New York as we know it is changed irrevocably after a breach between our world and the netherworld is opened and hoards of strange creatures flood the city. After the incident, humans and monsters now live together in a city built on the ashes of New York, renamed Hellsalem’s Lot. An underground group made up of super powered individuals known as Libra is intent on keeping the peace in this new city, but the peace is tenuous at best, and every day brings new chaos and challenges, each more deadly than the last. This is the world that Leonardo Watch, a photographer and delivery boy stumbles across. Seemingly ordinary, Leo possesses the ‘All Seeing Eyes of God’, and after meeting the members of Libra and helping to avert disaster, he joins the effort in attempts to keep the people (and creatures) of Hellsalem’s Lot safe.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is produced by Studio Bones, the animation studio that has brought us series including, but in no way limited to, Wolf’s Rain and Soul Eater. This is interesting given that my first impression of the series was a hybrid between Baccano! and Deadman Wonderland, given the exuberant violence and attitude of the show and the blood themed powers the members of Libra have. This isn’t to say that the show only borrows elements from other series, as it has its own distinct personality despite these similarities.
Overall, Blood Blockade Battlefront feels like an anthology examining the everyday lives and adventures (or misadventures if you prefer) of the members of Libra. In one episode the leader of Libra, Klaus Von Reinherz, a gentleman type with a case of Wolverine sideburns, plays a three-dimensional board game with a mob boss, and in another episode the gang team up to annihilate vampires. It’s that kind of world, but for the most part these episodes are very interesting and entertaining, but they aren’t held together by anything in particular besides the characters. Unfortunately this means the final episodes and the final complication of the series seems to come out of left field rather than feel cohesive. There is some build up of course, but there wasn’t enough there for me to completely understand what was at stake and the motives of those involved.
What holds the show together despite this is a cast of truly interesting and compelling characters. Leo is a likable protagonist, always attempting to support the people around him even though he is often overcome with feelings of helplessness. His ‘All Seeing Eyes of God’ are useful in a few different ways, and like many other characters in the show, his abilities are interesting but aren’t the only things that define him or make him. The ensemble cast is quite large, but Blood Blockade Battlefront balances the line of introducing lots of elements and characters but never over explaining them, which lends itself to a nice bit of world building. Didn’t quite work in the last few episodes, but this was because of the strange events occurring and not due to weak characters.
As is expected of Studio Bones, the animation in Blood Blockade Battlefront is gorgeous. The backgrounds are authentically busy and messy like a lived in city, permeated by beautiful colours and lighting. Of course, the action animation is stunning too. It also does very well at creating a fully realised world despite not delivering tons of exposition regarding the lives of those living in Hellsalem’s Lot. I found myself invested in not just the characters, but in the city itself as it seemed like a vibrant character in its own right despite its grimy exterior. This is also due to several episodes focusing on not just Libra, but the inhabitants of the city and Leo’s connection with them. A particularly good one is when Leo, the loud and cocky Zapp, and the merman Zed (who looks like a cross between a bipedal fish and a bug) head out into the city to find someplace to eat during their lunch break. It’s in episodes like this that not only does the character of the city and its various strange diners take the spotlight, but the humour also shines through too.
Outside of TV promos and and textless opening and closings, the special features also has two short interviews with some of the voice cast. Episode 10.5, ‘Even These Are the Worst and the Best Days Ever’, is also sequestered along with these other features which makes sense because it is a basic recap episode and not particularly relevant outside of some light humour.
Blood Blockade Battlefront won’t be to everyone’s tastes given the sporadic nature of its storytelling, but there’s a lot to love despite its flaws. I’ve compared the show to a few others during this review, but perhaps the most relevant comparison would be Mekakucity Actors. Both shows introduce interesting concepts and worlds, supported by a compelling cast. However, they don’t seem to know where to take the world they’ve created towards the end, and the final complication ends up feeling out of place. However, I would still rate Blood Blockade Battlefront as a must see, given it works well as an anthology if you like the characters and want to see some great animation.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.