I’m more or less in the same boat with Blood Blockade Battlefront that I have been from the beginning. That is to say, the style is way ahead of the substance for me, at least so far. But the style is so good that it almost doesn’t seem to matter a lot of the time. There aren’t a lot of shows that I could say that about, but this one so overflowing with creative mojo that it transcends my normal standards for evaluating anime.
One thing that really stands out for me with this series is the music. Obviously the OP and especially the ED are excellent, but take a look at what Matsumoto-sensei has done with the BGM. In the premiere, it was exclusively a bebop-styled jazz that recalled Baccano!. In the second ep we saw a taste of Pillows-esque guitar and bass tracks that inevitably brought FLCL to mind. And this week we started out with a vocal track that sounded Indian or Arabic-influenced to introduce us to the “Alterworld” – a landscape even more surreal and dreamlike than Hellsalem’s Lot. Then it switched to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”) as the backdrop for one of the strangest gaming sequences we’ve seen in anime for awhile. All so very different, yet all so fitting for the moment and effective.
The other thing that must be said is that it’s not as though the substance of Kekkai Sensen is terrible, or even uninteresting – it’s definitely neither – just a bit unformed. There’s some intriguing stuff out there but so far, it’s all pretty abstract. We were introduced to a bunch of new characters and concepts this week – K.K. (Orikasa Ai), an ally of Klaus’ with connections to the underworld. The boss of that underworld, the alien insectoid Don Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (81 year-old Iizuka Shouzo). And the game of Prosfair, something like a futuristic version of chess and a favorite of both Klaus and Arlelelle (Klaus is also quite find of chess, which he likes to play online on what looks like an original Apple Mac).
The MacGuffin of this episode is the spread of Angel Scale, a powerful drug that offers strange abilities to alter one’s physical state. Libra is keen to stop it, but information on who’s running it is scarce through normal channels. That means a trip to meet Arlelelle, who seems to view Klaus as the ultimate Prosfair challenge. The Don never loses, but Klaus can at least hold him to a draw for long periods of time – and for the Don, that’s worth a mint. He also challenges Russian chessmaster Ulchenko (Mikami Satoshi) an arrogant SOB who disdains Klaus’ advice and seeks the Don’s aid in procuring nuclear weapons for the former USSR.
This Prosfair battle is certainly style over substance, but with Ludwig van as the soundtrack and these amazing visuals, what style it is. Ulchenko challenges Arlelelle to a 9-hour battle – extended to 10 to include Ulchenko’s request that Arlelelle eliminate Klaus and KK (which I suspect the Don would have refused even if he’d lost) – and can’t hack it. Klaus offers to play for Ulchenko’s life, as well as the information about Angel Scale, to which Arlelelle agrees with the alarming condition that Klaus must hold out for 99 hours.
My takeaway from all this is that Klais is one hell of a bro, and GAR too – never mind his selfless act on behalf of the ungrateful Ulchenko, just holding out for 99 hours against the Don is remarkable. Clearly it’s this match rather than the Angel Scale plot which is the point of the episode. As for Leo, he’s a bit player here. He moves into the office after having been kicked out of his tenement apartment (turned into a luxury hotel) and suffers some not especially funny abuse from Zapp. And he meets up again with White, who seems not to be an actual ghost but instead a symbolic one, a girl confined to the hospital for three years. Just what her (anime-original) role is going to be is still very much a mystery, but I’ll just add it to the pile – I don’t know where we’re going but I’m enjoying the ride.