Panning the Stream: Blood Blockade Battlefront, PUNCH LINE, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

I’ll give Spring Premiere Week this much: It sure didn’t end on a boring note.

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As if to make up for a few of my previous posts, this one has three whole meet-n-greets, and two of them surprised even me. Has my brain overloaded from a long week of watching and writing about premieres, thus seriously hampering my judgment? Or is there actually something worthwhile in each show of this batch? Well, they’re only premieres, and I am pretty exhausted, so the jury’s prob’ly still out on that one. But you’re welcome to hit the jump and decide for yourself.

Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen)

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Studio: BONES
Based On:
The manga by Yasuhiro Nightow (Trigun, Gungrave)
Streaming On:
Funimation (U.S./Canada)

In a Sentence: After being granted the power to “see the truth of things” in order to fulfill an unknown destiny, Leonardo Watch takes up residence in the NYC borough of “Hellsalem’s Lot,” where another world has come to overlap with our own and creatures and powers of all shapes and sizes mingle with the mundane.

How was it? A BONEafide BONES BONEanza. (So, yes, I really liked it.)

Overall

The licensed release got delayed on this one, but I was good and only watched the first episode before writing this. I’ll be watching Episode Two very shortly though, rest assured. Blood Blockade Battlefront (or “BBB,” as the Twitter is calling it) is a difficult premiere to review because the appeal is largely in the presentation, and at a certain point you can’t explain that—you just have to see it for yourself. Set in a fantastical version of New York City that looks a bit like the illicit brainchild between H.P. Lovecraft and Narita Ryohga, it’s flashy, stylish, fast-paced, and full of wild powers, scenery-chewing villains, jazzy tunes, and apocalyptic overtones.

The characters zip by a little too fast in this episode to get a solid handle on them, but I enjoyed the repertoire between MC Leonardo Watch and the server at the local diner, and our nutbag villain Femt (Lord of All Depravity!) has just the right amount of crazy to be comic-book levels of fun without going too far over the top (it helps that he’s voiced by industry stalwart Ishida Akira, who knows his way around an entertaining villain). And maybe it’s just my eternal weakness for half-moon smiling eyes, but I was an immediate fan of our protagonist, a pleasant young man carrying a lot of guilt and a fair amount of gumption. Director Matsumoto Rie (Kyousogiga, various Precures) has given us one of the most dynamically animated and flat-out enjoyable premieres of the season. Let’s hope she can build the plot and characters to go with the energy, and keep that momentum going all spring.

PUNCH LINE

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Studio: MAPPA
Original Series:
Directed by Uchikoshi Kotaro and written by Komuro Tetsuya
Streaming On:
Crunchyroll (click here for the list of available regions)

In a Sentence: After a wandering spirit kicks Iridatsu Yuuta’s soul out of his body, he must accomplish two things: (1) find the spell book that can teach him how to get back to normal, and (2) avoid seeing the undergarments of the ladies in his apartment complex, lest he become so aroused that he destroy the world (yes, really).

How was it? I… I honestly don’t know. But, however it was, I kinda…liked…it?

Overall

This may have been the most divisive premiere of the season, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about why PUNCH LINE—a show that should have neverworked for me—actually did work for me, because it would take more paragraphs than a premiere post should have, and at this point a lot of it is just a feeling or a hunch. Suffice to say it’s mostly glimmers, like the way Yuuta isn’t a detestable voyeur or budding assaulter (as protags often are in “ecchi” shows) but just a hapless kid with fairly normal (hetero) urges. Or the way the four young women all seem to have their own separate lives, interests, and goals which have nothing to do with the guy in their apartment complex. Or how the art and camera work is generally playful and tongue-in-cheek instead of creepy, making the panty nonsense feel more like a farce than fap material. Plus, I mean, outside of the panty nonsense, the plot/world are pretty fascinating in an anything-goes kind of sense, and a few of the jokes got me to laugh out loud, too.

If the series goes where I think it might, then I may be able to come back and talk about why this seemingly crass sophomoric “comedy” is actually a pretty clever take on burgeoning sexuality and adolescent anxieties, and how it uses its premise to draw us into those anxieties, turning moments that should be annoying fanservice into a “game” (two strikes and you’re out!) laden with more tension than titillation. Or, if I’m seeing something that isn’t there and the series really is nothing but a crass sophomoric comedy, then I’ll just drop it. No harm, no foul. But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something here, in the same way I couldn’t shake the feeling that Yurikuma Arashi was more than the creepy sexual horror story it first appeared (and boy, was it ever). So, for now, I’m willing to give PL the chance to prove it’s got the chops to be the old-school GAINAX-y coming-of-age story it’s trying to be. We’ll see how it goes.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches (Yamada-kun to Nananin no Majo)

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Studio: Liden Films
Based On:
The manga by Yoshikawa Miki
Streaming On:
Crunchyroll (click here for the list of regions)

In a Sentence: Delinquent Yamada Ryu and model student Shiraishi Urara find out they have the power to swap bodies, and supernatural school havoc ensues.

How was it? Not what I was expecting, but in a good way, at least.

Overall

I figured: What the heck, may’s well give this one a full meet-n-greet, too. The poster art and premise sounded like train wrecks waiting to happen, but the series manages to avoid most of the pitfalls inherent in these kinds of body-swapping stories. There is some humor about the guy ogling his new lady-bod, but nothing that’s over-the-top or all that unrealistic (given the situation), and the girl comments on her new “stuff” too. The series thus far has used its premise to deal with some of the real crap that young women have to deal with on a regular basis (such as creepy dudes hovering around them) and avoids stereotyping both its characters (for instance, there are some scenes involving kissing where the guy is the one freaked out and shy about it, while the girl is completely unphased). The only thing that annoyed me was a brief moment between two guys that came off kinda homophobic, but as long as it doesn’t become a recurring issue it won’t be a deal breaker.

Everything in the premiere happened coherently but very quickly, so pacing may become an issue further down the line, and the title and poster art do make me worry this will turn into a not-very-entertaining harem series at some point. It’s too early to say whether this one will become a smart supernatural school series, or devolve into gender stereotyping and unfunny body humor. But the source material seems to be fairly well-liked, and I have faith in the anime adaptation’s writing team Michiko Yokote (Princess Tutu, SHIROBAKO) to both bring the humor and develop the characters. Who knows? This one may keep surprising me.

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