(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond. Read at your own responsibility)
Like many people back in 2015 I fell in love with the anime adaptation of Yasuhiro Nightow’s Blood Blockade Battlefront directed by the incredibly talented Rie Matsumoto. It ended up as a member of my Top 5 favorites for the year, and for good reasons. The show was absolutely visually stunning, bringing life to the Hellboy-esque setting of Hellsalem’s Lot. It also offered some genuinely entertaining episodes, with any episode focusing on Klaus Von Reinherz, the leader of Libra(the protagonists’ group), being particularly of note. So when news came out that Matsumoto wouldn’t be returning for the second season, people began to worry about how the new season would progress without her influences.
However, for all the great Matsumoto did with the first season, there was one massively nagging issue that clung around the show, and that was a wide desire to see the members of Libra not named Leonardo Watch, Klaus Von Reinherz, or Zapp Renfro get more development. The reason for this is large swaths of the first season was dedicated to an anime-original story focused on anime-original characters named Black and White. Now I am not one to immediately dunk on anime-original content, especially when it is done well. My favorite anime series from 2013, Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, for example, went in an anime-original direction, and I obviously still enjoyed the hell out of it.
The key, I feel, is that the original content cannot come at the blatant expense of the existing material. In other words, the original content shouldn’t mess with the source content in a way that even new people experiencing the property for the first time can tell is causing something to be off. Which is why the Black and White story I feel, in hindsight, was actually rather flawed anime-original content, at least when viewed as being part of the Blood Blockade Battlefront franchise.
You see, the source material was of the kind that was styled around giving more episodic tales that still have an overarching narrative in the form of the character development. So taking material designed liked that and trying to force in an actual continual narrative creates a clashing of styles that leads to several issues. The biggest of which is that to find the time to fit in the brand new continuous narrative, they had to trim fat from the source material...which didn’t exactly have fat to trim.
This resulted in the introductions of some of the more major side characters such as Brody Hummer and Zed O’Brien becoming rushed, and characters like Steven A. Starphase and Chain Sumeragi basically all but disappearing for episodes at a time(yet despite this they still became fan favorites). Chain in particular appeared so infrequently that people could legitimately count the number of lines she had.
It speaks volumes that many of the most beloved episodes from the first season were ones with the least amount of Black & White story material slapped on like the time absorbing tumor that it was. Now the weirdest thing is, as an actual story I still like the Black & White arc. I would have gladly watched a brand new show based around that story. The problem is as part of the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront, it became an albatross that ultimately did more harm than good. Whew, that’s probably the longest I’ve spent setting the stage for what I want to actually talk about. I think I need a drink.
Ok, so enough about the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront, time for its sequel, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond! As I mentioned much, much earlier, the lead up to this new season was dominated by one thing, and one thing only. What the hell would the show be like without Rie Matsumoto. My personal answer to that is one that probably will rustle many jimmies, but so far I am vastly preferring this new season to the first. While it is true that the show isn’t anywhere near as gorgeous as it was with Matsumoto at the helm, the show isn’t by any means ugly. In fact it still retains many of the more signature visual traits it had in the first season.
The real difference here is in the writing, and in that regards there is just no contest. This season is just much more entertaining to me, in no small part because of the more evenly spread character focus. Until this season, for example, I didn’t even know what Steven’s actual role within Libra was. He’d just pop up from time to time, say something cool, then freeze some fools. Shockingly it turns out he was actually pretty important. To use Trigun characters as a reference point, he seems to be the Nicholas D. Wolfwood to Klaus’ Vash the Stampede. He’s Klaus’ god damn right hand man and essentially the second in command for Libra.
It also turns out that Chain isn’t as cold and indifferent to her fellow members of Libra as one previously probably would think(well, treatment of Zapp aside, naturally). In episode 3 after seemingly coldly leaving Leonardo to fend for himself against some muggers(granted, in her defense if she did just leave him high and dry, Leonardo does have the means to protect himself, he just doesn’t want to use said means), she later regains Leonardo’s wallet, with interest, after besting the head mugger in a drinking contest where they downed shots of some gnarly otherworldly liquor. Such an act of kindness unfortunately wasn’t without sacrifice on her part.
Did you know that Leonardo isn’t the only member of Libra with a side gig? Until this season, I sure as hell didn’t. Turns out that Steven has his own personal cleanup crew for when he has to do things that Klaus wouldn’t approve of. On top of that, Chain is actually part of a femme fatale espionage squad of sexy werewolf women just like herself.
Interestingly enough these five ladies aren’t your typical type of werewolves that go all fuzzy on you and howl at the moon. Rather they aren’t like normal werewolves at all, because, despite being called werewolves, their power is phasing, allowing themselves to become intangible, and the further they phase, the more they risk ceasing to exist.
As such they each must have a token, something they treasure that...chains(I am so sorry) them to the world, with Chain’s token strongly hinted at being Steven. Just look at that! In the course of freaking two episodes(episodes 3 and 4) we learned more about the two characters people wanted to learn the most about than we learned in the entire first season. Hell Chain herself has more screentime already than she did in the first season too.
Oh, but B3&B doesn’t stop there. The show also introduces some new additions to the cast that in one episode have already dug themselves deep into the hearts of fans. The prime example being Luciana Estevez, a character introduced in the second episode of this season. Luciana was part of the staff of a hospital Klaus and Steven took a baby that they found to during the Great Collapse 3 years before the events of the series. Despite their best efforts protecting the hospital from a Blood Breed(basically vampires on steroids), Luciana is mortally wounded by the Blood Breed’s “dog”.
Before she dies, she makes a pact with a book demon(well ok, he’s a demon that looks like a book), and ceases to be human. In exchange, she gained the ability to split herself into multiple clones with each clone looking like her younger self, though when she recombines following the use of her apparent signature attack, she takes on her new true appearance.
She’s so far only appeared in just that one episode yet she already has taken fans of the series by storm, with her appearances in both the OP and ED making some people practically beg for her to reappear. Some people have gone even further and already began shipping her with Klaus. To say the fans enjoy her is a great understatement. The case of Luciana alone points out the differences between the two seasons, as taking the route of the source material gave us a character that was well developed in a well paced single episode. If this was the first season her tale would have probably been reduced to 10 or so minutes and flanked on both ends with 5-6 minute Black & White segments.
I still greatly enjoy the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront, warts and all, but with each subsequent episode of & Beyond, my love for this new season grows ever stronger. If nothing else, this season is showing us that not all director changes are necessarily a bad thing. The first season gave us Blood Blockade Battlefront filtered through the creative mind of Rie Matsumoto, while this season gives us a look at what a more direct adaptation of the franchise is like. Both are great in their own ways, but I would be lying if I wasn’t beyond hyped to see how this season plays out. If it maintains this level of quality, we’re in for some good times ahead.
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond can be streamed subbed on the Crunchyroll streaming service, and streamed dubbed on the FUNimation streaming service. Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond is based on an ongoing manga by Yasuhiro Nightow published in Shueisha’s Jump SQ.Crown magazine and released in English by Dark Horse Comics.