Kekkai Sensen hooked me right from the very beginning with our main character narrating a letter to his sister, as we are treated to a stunning montage of what is clear to be the climax of this 12 episode series. A wide array of colorful and sleek characters are seen dismembering ghoul after ghoul across a vast and expansive metropolis under the night sky, all the while our hero scales a tall staircase approaching what he hopes to be direction needed to stop the chaos and save the day. The main title flashes on the screen with dazzling effect and we are brought back to the beginning of the story.
During an event known as the Great Collapse, a portal to the “Alterworld” opened in New York City and the entire city became a hotbed for multiple alien races and creatures. Three years later, the only organization keeping the peace between humanity and the creatures from “Beyond” is an underground organization of superhumans called Libra. Leonardo Watch travels to Hellsalem’s Lot to find Libra in hopes that he can understand The All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods, given to him during the Collapse at the price of his sister’s eyesight. He is inducted into the organization and now works with them as they fight to prevent the city from being destroyed by various monsters and madmen.
The protagonist Leo is a refreshing take on his character type. He lacks any sort of lethal skills in combat and he’s overly humble, but he isn’t afraid to speak on behalf of those who are oppressed and the narrative never spends too much time forcing him to be a stronger person, rather it lets him become a hero in his own way. Klaus V Reinherz, Leo’s boss, is the kind, gentlemanly but undeniably formidable friend who helps Leo to realize his potential. He sees how torn up Leo is over what has happened to him and his family and wants to help him become stronger by “welcoming him into the family” in a way. In that sense, Zapp Renfro, Leo’s punkish co-worker, is like a brother figure to Leo, having been asked to protect him so no one uses Leo’s abilities for evil. The rest of the cast excels too. From blond, one-eyed gunslingers, to ice power wielding superheroes, to eccentric vampire hunters, every character in Kekkai Sensen is memorable and badass.
The series starts out fairly episodic, with each episode working to develop the world and introduce the members of Libra. The show does a great job of presenting each character’s abilities just within the opening montage. They introduce so many characters over the 12 episodes that you worry how well all the characters can gel together, but the story is so well directed that it feels like I’m watching the Avengers. Every character gets to enter the spotlight whether it be to dispense wisdom on our hero or take part in an operation to bring down a high-level threat. For the most part, the series is a collection of standalone adventures, but with an underlying narrative spliced. What makes that even better is that it splices in that through-line narrative without it feeling forced. What I mean is that some shows with only 12 episodes and an episodic structure will devote so much time to the through-line plot that the side stories seem pointless or just underdeveloped. Thankfully, Kekkai Sensen doesn’t have that problem. But how does it balance all this chaos?
The answer: Beautifully. Director Rie Matsumoto is a genius. Unbeknownst to me until just recently, the characters Mary and William Macbeth, and the entire throughline plot were all original creations made for the anime alone. The second to last episode is dedicated to Mary and William’s backstories, and it works as a fitting primer to the incredible finale that follows. While the first 11 episodes are a typical 24 minutes, the last episode is 48 minutes, and the added run time helped to close the narrative in a perfect way. However, while the story is told very well, there are some things that might go right over your head if you aren’t paying close enough attention. There were times during the finale where I couldn’t quite understand what certain characters’ plans were, or how certain elements of the world worked. What’s worse is that when the show was first airing, the final episode was postponed because of its extra length, so rather than airing at the end of the spring 2015 season, it aired at the end of the Summer 2015 season a whole THREE months later. Needless to say, I was confused about what was happening. All in all, Kekkai Sensen put all of its chips on a pretty conclusive anime-only finale that despite a bit of confusion will leave viewers satisfied with the whole journey.
The world of Kekkai Sensen portrays a foggy, dirty, but at the same time lively city that captures the feeling of New York City well while injecting its own sci-fi fantasy charm into it. the gothic style of many of the skyscrapers and the bright colors that pop out through the foggy gray streets help make Hellsalem’s Lot one of my favorite fictional cities, right up there with the towns and villages from Ghibli movies. In addition to this, the character designs by Toshihiro Kawamoto are on par with his other designs from Cowboy Bebop and Noragami (And yes you read that correctly, this is the same designer). The fight scenes are wonderfully coordinated and the architectural destruction is just as fun to look at here as it is in all of Bones other shows. Visually, the show hits all the right notes. But the sights are just one half. The sounds are just as good.
The soundtrack is composed by Taisei Iwasaki, who seems to have made his anime soundtrack debut with this show. His style of music resembles that of Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop). That is to say, it is diverse. The music combines beautiful orchestral pieces, with some pop, rock, jazz, and even some strange, but undeniably memorable songs intended for moments of comic relief. It is a well-rounded soundtrack that compliments the journey well.
A lot can be said about this show, probably because it went criminally underappreciated. Perhaps I couldn’t appreciate it when I first saw it, but every time I watch it, I love it more and more. To put it simply, Kekkai Sensen, AKA Blood Blockade Battlefront, is one of the greatest action anime in years. You owe it to yourself to watch it.