Big, Bombastic, Beautiful.
BBB is a first-class example of how a talented director, composer, and animation studio can take solid source material and crank it up to about 11. We likely would have had this frenetic world along with its enigmatic supernatural beings, its underground organization that oozes cool, and its affable but troubled protagonist regardless of the creative team, and it probably would have been fun in any competent director’s hands. But what BONES, Matsumoto, and her team have created here is more than just fun: It’s a visual and aural feast, taking Nightow’s often blank canvas and splashing it with color, depth, and imagery.
This is a series that grabs you by the eyes and ears and pulls you head-first into its bizarre and energetic worlds, fully immersing you in both the old-school Hollywood NYC where our characters live and the eerie, Lovecraftian “Afterworld” where they often visit. It is gorgeous, sometimes stunningly so, and makes me hungry for a dub so I don’t have to spend time reading and can just bask in the universe presented to me.
Where BBB may struggle over time is in its ability to craft a compelling story, becoming a series that is not only a treat to watch but also resonates on an emotional or intellectual level. Even so, while I do think the cinematography, art design, and music (i.e., the style) are the show’s primary focus and do a whole lot to elevate the material, I also don’t think it’s all empty, delicious calories either. The supporting characters are well-defined, occasionally churlish, but generally likable rogues, and Leonardo strikes me as a protagonist with a lot of complexities and conflicts hiding just below that smiling, seemingly naive surface. I don’t know much about these individuals yet, but I very much want to, and that’s always a good sign this early in a series.
Most of BBB’s themes are understated and loosely defined at this point (we’re only three episodes in, after all), but already ideas about family, guilt/redemption/sacrifice, and time are swirling around the edges of these grandiose set pieces. Above all, this seems to be a series looking to explore perception, truth, and different “ways of seeing,” most obviously portrayed in Leonardo’s all-seeing eyes and the illusions and spectres that float around this fantastical New York.
(As an aside, ‘Bless over at Mage In A Barrel has already done some thoughtful, detailed work on how the show’s style enhances its substance, and I encourage you to check out his BBB tag for some great breakdowns and analyses.)
So far, Leonardo’s abilities and personality seem to combine (or contrast?) the idea of literal vision with the more metaphorical concept of “seeing” reality. Despite his powers, he struggles with both acknowledging his own value (he calls himself a coward, although we’ve seen nothing to suggest that) and understanding the strange world around him. The way the series develops both Leonardo’s sight and his insight will go a long way in determining if this Badass Brooklyn Bacchanal can become not just a stunningly well-executed series, but one with something meaningful to say as well. Either way I suspect it will be entertaining and cool as hell, so I’ll definitely be here to watch it play out.