometimes CGI can be a bit at odds with the rest of the sequence but here it enhanced the other-worldliness nicely. It is yet another example of a quality Bones production.

Overlaid upon the Bones animation is a fun, funky and jazzy soundtrack. It is not in your face but it is front and centre once the show gets going. It highlights that this is a fun piece of entertainment and not a brooding angsty show. I could not help but be reminded of Cowboy Bebop at times and would seriously consider buying the soundtrack if it was available. There are some musical motifs that are used early on that only become significant towards the finale and the end credits theme is a great feel-good tune.

There are some shows like Cowboy Bebop, Devilman Crybaby and Welcome to the Ballroom where you have to watch the opening credits every time. It's a bit rarer for me to watch the end credits too. Where Bones and Rie Matsumoto outdid themselves was with an end credit sequence that captures the fun and life of the show and distills it into a kind of variety dance show. This was the final flourish that would direct me to watch any new work by Rie Matsumoto.

Blood Blockade Battlefront defied my expectations and was a genuine surprise of a show. I've said it before but you get a quality production from Studio Bones but this time I was knocked back by the innovative and wacky monster designs on show and how they moved. It was a well paced story that balanced action, comedy and pathos across a diverse cast (who at times were underused). It delivered from start to finish and contained a positive message to two that left me uplifted at the end. Blood Blockade Battlefront is a show that I will go back to watch again. I would also consider reading it as there are a lot more stories to be told in this world. Minor (very minor) niggles aside I could not ask for more from such a fun packed show.

FROM Anime Limited
RATINGNot Rated [US]
15 [UK]
12 Episodes [TV Series]

IN A NUTSHELL: Blood Blockade Battlefront oozes style and is overflowing with gorgeous creatures. Fun gushes from every aspect and is a genuine joy to watch