What They Say:
After a breach between Earth and the netherworld opens up over New York, humans and creatures from other dimensions become trapped in an impenetrable bubble that surrounds the city. Forced to coexist in a new city known as Salem’s Lot, the shaky peace between humanity and the netherworld creatures is protected by an underground group of super humans known as Libra. When a case of mistaken identity brings not-so-ordinary delivery boy Leonardo Watch face-to-face with this group, he joins their ranks hoping to help prevent the destruction of the world by a group of monsters and madmen led by a powerful being known as the King of Despair.
The audio presentation for this release definitely works well as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo while the new English language dub gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded with the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The stereo mix certainly serves the series well with plenty of impact during the action sequences and when things are moving all over the place throughout. It also handles the dialogue well since there are a few quirky moments along the way thanks to magic and disassociated voices. But the action stands out well here and it takes a good bump up in the 5.1 mix as things have more bass and impact as well as just being a bit louder in general as well. The clarity of directionality goes up nicely and everything just comes across a bit sharper and warmer overall. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout on both tracks and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. The final episode is actually a double-length piece and the second disc also has the recap OVA, so it’s closer to five episodes being here overall. Animated by Bones, the series has such a rich and striking visual design to it and is awash in detail and atmosphere that it just comes across as one impressive looking work. The encoding here brings all of this life in a really great way as there are some really vibrant pieces throughout with how the magic works and some of the creatures but it also handles the darker areas, the murky things, in just as strong a way. When we get some of the misty or grainy scenes they have the right look without any artifacting going on, and the color tone throughout is fantastic. I just loved how the show looks and the encoding here brings it all out wonderfully.
The limited edition version of this release is one that comes in a heavy chipboard box with some nice foil and embossing on it so that it stands out well. The front of the box uses the familiar key visual of the main Libra group walking toward the viewer and with the background using the silver foil in a really good way we get character artwork that pops wonderfully. The black shadows along the bottom are more matted to good effect while the red has a nice slickness about it. The back panel works some large and bold red text against the silver background while overlaying it with an image of Sonic Speed Monkey, complete with camera around its neck. Within the box we get the two standard sized Blu-ray cases that provide for strong character images for both Zapp and Klaus as each format gets its own case. These are wraparound pieces so there’s little beyond that and some text on the back side of them. Each case also has artwork on the reverse side that shows off some really great illustration material that expands the cast from the show while also breaking down the episodes by number and disc. While there are no show related inserts included we do get a good selection of art cards from the show that lets the main cast of characters get their due, but the paper stock is pretty flimsy overall when you expect something sturdier and that will bring more pop to the artwork itself.
The menu design for this release is probably one of the more creative and well done in-theme designs we’ve had in some time from Funimation. It’s set up as though seen through an older TV broadcast as we get a grainy line filled look to it as it pans about to various scenes and locales from the show. The logo is kept to the top left but the navigation is done up as a news broadcast khyron that looks great with the red and white tone. It stands out really well against the darker aspects of the broadcast elements and catches the eye just right. The navigation is straightforward and easy to move around in, especially since the extras are all on the second disc, and language selection is a breeze overall with everything clean and easy to access in a logical way that shows exactly what’s set. The menu works well as both a pop-up and main menu piece.
The extras for this release are pretty fun and definitely good for the dub fans. We get a couple of “in short” pieces with some of the actors and production side where over both of them we get three minutes of some fun about how they think of the show. We get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and a good collection of the promos and TV commercials for the series so you can see how it was marketed ahead of its premiere. The extras section also includes the episode 10.5 that was used to give the production team a bit more time to get the job done as it recaps the show to date at that point with some fun observations.
Based on the manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, Blood Blockade Battlefront is a twelve episode series that aired in the spring of 2015 and was animated by Bones. The series got a lot of acclaim during its original run for its animation quality and just the fun of the show itself but it also struggled toward the end as the final episode ended up being delayed until the start of the fall season. Luckily for the fans it was done as a double-length episode, essentially making this a thirteen episode series, and it was a lavish kind of finale that just delights across the board. Original creator Nightow is pretty well known among manga and anime fans for his Trigun work but what we get here shows some real growth and creativity on his part. The book itself kicked off in 2009 and has ten volumes to its name so there’s certainly a good bit of material overall to work with.
The premise is definitely an interesting one as it takes place in New York City three years after a bizarre event hit the area. Essentially, another dimension merged with this one and the event was localized here, causing the place to be filled with strange creatures, strange architecture, and just a sense of surreal with an almost demon world like angle to it. Casters from both worlds ended up containing the thing to just this area before it engulfed both worlds fully. This new region is called Hellsalem’s Lot and has a gray mushroom cloud like barrier around it that keeps it from spreading. Things have found their own balance in the years since then and it’s like anything else in that the strange becomes normal after time goes on. It’s into this world that we meet Leonardo Watch, a young man that has come to seek help for his sister that lost the use of her legs to see if there are options here. Of course, nothing is quite what it seems and through an unusual transaction he ends up with the All-Seeing Eyes at the cost of her own eyesight. He’s slated for bigger things though his focus is one that’s very personal.
Leo’s time has him taking in the city pretty well for as little as he’s been there as there’s a lot of really fun and surreal kinds of sights, from the creatures that exist and lead lives alongside all the humans to the larger and weirder pieces that can be a threat to everyone with how they may impact the city. His life takes a pretty drastic change when he ends up getting mixed up with the members of Libra, a group that essentially takes on all kinds of jobs within Hellsalem’s Lot in order to do the right thing. It’s mostly made up of people, though we get a little more variety more toward the end with Zed, Libra has the usual odd cast of characters to it though the show doesn’t really dig deep into any of them and only two are given any truly significant time. Klaus as the leader is definitely someone to like as he has a powerful frame to him and a keen intellect that he prefers to use over brawn whenever possible. There’s a controlled and measured aspect to him that makes the cuter and more playful moments stand out all the more. He’s well paired with Zapp Renfro, the outgoing grouser that uses blood as a weapon. He’s definitely the playboy type with a particular look and style that stands out to make him appealing and he’s generally dismissive of Leo throughout it, even though he does realize that Leo has a huge amount of talent.
There are a few other supporting characters but their parts almost barely qualify as supporting in a way as some like Chain don’t have much time overall and even the information man with Steven, the ostensible second in command of the group, barely registers when you think back on the series as a whole. The addition of Zed later in the show, a merman that’s like Zapp with his abilities, is definitely fun as it plays to their shared master that really knows how to manipulate and have fun with them. But it becomes unfortunate that these characters don’t get much attention, though I’ll admit to being glad that they don’t each get personalized backstory and exploration of their character episodes. Their time is mostly as background members and it just feels like some missed opportunities here.
The other thing the series does but is in its favor is that while there is a larger storyline going on here it doesn’t really factor in much throughout the run. This subplot that becomes the end arc focuses on some anime original characters with White and Black, a brother/sister pair that have a pretty unfortunate and twisted history that has them being manipulated in order to get the All-Seeing Eyes from Leo for the King of Despair that’s inhabiting Black’s body. Both end up becoming close to Leo throughout it as there’s a good bit of bonding on both their parts with him and you keep waiting for that shoe to drop and for it to become something far more. When it does hit at the end it goes very big, though I think some of their backstory could have been condensed a bit. But by doing this we get a lot of episodes prior to that which are almost essentially standalone pieces. And this kind of world with this kind of animation quality to it allows that to work far better than it might in a simpler and less interesting world and design.
The standalone episodes do work toward building the larger world and some of the character connections and in particular giving us a look at Leo’s All-Seeing Eyes. These are certainly interesting to watch, especially in the episode where he essentially gets overjuiced and can see things about the Elders that nobody has been able to figure out yet. The bigger episodes reveal a good bit, while again working the underlayer of White and Black’s storyline, but some of the one-off pieces are fun. One episode involves a creature named Nej who, when beat up pretty significantly, his mushroom-like head turns red and emits a cloud of red amnesia dust. Leo befriends him before knowing this and we get some really nice things within this that showcases who Leo is and the kinds of quirks that come from this world. My favorite episode has to be the one involving Zapp’s longest day, more so for the first part, as we see how a day of just doing his thing goes and then turns horribly wrong. The mundane aspects of it are delightful considering he’s such a character in general and watching as it cycles through with familiar aspects just made me grin.
There’s so much going on in each episode, even when the stories are small, that it can be a lot to take in. It’s a show I really recommend not watching in marathon form and just savoring the individual episodes and the world that’s being created. The work as a whole is fantastic and there is a solid story here which ties it together, though it’s an original story for the anime. But what we get is a series that doesn’t dig into the characters enough for my tastes but delivers so much on the world, the interactions, and the weirdness of it all in a controlled way that I can’t help but to fall in love with it. This release just works on several levels and it’s the kind of world that I want novels of different arcs, characters, locales, and so forth. It’s a rich concept to mine and this is just scratching the surface. Nightow’s original work is stylish and that comes through beautifully here with its own polish, especially with the great acting on both tracks. This is definitely one of those strong series that works even though it isn’t heavily character focused to work the team as a whole. Very recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 10.5 – Even These Are the Worst and the Best Days Ever, Funimation Short: with Aaron Dismuke and Ian Sinclair, Funimation Short: with Micah Solusod and Mike McFarland, Textless Opening Song – Hello,world!, Textless Closing Song – Sugar Song & Bitter Step, Promotional Videos & TV Spots
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 16th, 2016
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.