Turns out BONES + Matsumoto + Nightow = the coolest thing since the other side of the pillow.
OP: “Hello, world!” by Bump of Chicken
I’m pretty staggered by the sheer braggadocio of Kekkai Sensen after two episodes. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything this brashly stylish in anime in a long time – and it’s no coincidence that the two contenders that spring to mind are another BONES show by an auteur director (Space Dandy) and another Matsumoto Rie series (Kyousougiga). But Space Dandy was, by design, a series of many different and ever-changing aesthetics, and Kyousougiga– well, Kyousougiga was right there with this series, to be honest. Thank heaven for creative ambition and Matsumoto Rie, that’s all I know.
I won’t claim that what Matsumoto-sensei is doing here is completely original because, like all directors, she’s clearly got her influences. As with Kyousougiga there’s a ton of FLCL in Blood Blockade Battlefront, and when the first half of this episode employed that very Pillows-like guitar/bass soundtrack the resemblance was even more striking. The free-form narrative structure and jazzy soundtrack is highly reminiscent of Baccano!. But BBB stakes out its own territory, with its gorgeous post-apocalyptic New York backdrops and cacophony of weird extra-dimensional creatures.
I also won’t claim that the substance of Kekkai Sensen is the match of the style – yet. Frankly when a show is this beautiful and explosively creative visually and aurally it doesn’t need a boatload of substance to be successful, but it’s what separates the great examples (like FLCL and Kyousougiga) from the good ones. It’s early, though, and while things are still confusing and bit nebulous for now, there were enough seeds planted in this episode to give me a lot of encouragement that the story and characters can catch up.
From the very beginning here, things were interesting. The episode begins with a DJ introducing “What a Wonderful Beyond”, a thinly-veiled allusion to the Thiele/Weiss classic “What a Wonderful World” which – like the song in the episode – was released in 1967 (performed by Louis Armstrong). There’s a lot of world-building in the early part of the episode, with a few new characters being introduced at LIBRA and Leo taking his God-eyes out to discover the city as he delivers pizza. Incidentally, in the voice-over Klaus refers to it as “Hellsalem’s Lot” – which would be Romanized as “Jerusalem’s Lot” or something close to it – which makes me curious as to which word Nightow was originally going for .
The star of this episode is Zapp, really, at least in terms of dramatic and comedic impact. He’s a foul-mouthed SOB who’s always trying to kill his boss (fans of the old Pink Panther movies will get a chuckle here). He steals Leo’s pizza in the nude (talk about style), and then, after Leo gets himself captured by a couple of baddies storing humans in ziploc bags for later consumption, sets up his rescue with a GAR tactic of using his own blood as a tracking device (sort of Celty-esque). There’s a reason why Zapp always seems to be hanging around Leo – he’s been asked by Franz to look after him, but he’s too surly to actually say yes and admit he’s doing it. And Leo definitely needs looking after – his All-Seeing-Gods-Eyes are of substantial interest to everyone on either side of justice here, and it’s clear that it’s an ability that doesn’t show up often – at least to the degree that Leo has it.
While everything isn’t fitting together just yet, the pieces sure are cool. The OP and ED are great both musically and visually (the ED by Unison Square Garden especially). There’s a silent butler at LIBRA with a GAR mustache and facial bandages named Gilbert F. Alstein (Ginga Banjou). Fellow seiyuu legend (and Baccano! veteran) Miyamoto Mitsuru shows up as Steven A. Starphase, a honcho in the organization. When they go into action, the trio uses what looks like a cross between a silver Bugatti Veyron and the Batmobile. And there’s a cemetery at the hospital where Leo ends up mummified after his less-than-elegant rescue, in which lives a strange girl named White (Kugimiya Rie) who calls herself a ghost.
If all Kekkai Sensen turns out to be is a wild ride, I’m fine with that because this ride is a spectacular one. If it can establish the characters as really interesting and distinctive and tell a coherent and engaging story, so much the better – the track record with Nightow is a bit mixed on that, but there are a lot of positive signs in this episode. There are strong rumors the series is going to be a split cour, which would give Matsumoto plenty of time to get there – let’s hope those rumors are true. As to what kind of reception it’ll receive, I find myself wondering for the same reason I did with Punchline – this isn’t the kind of anime today’s audiences are used to seeing, and I wonder if they’ll get what Matsumoto and Nightow are doing here. Kyousougiga, brilliant as it was, flopped commercially – as most ambitious series do – and Kekkai Sensen certainly isn’t checking off the right boxes to appeal to the usual suspects. We’ll see.
ED: “Sugar Song to Bitter Step” by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN