OP: “fake town baby” by Unison Square Garden
Kekkai Sensen and Beyond makes an interesting contrast with today’s other major sequel entry, Hoozuki no Reitetsu. Both series feature new directors, and in the case of Hoozuki a new studio as well. But only one of them seemed like a real uncertainty heading into the season, and it’s this show. The director Kekkai Sensen lost is a true auteur, Matsumoto Rie – a woman whose visual style is so singular and became so identified with this franchise that her absence would seem to pose real challenges. And in Takayanagi Shigeto we don’t have a replacement with the stature of Yoneda Kazuhiro – though I did like Takayanagi-sensei’s work with Dagashi Kashi way more than most did.
There’s another major difference of course, and it’s that Matsumoto-sensei made significant structural changes to mangaka Nightow Yasuhiro’s original – changes many (including myself) consider an improvement. Nightow’s manga is a thrill ride and a masterpiece of imagination, but narratively undisciplined and kind of a mess. As chaotic and frenetic as it is by design, Matsumoto’s season of Kekkai Sensen makes a lot more sense as a thematic whole than the manga does in my opinion. So given all that, Kekkai Sensei is very much a director’s work – and there was valid reason to be concerned over whether Takayanagi could weave the same magic this time around.
One episode out of a 12-ep run isn’t enough to answer those concerns, of course. But based on that one episode I think there’s every reason to feel reassured. Takayanagi seems wisely to have stayed with Matsumoto’s visual and narrative style (read: barely controlled chaos), and not only that, he may just have the chops to pull it off. There’s irony in a director who was ripped for making changes when adapting a manga taking over from another director who was praised for doing the same with a different one, but Kekkai Sensen and Beyond appears to have decided to be a sequel to the anime version of this series in main, and I think that’s a wise choice.
Like Matsumoto’s other series Kyousougiga (even better than Kekkai Sensen I would argue), Blood Blockade Battlefront is something to be experienced as much as watched. It’s an assault on the senses in a good way, and this premiere is no exception. It picks up with a story that would have felt right at home in the first season – Leonardo ends up babysitting the head of a presidential envoy (Horiuchi Kenyuu) who’s brokering a deal between humans and monsters, a head that’s being targeted by a psychopathic head collector named Durer. There’s always been a healthy measure of self-pity to Leonardo’s character, who doesn’t really try to hide the fact that he never wanted to get caught up in all this weirdness, but it’s off the charts here as he was all set to enjoy his day off with his new “X Station”.
That this is kind of an arch-typical Kekkai Sensen premise (right down to a hilariously gross display of Femt’s mischief to kick it off) is no doubt an intentional means to ease us back into the frantic nature of the story. It’s also a good way to reintroduce the large cast of LIBRA members, all of whom get involved in the attempt to keep Leonardo from getting killed (at least before he can get the envoy’s head safely to Federal Hall). The best compliment I can pay Takayangi, perhaps, is that watching this premiere felt just the same to me as watching the first season. There was no sense of anything being amiss.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is a strange sort of show. It can be incredibly violent and incredibly flip at the same time (and it’s often flip about being violent). The casual attitude towards death and destruction that it normally displays is a bit of a rope-a-dope, a way to bring down the guard of the audience so that when it goes serious and dark (which it invariably does several times a season) it can land haymakers on our unprotected chins. I look forward to being knocked down a few times by Kekkai Sensen again this season, and to thoroughly enjoying the madness in-between – and based on the first episode, I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to come to pass.