My esteem for Kekkai Sensen is growing every week, for the simple reason that there seems to be no limit to the wellspring of creativity at the heart of it. There’s so much talent and passion that goes into making this show – the former is easy to see, but the latter is more subtle. When the creators of an anime really care you san see that play out in the attention to detail – stuff like the “Don’t Forget Me” poster art behind Leonardo and Nej (we’ll get to him), and the crazy beasties walking by on the street behind a window (and in the fact that the previews are not throwaways but fertile ground for the imagination – this time a barbershop quartet take on Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”).
That sort of commitment is really only seen in series of a very, very high standard in my opinion – stuff like FLCL, Seirei no Moribito and Tsuritama. I’ve mentioned in previous posts some of the shows Blood Blockade Battlefront specifically reminds me of, but I’ll add another to this list – Space Dandy. In the first place this was an extremely Dandy-ish episode – a funny but emotionally resonant standalone story with non-human characters who have very human qualities interacting with the hero. But there’s also the fact that BBB shares something of Dandy’s narrative structure – relentless visual brilliance, a loose running plot that’s tangentially related to weekly events. That was a BONES show too, of course, and some of the many stalwarts who worked on it are also regulars on Kekkai Sensen – so the resemblance is hardly coincidental.
This week’s tale was built around the aforementioned Nej – Amagranoff Luozontam Ouv Lee Nej (Ohtani Ikue). He’s a mushroom (I wasn’t sure at first) who has a serious jones for burgers – burgers from Jack & Rockets, one of the last burger joints left in Midtown and an amalgam of Johnny Rockets and Jack in the box. It’s as he’s rushing after Leo to try and bum a bite that he’s run over by a truck driven by a couple of lowlifes played by Kaji Yuuki and Shioya Kouzou. Being a mushroom he’s fine, but Leo being Leo he springs to the little shroom’s defense, Eventually Nej gets the drivers’ half-eaten burger and all seems settled, but things get kind of dark after that.
The tone of the rest of the episode is really interesting. The friendship between Leonardo and Nej is legitimately heartwarming, and does a lot to cement the impression of Leo as a good kid with an intolerance for injustice. But things get pretty dark, as I said – in the first place, it’s really the first time we’re shown the extent of the discrimination extra-dimensionals face in Hellsalem’s Lot (and not just the “A mushroom walks into a burger joint…” kind). Then there’s he physical abuse Nej faces – first when the two drivers hit him yet again, and the more brutish Roger beats him cruelly, and then later when the more cunning Martin decides to try and recreate what happened after Roger’s beating. It’s brutal to watch, really disturbing – and it’s absolutely meant to be.
Nej is impossible not to like – he’s a fun guy – but he’s got an ability so secret even he doesn’t know about it, and Martin wants it. When he gets stressed he turns bright red and looses his spores, which cause an amnesia event for everyone in the area (Martin witnessed this because he was wearing a gas mask due to Roger pissing himself in the truck’s cab). It’s the reason Nej (who seems to be dressed in a mushroom middle school uniform and is a comics otaku) and his mother can’t remember each other. Leo wasn’t present for that event, but he was the indirect cause of the second – it was after Martin bashed his head open with a baseball bat that Nej really went off big-time. As a result of that, Nej and Leo forget each other of course – but happily, they have another meeting that mirrors their first, and their weird friendship is reborn.
Again, for me that story had Space Dandy written all over it – and I mean that as a compliment. Absurd but relatable. As for the recurring storyline, not atypically it gets focus only in the final moments – this time with Leo walking into White’s hospital room as she’s visiting with her brother. Yes, that part is confirmed – White says he’s her Onii-chan – and the brother says “Call me Black” and claims that he and Leo have never met. Is this a lie, or perhaps the impact of a Nej incident (unlikely) or even a case of multiple personalities for Black? Something doesn’t add up here, that’s a definite.