Review for Blood Blockade Battlefront - Collector's Edition
The act of creation is a curious thing. We live in a world where we consume art; it’s on tap, through the internet, on disc, on screen, through the airwaves. We can live our whole lives immersed in art, escaping to other worlds, indulging in stories fermented in the verdant imaginations of writers, filmmakers, musicians. If only making the stuff was as simple as consuming it. There are those creators who can work on a production line, create to order, and keep a constant flow of ‘product’ emerging from their minds. But on the other hand there are those for whom creation is a more involved, tortuous process, and their careers are illuminated by brief supernovae of creativity, once every few years. There may not be any qualitative difference between the works that both sorts of artist create, but somehow it’s the auteur’s movies, the difficult second album that we appreciate more. When it comes to manga and anime, Yasuhiro Nightow is one such creator. He first came to my attention with Trigun, a brilliant far-future Western. That was in the 1990s. Of course I was a little late to the anime DVD game, so I didn’t have to wait long for his next creation, the zombie mafia drama Gungrave, but that was his creation for the noughties. One title a decade seems to be his pace, and for the teens, we get Blood Blockade Battlefront.
Ironically he has something in common with production line creator Eiichiro Oda when it comes to my appreciation of their work. Both create visually dense, rich and complex manga, and when it came to my rushed reading pace and One Piece, I found it easier to give up on the manga and wait for the anime instead. I tried the first few volumes of Blood Blockade Battlefront as well, and in just the same way, I found that I really didn’t have the time to appreciate the manga in the way that it should be. That, coupled with Funimation’s then region-locked streaming of the show means that I have been waiting for this physical release of the anime to see if Yasuhiro Nightow has managed to hit the high mark once more, that he himself set with Trigun and Gungrave.
Three years previously, hell broke loose in New York City... literally. The walls between worlds collapsed, and our world and Alterworld tore into each other. A mystical barrier was erected in time to prevent the damage from spreading, but where New York used to be now stands the city of Hellsalem’s Lot, where humans and demons co-exist, after a fashion. Protecting the fragile peace between the two realms is a group called Libra, and a rookie reporter named Leonardo Watch gets recruited by them after a case of mistaken identity. The mild mannered Leo could be out of his depth amid these super-humans, except for a demonic encounter he shared with his sister, during which for the sacrifice of her sight, he was gifted the ‘All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods’. With the kind of trouble Libra seeks out and has to deal with, he’s going to need them.
12 episodes of Blood Blockade Battlefront (including the double length final episode) are presented across two Blu-rays from All the Anime.
1. Secret Society of the Magic-Sealed City
2. After the Phantom Ghost Wagon
3. A Game Between Two Worlds
4. Blood Line Fever
5. The Tremorous Blood Hammer
6. Don’t Forget to Don’t Forget Me
7. A No-Holds-Barred Eden
8. Z’s Longest Day (Part 1)
9. Z’s Longest Day (Part 2)
10. Run! Lunch!! Run!!! / to the end.
11. Paint it Black
12. Hello World!!
Blood Blockade Battlefront gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and given the visual complexity and extravagance of the show, it is a good one. I say that because there is a lot of action, mayhem, and destruction in the show, raising clouds of smoke and dust. It’s also a very atmospheric and moody animation, so expect darker scenes, misty scenes, and a lot of busy backgrounds. So yes, there is digital banding on this Blu-ray, but it certainly isn’t to an excessive or distracting degree, and you’ll have to go looking for it.
The image is clear and sharp throughout, colours are consistent, and the animation comes across without issue. Blood Blockade Battlefront is a little old school when it comes to character designs, and not just the wide variety of supernatural beings, demons, and monsters. The human character designs tend to the more comic in style, so coupled with modern animation techniques, CG backgrounds and the like, it feels like a late nineties anime given a 21st Century makeover (or the Trigun movie). Studio Bones hit this one out of the park in terms of animation quality; it’s detailed, energetic, and utterly stylish. And this being a Nightow joint, there is a black cat cameo.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
You have the choice between Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround English, 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. It’s nice to have control over your own discs once in a while. The audio is fine, with a brilliant music soundtrack (why isn’t there an ultimate edition with the soundtrack CDs?) great action sequences, and top tier voice actor performances in both English and Japanese. Yes, this is one of those rare instances where I feel an English dub does an anime justice, and I’d be happy to watch either version. The subtitles are accurately timed but could have used another proof-read. I only picked up one error though, “One in the same” instead of “One and the same”.
The discs present their content with animated menus, looking like something off a news channel.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Funimation NOW, Disc 2 kicks off with the Project Itoh: Harmony trailer, and that is where the extras reside.
Episode 10.5 is the recap episode, running to 24:32, and following the conceit of Leo calling into a radio talk show to air his various problems.
There are a couple of voice actor interviews on the disc, both running to 3:02, the first with Aaron Dismuke and Ian Sinclair, the other with Mike McFarland and Micah Solusod. They may be short, but they are better than the usual Funimation commentaries, as they at least offer something of substance about the show.
Speaking of substance, in most releases the textless credits are just a pointless bonus, but with the animation that these get, the textless credits for Blood Blockade Battlefront might be my favourite extras on this disc, especially the ending.
You get 7:40 of Promo Videos, 0:49 of TV Spots, 2:12 of BD/DVD Promos, and 1:50 of the US Trailer.
There are further Funimation trailers for the Psycho Pass Movie, Tokyo Ghoul √A, Assassination Classroom, World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman, High School DxD Born, Garo the Animation, Absolute Duo, and Laughing Under the Clouds.
I haven’t seen the packaging or the 120 page artbook that comes with this release to comment.
I need to watch this again. I so need to watch this again! I watch a lot of anime, and there is good, bad, indifferent, and once in a while the excellent stuff. But it is so rare that I actually get a show, watch it through, and my first impulse is to go back to the first disc, and watch it all again, then and there. Blood Blockade Battlefront is one of those titles. It doesn’t hurt that its narrative, the back-story, the story world are all so dense and rich, coupled with the fact that you get thrown right into the middle of things. You will definitely miss half of what makes this show special the first time round, and each subsequent re-watch will only serve to reward fans more and more.
It also doesn’t hurt that Blood Blockade Battlefront plays to my particular era of fandom; it’s very much a late-nineties/early 2000s story dressed up in modern production values. My first encounter with the show, revealing a bustling, if slightly alien metropolis where New York is supposed to be, coupled with a funky soundtrack put me in mind of Baccano! But then as the story began to unfold and the show’s episodic nature became clear, short stories with an ongoing narrative tapestry being woven in the background, I was strongly reminded of Cowboy Bebop, especially given the rich variety and eclectic tone of those episodes. Then there are the characters in the show, wild and colourful and utterly entertaining, sharply written, and bouncing off each other with imaginative vitality, and it’s pure Nightow (wacky and zany Trigun Nightow not darkly comic Gungrave Nightow), with a little touch of Space Dandy as well. These little references and reminders are just overtones, as Blood Blockade Battlefront is also very much its own thing too, and manages to blend a rich vein of comedy with genuine pathos and drama.
Leo Watch is the proverbial wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as a result gets recruited by Libra, the organisation keeping the fragile peace between the human world and the demon world from falling apart. Of course in stories like these, this meeting is destined, especially given Leo’s own supernatural abilities. The members of Libra all have their various powers, against which Leo’s all seeing eyes seem tame at first, but they get into all sorts of trouble as they go about their business, although most of the time it seems Leo has more trouble with his colleagues than the dangerous missions that they have to take. Zapp Renfro is a particularly annoying mentor who takes Leo under his wing (grabs him in a headlock), and a lot of the show’s comedy centres around Zapp, his overbearing relationship with Leo, his constant attempts to ‘Kato’ the boss Klaus von Reinherz, or werewolf Chain Sumeragi’s utter contempt for him.
Blood Blockade Battlefront has a surfeit of characters. Indeed, in any other show, I’d say it would be suffering from character overload, but the way that it introduces each new character is very well done, giving them just enough development and prominence to make a memorable impression, and then having them show up often enough to keep them in mind. Over the course of these episodes we meet some twenty-odd members of Libra alone, and that doesn’t count the other characters in the show, but at no point do you wonder, ‘just who was that again?’
The best thing is that each episode is a peach, just like Cowboy Bebop, offering something different each time, whether it’s a different story tone, a different directorial style (this is one stylish animation, rich, vivid, and unconventional) or dabbling with another genre altogether. I think A Game Between Two Worlds is where I realised that Blood Blockade Battlefront was really special. The first episode served as an intro, the second is a little bit conventional in terms of action comedy, but the third did something completely unexpected. Like the second episode it was set up as a case that Libra had to deal with, something called Angel Scale, but this episode turned out actually to be about Klaus going to the underworld to get some information about the case, not about the actual case itself. It turned out to be an episode about the demon equivalent of chess, which was completely unexpected.
In terms of individual episode stories that resonated with me, it’s hard to pick a favourite. In fact episodes 6 to 10 together comprise some of the best anime I have seen in a long time. Run! Lunch!! Run!!! /to the end. is downright hilarious, and might just be the best episode of the lot. And then there is the finale to the story which has been gradually developing over the episodes, about the King of Despair a.k.a. Black, and Leo’s friendship with a hospitalised girl named White. Paint it Black is the penultimate episode and it is essential to the story, but it is the weakest link in the chain, a flashback episode of exposition, filling in the story gaps about Black and White, somewhat mundane in comparison to the sheer energy of the rest of the show.
The final episode is double length to conclude the overarching storyline, and it gets right back to the show’s brilliance. So why not 10 out of 10? Well there is an OVA episode which isn’t part of this release, but bits always get left out when shows come to the west. The real reason I’m hesitant is that Blood Blockade Battlefront is just too short. I want more. 12 episodes in this fantastic, imaginative world are just not enough, and I would love to know more about these characters, indulge in some more of their antics. The brilliant Z doesn’t even make his debut until episode 8, and we really only get to see his fantastic, abrasive relationship with Zapp for one episode. The two of them could conceivably carry a series by themselves. But if current trends in anime wear you down, and you long for a little old school entertainment, but new, then make buying Blood Blockade Battlefront a priority.