Kekkai Sensen – 12 (Fin)

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Life isn’t like a dream, to sit back and experience or be amazed when you find yourself able to take control. It’s a game; The Game, and it can’t be won unless you stand up, move forward, and play. This week Leo is at his lowest point, but thanks to the light and love of those he’s surrounded himself with, he’s able to deflect the more petty games of the King of Depravity (who lets him go, figuring he’ll get an entertaining show regardless), and starts is ascent back onto the real game board, where the objective is to save Black, White, and the World.

Good things come to those that wait, and after waiting the entire Summer for Blood Blade Battlefront to return with its 46-minute finale, I can report that they did a great job wrapping things up, sticking with the same themes of the previous eleven episodes: life and love; friendship and belonging; teamwork and cooperation, which prevail even on the darkest night since the First Collapse.

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As far as game boards go, Hellsalem’s Lot gets trashed this week, but the wide-scale destruction of HLC’s buildings and infrastructure underscore’s the show’s general apathy for those things. Things can be repaired, rebuilt, replaced. Not so with human souls. Of far more interest to the show is that the collection of souls we’ve watched thus far make it out of this tumult. The accounting of material collateral damage is, well, immaterial.

In fact, the only thing keeping total apocalypse at bay isn’t a wall or a dam or a generator; it’s a force field with will, located within White. That barrier is now failing, and Leo’s the only one who can save her, by freeing Black from his possession.

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Once Femt frees him, Leo heads upwards and forwards with this objective in mind, forsaking all other considerations. The thing is, all Hell is literally starting to break loose, including an army of zombies risen to spice things up.

Thankfully for Leo, his comrades at Libra have his back, his front, his top and bottom and his sides, as they utilize their unique skills to clear a path, all the while warning Leo in one way or another not to be too reckless; they’re not doing this so he can sacrifice himself, but so he can save the world and come back none the worse for wear.

This sequence of encounters with his comrades serves as a fitting way to give each of them a curtain call, since this is the finale and all.

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Meanwhile, at the church where Black/The King of Despair wait, Klaus is there to save Black from “himself”, or rather the entity possessing him. This takes all of Klaus’ not inconsiderable strength, but he buys just enough time to keep Black alive so that Leo can do what he has to do.

Earlier, Femt calls The King of Despair “Watchman”, as he has been around throughout human history, making sure there’s enough “nonsense” in the world to keep things interesting. That makes him responsible for a massive array of atrocity and yes despair, but were it not for him, Adam and Eve would never have left the Garden of Eden and grown; i.e. woken up from their dreams and started playing The Game.

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Then Leo confronts Black, uses his eyes—one of which was damaged getting there—and Black’s love for and devotion to White, to separate him from the King of Despair.

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Now that William is himself again and Mary is shaken out of her funk, the two reunite, and Will is able to use his innate power to fully repair, or rather rebuild, the city’s spiritual barrier, ending the crisis. When he does so, Mary disappears, which neither Will nor Leo are happy about, but she’ll always be in their hearts, and as she insisted, even a world without her physical presence continues to turn. In fact, it’s a world that wouldn’t be possible without her sacrifice.

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Once the barrier is restored, the process of rebuilding the city commences, and it isn’t long before life returns to “normal” for Leo and Libra, the kind of normal that isn’t normal anywhere else, but is nevertheless a normal Leo has not only gotten used to but come to love. As he writes his sister, he’s not quite done living and working in Hellsalem’s Lot, but it’s thanks to her light that he’s able to survive each day there.

After the credits, a man pinstriped suit picks up a coin and whistles the King of Despair’s familiar tune. The Watchman always comes back, and is always watching, and the game is always in progress. But as this finale’s events demonstrated, the human soul won’t be so easily defeated, as long as that soul faces the light and takes at least one step forward.

9_mag

Kekkai Sensen – 11

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In my experience, Kekkai Sensen is at it’s best when it’s balancing the chaos of its setting and characters, with focused, clever, bombastic action setpieces that propel an episode forward. A drawback of the show is its insistence on explaining every last little thing in asides, voiceovers, crawling CRT text and heads-up graphics.

As a result, episodes can end up showing a lot, but still telling too much, or at least more than I really need to know. After a recap last week, I really wanted things to get moving, and they do, but not until some way into the episode. And the forward motion is preceded by flashbacks to White’s life.

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It’s not that I disliked White story of her life, it just felt a little momentum-killing when combined with the recap. There’s too much narrative process and procedure on display; and I had the uncomfortable feeling that all of this was one very large advertisment for further explaining/justifying White’s motivations for betraying Leo for her brother: “She is doing this because of this.”

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And that’s the thing: the family and sibling moments were sweet, and Kugimiya Rie’s dual performance was lovely, but they didn’t feel necessary. I didn’t really need any further explanation for her actions, I already got the gist why she was doing it and felt she had no other choice. The show had already given us subtle, relatively unobtrusive bits and pieces of that past. I didn’t really need all the blanks filled in, especially not now.

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All that being said, once White has finished telling her story and turning on Leo, things do indeed take a satisfyingly dark and dire turn. I’m not sure why White thought to trust the word of the King of Despair, but she believes she’ll get Will back if she helps him get the eyes, probably because, just as she told Will, if he was gone, she wouldn’t know what to do. They are twins, after all, closer than mere siblings.

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Once “Black” starts implementing his plan, which is apparently to cause a Second Collapse, one that Libra will certainly be hard-pressed to stop with people like The MacBeths no longer casting, the show stops explaining things and just shows us a whole bunch of crazy shit going down, all of it set to a soaring classical score that recalled Klaus’ great Prosfair match.

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As Despair grabs Leos eyes and causes city-wide explosions in the midst of a massive Halloween parade, a dejected White pores over Leo’s photos, and remembers why she first started taking photos: to prove she existed when she’s gone.

Looking at Leo’s photos through this lens makes her despair even more, and she asks a suddenly present Sonic to find Leo. As for White herself, she suffers a kind of heart attack, which as Black explains, is part of the spell his parents used to keep her alive through “persistent affection”, and she appears to be at the end of its tether.

In a move I wasn’t expecting, Black takes a gun and shoots her…or does he? With all the camera flashes and the fact there was no audio during the “shot”, part of me wonders if he really shot her. Whatever the case, she, Leo, and all of Hellsalem’s Lot are in big trouble.

8_mag

Kekkai Sensen – 10

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This week Libra works with HSLPD to defeat a thousand-strong yakuza mecha incursion, and with LHOS’ help, start to uncover they mystery of Black & White with regards to one of the city’s damaged barriers. White also picks a side—her possessed brother’s—and demands Leo hand over his eyes. And she gets that opportunity because Zapp ate some bad tuna!

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While many of those events sound far more significant to the overarching story, it will come as no surprise to those who have followed Kekkai Sensen thus far that the majority of this episode is spent on the most mundane of those events: the search for lunch that ended with a sushi place Zapp had a bad feeling about from the start. Still, it’s clever non-linear storytelling and yet another opportunity to present how strange even a lunch run can get if you walk in the wrong doors.

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Like Zapp’s bachelor nights filled with victory, defeat, and a girl kicking him out of her place, the show portrays the lunch run in rapid-fire fashion, only like a house of horrors, with a staggering variety of bizarre foods. Even when they locate human-run establishments, they’re either getting blood from extramarital brawl all over the food, or trying to serve rival yakuza stew.

Having to flee from so many establishments takes Leo to his breaking point, hallucinating about a “God of Chow” spouting random (and unhelpful) diet-related slogans, before Leo finally declares they’re receiving “Divine Famishment” as a result of trying to use food to haze newbie Zed O’Brien.

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When they finally end up at Leo’s usual foodbag, where they were in the cold open, we now understand why Leo and Zapp are crying with joy upon receiving their chow. And yet, even then they can’t even take one bite, because the Libra-Yakuza battle blows another hole in the diner, and one of those mechas flattens Leo’s beloved burger.

Yet it takes one more round of narrative calisthenics to get Leo to the hospital before a waiting White: After the battle that interrupted their lunch, they end up at the sushi place, and Zapp ends up so sick he has to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, this development is explained with words on the screen, which somewhat undermines the cleverness of the narrative so far.

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In any case, Leo’s there, White gets him alone in the church, where she very well could have been praying to someone, anyone, for some way out of the unfortunate mess she’s in. But then Black arrives, and it’s time for her to ask for Leo’s eyes, revealing her duplicity.

If White had sat Leo down to explain everything to him, he’d probably understand, but considering how in the dark he is (ironic considering his eyes), this betrayal must sting all the more, especially as it’s being committed by someone he’d come to like as a friend and possibly as something more. Then again, he’s also still convinced she’s a ghost.

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P.S. The preview mentioned a “Special episode” while time-lapsing the whole show so far, which can only mean one thing: A dreaded recap is likely next week. >:(

Kekkai Sensen – 09

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As Libra, joined by another one of Jugei’s pupils, the half-man, half-fish Zed O’Brien, contine battling the blood breed, Black & White’s story thankfully comes into better focus. We also see HSL’s tentacle defense system in action, knocking the cargo plane the blood breed hijacked out of the sky (This is the second show in a row I’ve watched with vampires operating military planes. Weird!).

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The cockpit of the plane crashes into a giant skyscraper, and Klaus, Zapp and Leo do a little BASE jumping, a sequence that really nicely captures the scale of the building and the drop into the big hole the plane made. Just another instance of the extraordinary made ordinary in HSL.

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While they’re battling, something glows and beats like a heart in an eerie city-sized GeoFront-like cavern.

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Black, or rather the guy possessing Black, seems to have something to do with this beating heart, but nothing seems to come of it, much to the disappointment of Femt and Aligura, fellow n’er-do-wells looking for excitement.

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The blood breed puts up a fight, but is ultimately defeated by the combined efforts of KK, Zapp, Zed, Steve, and Klaus, using the true name Leo discovered to seal him away. And that’s pretty much that. Zed joins Libra, and Jugei peaces out, possibly for another decade. All’s well that ends well.

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But all is not well with White, who also seems tied to that underground heartbeat, passes out, and wakes up in bed, where Black, or rather the entity possessing him, give her a device Aligura fashioned for him, which will allow White to take Leo’s eyes. As Leo is now a friend, White, or rather Mary, doesn’t want to do it, but the agreement was the eyes in exchange for releasing Black, or rather Will.

It’s an unenviable choice between her good friend and kind lad and her beloved twin brother, who sacrificed himself to save her. On the one hand, she feels a duty to her kin, but I wonder if Will would really want her to help a monster to save him. What with Klaus saying Leo’s eyes weren’t the only reason they let him join Libra, maybe Leo isn’t fated to have them forever.

8_mag

Kekkai Sensen – 08

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After a White and Black cold open that might confirm they’re the orphans of the “casters” who stopped the catastrophe that threatened the city, we get a lovely rapid fire sequence of Zapp’s daily hedonistic life. It takes on a familiar pattern:

  1. Wake up hungover in the bed of last night’s conquest
  2. Grab breakfast at a fast food joint
  3. Gamble at the horse races and lose
  4. Beat up would be thieves and take their money
  5. Gamble at the slots and lose
  6. Drink away his bad fortune at a hostess club
  7. Repeat!

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It’s either an honest life Zapp loves living, or the only life he knows how to live. It’s probably the latter, because when he meets the girl of his dreams in step 2, it’s as if a new path opens before him, and he’s majorly excited to go down it.

He’s so overzealous in pursuing her, he grows a huge gut from all the fast food he’s ordering, and creeps her out with stalkeresque obsessive behavior. But hey, the man knows what he wants, which we’re not quite sure of since we never see her face!

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This is an entertaining episode in that it doesn’t just very efficiently dive deep into Zapp’s personal life, of which we’ve only seen bits and pieces, but also teach us a bit about his roots. A lot of his present lifestyle may be a means of rebelling against a past of torturous training under the heel of his Big Dipper Style master, Raju Jugei Shizuyoshi.

Jugei’s a dude so powerful and badass that only a small piece of his body is able to take on and defeat a hi-class blood breed. He’s the latest in this show’s cavalcade of unique and intriguing non-human characters, this time it’s the super-arrogant alien who speaks a language too complex for lowly humans to comprehend.

Libra even mistakes him for a blood breed, even though he’s one of their greatest weapons against them. The problem is, he’s like smoke only showing up once every decade or so and doing what he wants. He’s like a hyper-distilled Zapp.

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To test his former pupil, Jugei places Zapp in a blood bubble and tasks him with sealing the final form of the blood breed, AKA zhen tai dan. He has no idea how he’s going to do it until Chain gets the idea to pretend Angelica’s calling him aching for Zapp’s masculine touch. In the blink of an eye the job is done. You gotta hand it to the guy, he’s got a system, and it works: make him think he’s going to get laid by his crush, and he can do anything. Naturally, Chain only called Time.

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Operating almost totally independently of the Zapp/Jugei/Libra A-plot is the B-plot of Black and White, in which we learn Black actually has two distinct personas, one of which is worried the other is manipulating their sister, but the other, nastier one assuring himself that White knows what she’s doing and is doing it willingly.

What is “it?” Being friends with Leo…to snatch his eyes? The show is keeping its cards close on this one. I’ve enjoyed Leo and White’s interactions so far, but I need more info to be fully emotionally invested.

8_mag

Kekkai Sensen – 07

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Leo and White’s brother Black (who is also voiced by Kugimiya Rie) hit it off, despite my expectations they’d treat each other more like rivals. They bond over the fact that they both have headstrong little sisters and both of them are mocked by their peers for being weak or ineffectual. Black tries to sell this further by spilling his drink and then falling out of the booth while cleaning it up.

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But the truth is: Black is not the 4-eyed weenie he’s presenting himself as. He’s deceiving the boy with the All Seeing Eyes. In fact, his true identity is “XXXX” or “Blank”, one of the 13 Elder Vampires.

That revelation isn’t unveiled until the very end of the episode, but frankly, there was always something not quite right about Black, ever since Leo saw him on the subway, so it doesn’t come as a huge surprise he’s up to no good, and possibly after Leo’s eyes, as Leo might just be the most normal person in HSL if he didn’t have those eyes,

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The bulk of the episode is given over to a situation in which Zapp is taken prisoner by a gangster and boxing junkie, and resolves the situation by inviting Klaus to “rescue” him. Klaus arrives at what turns out to be a massive underground boxing arena, and he is thrown into the ring to throw down bare-knuckle with huma and monster alike.

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The brawl is fun enough, I guess, but it feels like a bit of a re-hash of Klaus’ far more inspired and elegant Prosfair match with Fulgrouche, and lacks the heart of, say, Leo’s friendships with White and the mushroom man Nej. There also isn’t much in the way of stakes, as even the largest and most fearsome combatants are taken out all too easily.

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The only challenger to put up any kind of fight is the proprietor of the establishment, who is so excited about Klaus’ dominance he can’t help step into the ring personally. Klaus whips out his left fist (he’d been using his right the whole time, holding back) and blasts the gangster’s head off in a graphic display that shocks everyone, but not half as much as when a tiny red blood breed emerges from the stump to finally defeat, but not kill, Klaus.

Why does he spare him? Not quite sure. For a moment I thought he was going to take over his body, but that didn’t happen either. Still, it was very unexpected and creepy.

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By the end, everyone is safe, and Zapp tries to take advantage of the fact Klaus is pretty beaten up by attacking him, but fails once more, as he’s no match at all. Between all that dawdling in the ring, the brief commentary on the universality of fighting in the ring, and the not-so-surprising reveal of Black as Blank all add up to this not being Kekkai Sensen’s finest effort.

7_mag

Kekkai Sensen – 06

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Hellsalem’s Lot (or HLC) seemed like a topsy-turvy melting pot up until this week, when we learn there is a fully-enclosed “Humans Only” district along 42nd Street called “Ghetto Heights.” I guess it’s to be expected; after all, most humans wouldn’t venture to deep into the Alterworld.

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Still, the fact there’s a pocket of segregation where ignorance of and prejudice towards the alterworld “monsters” who inhabit the rest of the city can take root and fester gives this episode a distinct political bent, and paints Leonardo Watch as someone who’s not 100% okay with the idea of such a district…even if its where you can get the best burgers in the city.

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When stripped of its Blood Blockade Battlefront trappings, this week’s story is simplicity itself: Leo comes across a mushroom-type Alterworldian named Nej who also loves those famous burgers; so much so that it’s the first thing he asks for when hit by a tanker truck. But because he isn’t allowed in Ghetto Heights, it isn’t easy to acquire them.

When the truckers start screwing Nej on the price of the burgers, Leo decides to buy them for him without any upcharge, and they become fast friends, sharing the food that united them all over the city.

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One night, those same two up-to-no-good truckers hit Nej again, and one of them starts to beat him with a bat in the street; about as awful and dark moment in race relations as we’ve seen in Kekkai, which is saying something in a show with vampires!

Beating Nej turns him red, until he finally releases a cloud of spores that knock everyone out and wipe their memories of the past 13 hours, including his own. Everyone, except the one trucker who was wearing a gas mask because his partner peed his pants in the truck. I’m not going to asks who these guys owe money, but they’re certainly not the sharpest tacks.

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When Libra gets word of the amnesia cloud, Leo gets it in his head Nej may have had darker motives, but we know, of course, it was all a misunderstanding; the cloud his body simply reacted naturally to stress. In any case, Nej doesn’t remember anything.

The truckers then kidnap Leo and Nej, hoping to use the latter to help them commit crimes and amnesize their victims. Except that they underestimate the depth of Leo and Nej’s friendship. Leo hits the truckers with his trippy nausea-vision, and gets slugged in the head for his trouble, causing Nej to get so angry he blows his top again.

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Leo wakes up in a familiar place—the hospital—with White by his bedside. He goes out for another burger from 42nd Street, and scenes of all the places where he had burgers with Nej flash through his mind’s eye, only with no one in them. He tears up, but knows not why, until Nej is once again hit by a vehicle in the street and asks Leo for a burger.

Whether because the friendship he forged or his eyes transcended the effect of the spores, Leo kinda sorta remembers the affable mushroom man, and gladly hands a burger over. He unwittingly ordered enough for two, after all.

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I like how the Leo & Nej story comes full circle like this, and that even people who supposedly “never met” (but really did) still find each other in HLC and still manage to hit it off, despite their profound biological differences.

The episode closes on a not-so-related but still interesting note, with Leo entering the hospital ward to find White sitting on a bed smiling and laughing with another guy. Leo switches from panic to nervous relief when he learns the guy is White’s big bro, Black.

But to both Leo and us, it’s the kid on the subway, whom we’ve also seen with Femt, opening a whole can of worms about whether Black always intended for Leo to get close to White so he could meet him this night. He’s got the All-Seeing Eyes, after all.

8_mag

Black★Rock Shooter OVA



Black★Rock Shooter
is a 50-minute OVA produced by Ordet, a four year-old studio founded by a former director with Kyoto Animation (Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Air, K-on, etc.).  It is an orderly and uncomplicated tale splicing scenes of two new junior high students (Mato and Yomi) becoming fast friends with scenes of badass versions of themselves dueling each other with huge complicated weapons in a stark, stylish, surrealistic otherworld.

It quickly becomes apparent that the evil Yomi of the otherworld absorbs regular Yomi, who goes missing in the real world after drifting apart from Mato due to ending up in different classes and different clubs in the second year. The moral seems to be: keep your friends close or they could become your enemies.

Straightforward story aside, Black★Rock Shooter looks and sounds great. The real world is rendered in gorgeous detail and lush color, contrasting sharply with the Soul Eater-like atmosphere of the otherworld. The battle itself is also very well animated for the most part, though a bit jerky at times. Mato and Yomi are also voiced by two of my favorite seiyus; Kana Hanazawa and Miyuki Sawashiro, respectively. In all, this was a good watch; a competent Animation by a relatively new studio, and an entertaining 50 minutes. Rating: 3