Kekkai Sensen – 03

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Leo isn’t one to freak out when confronted by a ghost, especially if she’s cute. Instead, he takes her picture to confirm if she’s a ghost, but she shows up in the photos. White tells him she likes him and draws nearer, only for Leo to wake up in his apartment. The transition has us wondering how much of his interactino with White is in his head, but there’s no time to ponder such things, as he’s being evicted and has forty seconds to vacate or, presumably, be eaten. Just another day in the ‘Lot!

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From there, we see him dozing on the couch in Libra HQ, refusing a stipend any higher than the standard rate even though he’s still delivering pizzas and sending money home. But this week Leo is on the sidelines, as the bulk of the episode follows Klaus on his quest to satisfy his fix of Prosfair, which is perhaps best described as “Chess on Acid”. It’s a game as intricate and bonkers as the world that conceived it.

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Initially, the game is introduced as a little joke, with the physically imposing yet cultured Klaus getting way to into it on his original Macintosh(!), to the bemusement of his colleagues. But when Zapp and Chain’s efforts to investigate the distribution of an advanced (and world-unbalancing) new drug called Angel Scale, it rises to the utmost importance, since one of the most powerful overbosses in the Alterworld, Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (what a name!), happens to be a huge fan of Prosfair.

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When he arrives with his comely colleague K.K., Klaus is shocked to find Prosfair grandmaster Ulchenko has also come to challenge Fulgrouche. In the Russian’s mind, he has risen as high as he can amongst mankind in the game, and so playing a non-human is the next logical step. Also, he wants his country to have nuclear weapons, something Fulgrouche can make happen.

Alas, Ulchenko is no match for the don, coming up two minutes short of the nine hours he had to survive in a game. The exponentialy increasing speed and complexity of the game as it drags out nearly kills Ulchenko, and as per their agreement, since he lost, Fulgrouche will take the rest of that life.

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That’s when Klaus finds his opening to finally connect these events with the mission to uncover the Angel Scale ring. If Klaus lasts 99 hours straight, Fulgrouche agrees to not only reveal the trafficking routes of the drug, but also spare the Russian. And doggone it, the guy does it! As K.K. chain smokes and Ulchenko waits in stunned disbelief.

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Klaus doesn’t win, but he hangs with Fulgrouche for the full 99 hours, and all to the lovely stylings of Ludwig van’s vaunted Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, an inspired use of a classic piece of music that really lends the duel otherworldly grandeur, as befits a prosfair battle taking place in the Alterworld.

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Klaus gets the trafficking routes, Ulchenko is freed, and K.K. makes sure Libra takes out all the cells pushing Angel Scale. It’s all made possible thanks to Klaus’ unparalleled strength, selflessness, and perseverance. Yet, to hear it from Leo, book-ending the episode with his interactions with White, he has no idea what Klaus did for the firm, and he may never know.

All Steve Starphase said is that “anything in this world can happen”, which has so far proven true. For Leo, those words must be pretty reassuring, because the one thing he wants most in the world is to heal Michella.

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Kekkai Sensen – 02

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A giant Nausicaa-style beast flying over a Gothic/Art Deco alternate NYC skyline as if it were the most mundane thing in the world: This is one of the iconic, “nutshell” images of Kekkai Sensen, which joins the 10 Club this weekend with one hell of a second episode.

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After last week dropped us in the middle of Jerusalem’s (or Hellsalem’s) Lot with Leo and had at it, this week starts with formal introductions to his new co-workers at Libra, and they’re a fun, colorful bunch that also feels like a tight-knit family. Leo’s the ‘new adopted kid brother’ to Zapp, who is always butting heads with his ‘sister’ Chain, while Klaus has an undeniable dad-like quality to him. (He also looks like Beast from X-men.)

Rounding out the core of the Libra we know is organizer Steven A Starphase and Combat Butler…yes, Combat Butler, Gilbert F. Altstein (Alfred, anyone?) Leo seems a little overwhelmed with all the new names, but thanks to the helpful HUD-style character labeling, and the sheer variety of colorful personalities, it was a cinch for me to remember them.

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There’s more great world and character building as Leo continues his pizza delivery route, as the untold numbers of Libra members are all over Jerusalem’s/Hellsalem’s Lot but keep a low profile like the Dollars of Durarara!!, so it makes sense to keep living his regular life. The only thing is, every pizza he tries to deliver is intercepted by Zapp, who seems to be testing Leo’s reflexes (and patience!) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the boy with the Eyes That See All, a valuable new tool in the Libra arsenal.

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Those eyes pay immediate dividends, as while Leo is on his pizza route with Zapp in tow, he detects a dry cleaning van that doesn’t look right. In fact, he’s just seen past a form of camouflage previously unknown to and undetected by Libra, hiding a demonic courier van illegally transporting live humans.

Leo decides to retreat and regroup when he accidentaly meets eyes with the baddies, but it’s too late, and swiftly pounce on his Honda Gyro and nab him, leaving Zapp out of commision in a pool of his own blood. Tellingly, Zapp makes sure to get some of that blood on Leo’s clothes before the crims take him.

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From here we see the true awesome ability of Libra in action, utilizing far more than just brute strength to maintain the balance in the city. As a tied-up Leo protests the bad guy’s blatant violation of the “Chrysler-Galadona Accord”, Zapp is in contact with Chain, Klaus, and Steve. Chain has eyeballs on the van, but when it turns into a far less conspicuous vehicle (a Toyota Camry, LOL), she loses it. But Libra’s not done yet.

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The whole reason Zapp is in such a bad way, and furthermore seems to absorb every blood transfusion the hospital gives him, is that he’s got a thin strand of blood tied to the van that nabbed Leo. When Leo manages to stop (read: crash) the van by using his eyes to overwhelm the vision of his captors, all Zapp has to do is ignite that blood thread, but since he can’t move, it’s up to Chain to follow the fire to paydirt. Klaus, Steve, and Gil also follow in their jersey-barrier-busting, badass LXG-style custom pursuit vehicle.

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From there, the chase is on, which we follow both by watching Chain fly along the rooftops, in the crazily-driving butler’s instruments, and a nifty 3DCG map that tracks everyone. It’s a fantastically set-up and thrillingly staged chase scene that really capitalizes on the complexity of the city and the super-abilities of the cast. And it’s all set to Jazz. This show knows what it’s doing.

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So does Libra, and so once they catch up to the van of couriers (who weren’t prepared to be detected in the first place, let alone for serious combat), it doesn’t take long to take them out and recover the missing people, along with Leo, who was badly injured in the accident.

Still, by taking it upon himself to fight his captors rather than just sit and wait for help from others is something his Libra-mates admire, and they congratulate him on a job well done, which they couldn’t have done without him in the first place.

Leo also realizes Zapp was stalking him because it was his way of serving as his bodyguard, something Libra would never let Leo go around without, considering his valuable eyes.

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Having been officially accepted into Libra and proven both to them and himself that he belongs there and has something unique to offer, Leo wanders the hospital grounds while completing his convalescence.

In a gorgeous, ‘I so want to go to there’ cemetery, he meets a philosophical ghost, White (Kugimiya Rie!), who asks him whether it’s best to fear death despite is inevitability, or not fear it out of the belief it isn’t inevitable? Some interesting food for thought from another intriguing new character, and yet another layer from among Kekkai Sensen’s elaborate multitudes to explore.

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Kekkai Sensen – 01 (First Impressions)

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There’s so much stuff in Kekkai Sensen, and so many neat concepts and ideas and details, I couldn’t help but almost constantly be reminded of all of the stuff I’ve seen before that it reminded me of; none of it bad: from the obvious structural and stylistic parallels to Durarara!!, FLCL and Space Dandy, to the retro-futuristic New York and L.A. of Fifth Element and Blade Runner, respectively.

Put the crazy aliens of Space Dandy in a big city and you either have Star Wars’ Coruscant or the New York of Men In Black. Heck, let’s throw The Matrix in there for good measure, since we have a group of humans with super-powers who are also interested in lookin’ correct.

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Yet for all the stuff that flies by the screen, and all the other things all that stuff reminds me of, there are two themes that bind it all together and make Kekkai not only approachable, but compelling, and those are love and family. The same kind of love and family that Kyousogiga was suffused with in the midst of all its chaos and zaniness and colorful characters and places.

As it jumps back and forth through the timeline of the first episode, there’s a keen surefootedness in play. Kekkai keeps track of all of its pieces and knows exactly where it wants them to end up, and what to do with them when they’re there. In this way, hapless protagonist Leo Watch ends up right where he wants to be, either by luck or clever fate.

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New York/Jerusalem’s Lot is a bit foggy, but it’s also gorgeous, and the architecture just won’t quit. Even better, the show isn’t afraid to carve and peel and chop those comely skyscrapers up like vegetables for a chili.

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There’s a nice irreverent atmosphere to the proceedings, nicely demonstrated with some superb back-and-forth camera panning across the penthouse office atop one of those carved-up buildings. The three members of Libra whom Leo encounters take the building’s “haircut” pretty well.

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But back to love and family. Leo is pretty sure he and his family came to New York hoping to find a miracle. Specifically, to heal his sister Michella (Mizuki Nana…Hi Ange!) so she could walk. Things didn’t turn out so well: some kind of demon offered a pair of super-powered eyes to one sibling, but the other had to go blind. Ironically, it was Leo who was paralyzed by fear in that moment, and his paralyzed sister who sprang into action, telling the demon to take her eyes.

It’s an act of selflessness and unconditional love for her brother, but ever since that tragic day, Leo has also been acting out of love, searching for the answers that could lead to the restoration of his sister’s mobility and sight. And he’s spent enough time in New York to see the abnormal—and there’s certainly a lot of it—as the normal.

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As their name suggests, Libra works to maintain a balance between the underworld entities vying for power and the remaining normal human population. Their work would seem to never end, as guys like the self-styled “King of Depravity” Femt are always stirring up heaps of trouble. Fortunately, thanks to their “Blood Martial Arts”, Libra is able to keep those entities honest.

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They bring in Leo thinking he was “Johnny Landis”,  but because an upside-down photo of him closely resembles a right-side-up photo of a demon, it was an honest mistake. It’s a fortuitous one, though. Not only does Leo find just the people he wanted to talk with, but they gain someone with eyes powerful enough to detect a gate the size of a flea on a monkey and squish both gate and flea, leaving the monkey unharmed and ruining Femt’s “fun.”

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In a continuation of the show’s irreverent tone (except where Michella is concern, in which case things are more sober and serious), Leo ends the day by trekking back to the diner where he’s a regular, which is still open for business even though it’s been leveled by the recent ruckus. He promised his busybody waitress Vivian (Sawashiro Miyuki) he’d wash dishes, after all!

Kekkai Sensen is a lot of fun, and its opening episode really paralleled Libra’s role by balancing zaniness and chaos with heart, soul, and humor. If they can maintain that balance, and keep of the quality of the eye candy, it’s a Spring keeper for sure.

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