Manga Review: Blood Blockade Battlefront, vol. 1

Yasuhiro Nightow's Blood Blockade Battlefront is a fast-moving, violent but not gory tale of a future New York turned inside out and transformed into a no-mans land filled with monsters from a domain referred to only as "the beyond."

Nightow is best known for his Trigun and Trigun Maximum series, in which Vash the Stampede travels around causing mayhem (directly or indirectly) wherever he goes. Blood Blockade Battlefront is similarly action-packed, although the hero is a bit more conventional—just a bit.

The setting is Jerusalem's Lot, which used to be New York City until a portal to the beyond opened up one night, causing the city to be destroyed and replaced with a new city that bears a strong resemblance to the barroom scene in Star Wars: It's dark, smoky, and filled with strange creatures from all over the universe. Except that this city is also incredibly violent.

Leo, the main character, starts out as your basic shonen manga hero, a bit self-effacing and not particularly talented. At the beginning of the manga, he can't even afford a hamburger. Leo has come to Jerusalem's Lot on a sort of journey of redemption: He first came to the city with his family, including his wheelchair-bound sister, six months previously. Some sort of supernatural being appeared and commanded Leo and his sister to choose: One would be given special sight, the other would be struck blind. Leo got the gift, and now he is in the city hoping to make enough money to somehow help his sister.

Leo's new talent isn't all that obvious at first, but from the beginning it's clear that he can see things that other people can't. We first see that when a monkey steals his camera—a monkey that only he can see. While he is chasing the monkey, Leo gets caught up in a violent incident and then dragged off, in a case of mistaken identity, to the headquarters of Libra, a secret society that is sort of an underground resistance fighting the evil and chaos that dominates the city. All the members of Libra have some sort of special gift, and by the time the other members realize Leo is not the guy they were looking for, they have also seen him use his special vision, and they realize he can be a valuable member of the team.

I would be worried if Libra was in charge of my well-being, because they are the usual bunch of dysfunctional manga misfits: Zap, a thin, cigar-smoking cynic who fights by forming blood into different shapes; Klaus V. Reinhertz, their leader, a quiet, brooding type; and Chain Sumeragi, the resentful, big-breasted woman of the group, who specializes in intelligence gathering. They don't get along particularly well—insults and fistfights are the order of the day—but of course when faced with a threat, they come together quickly.

Nightow doesn't waste any time in setting up a threat. Femt, the King of Depravity, who is some sort of evil mastermind, has cut a monster in half and unleashed one half on the city, where it is wreaking havoc. The other half is on the other side of the barrier that protects the city from the beyond. Every 13 minutes, the barrier opens for a nanosecond and the second half swings its sword over the earth, slicing people, buildings, anything in its way. If the two halves of the monster are able to reunite, massive destruction will occur. The Libra team is on it, hopscotching across the city while trying to figure out how the monster is materializing (hint: the monkey has something to do with it), with their new member doing a star turn as The Guy Who Can See Things Other People Can't.

Basically, in other words, Blood Blockade Battlefront is your basic chase-the-monster-to-save-the-earth sci-fi manga, with a few twists to make it more interesting. Nightow quickly sketches out his hero and the Libra team and then sets them in motion; clearly he prefers action to exposition.

The action is, frankly, rather hard to follow in places. The monster lacks a head, which gives it a weird, unformed look, and the fights dissolve into clouds and speed lines, so it's hard to see who is doing what to whom. There are also a lot of gaps in the story—we don't really know much about the members of the Libra team, and Leo's story remains vague. Still, the basic outline of the story—figuring out where the monster will show up next, dodging the damage when it does appear—is pretty clear, especially because Femt appears as a sort of commentator on the action. The Libra team works together solidly and quickly accepts Leo as one of their own.

In the end, it boils down to a matter of taste. Blood Blockade Battleground is a good choice for readers who like a lot of action and don't mind being dropped into the middle of the story, without a lot of setup. Readers who like all the blanks to be filled in, though, will be frustrated by the gaps in the story; hopefully more will be revealed in the subsequent volumes.

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