Review: Blood Blockade Battlefront
A space time rift has opened up over New York and the city is now co-inhabited by aliens and humans. This is the premise of Blood Blockade Battlefront, and it’s a set up that works well for delivering the endlessly strange and bizarre encounters that the anime powers through in its twelve episode run. This introduction to Hellsalem’s Lot is a fast-paced and exciting journey into a unique world, and makes for the most compelling anime I’ve seen in quite a while.
It’s been a few years since the basic art quality for anime went up a notch, and now even the bad shows look good these days. Of course BONES studio are known for their particularly refined animation, and Blood Blockade Battlefront still impresses. The colours are sharp and vivid, characters are boldly drawn, and scenes often deliver a striking contrast between contrast between detail and simplicity.
Hellsalem’s Lot itself is the standout feature; the city once known as New York is brought to life with care and precision. This world is dense with activity, and at every instance chaos is unfolding. This not only works as a visual treat, but forms the basis of the story too. Blood Blockade Battlefront is mostly episodic, and follows the adventures of Libra, an organisation attempting to keep order and peace within the city. In each episode something strange happens, and it’s up to Libra to investigate the increasingly odd alien anomalies.
Whilst the episodic format is a little unusual for anime these days, and the benefits of an overarching story are usually apparent, in this instance the structure works well. Blood Blockade Battlefront’s chaotic ethos is perfectly reflected in the unpredictable and imaginative scenarios that unfold, and the overall impression the show leaves is one of an anime that has generously covered a lot of exciting content in a relatively short amount of time. This is reminiscent of classic shows such as Cowboy Bebop, and some of the earlier episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in which the manga content is quickly powered through. Compared to these anime Blood Blockade Battlefront is great in many of the same ways.
Through each episode’s encounter some minor character development occurs, although there’s simply not enough time to cover all the support cast in the detail they deserve. Libra are a surprisingly interesting bunch, in particular Klaus and Zapp, and even main character Leonardo is likeable enough. Sure, he does succumb to about half of the lazy anime protagonist tropes, but being tolerable is all that’s really required of him in a show that’s got so many great elements.
By the series’ second half Black and his sister Mary Macbeth (also known as White) end up a main focus. Their story builds nicely in the background before coming into taking over in the last few episodes, which works well structurally and flows nicely alongside the more episodic content. These guys also get the full backstory treatment, which helps build into the series’ most significant and climactic storyline.
As with a few other recent high-profile anime shows, Blood Blockade Battlefront has received the simuldub treatment, which means Funimation released a high quality dub for each episode within only a few days after its Japanese air date. The voice work is excellent and it’s great to have the show in English so soon – and at the high standard you can expect from Funimation.
In many ways the large cast and fast paced narrative draws comparison to Baccano! – one of the greatest anime there is. But whilst Bacanno! works well as a serial (despite adapting only a small portion of its source material), Blood Blockade Battlefront feels like it’s only just getting started. The manga is still going and I’ve no doubt the anime will continue as well. It’s been great so far, but I want more.