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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Kekkai Sensen.

Kekkai Sensen.

You know, I said I was going to review this months ago when, still youthful and fresh-faced, I assumed that the final episode would air a week after the episode immediately preceding it. It was a brighter time back then, before the long months in which it seemed like it would never air - and all this over a timeslot conflict. 

I don't want to spend too much of this review harping on about that, but needless to say I am extremely unimpressed. Let's be clear here, what happened wasn't that the episode wasn't finished on time, the production company for this anime wasn't Square-Enix, it was finished and ready to go. It was just also twice the length of the actual timeslot it was meant to air in, which is an odd thing to have to say when you consider that a) They presumably knew what timeslot they had, and b) They had a recap episode, meaning they could have just split this one in two.

A colleague pointed out that possibly they had arranged to have a longer timeslot, and then it had fallen through at the last minute, which is certainly possible. I hope that was the case. Nevertheless, I am less than delighted.

Set in a magical version of New York three years after a gate to another world opened in its centre, Kekkai Sensen follows Leonardo Watch, a young photographer with the mysterious 'Eyes of God', which give him a variety of sight-related powers. After a chain of events leads to Leo joining Libra, a secret society that defends New York - now named Hellsalem's Lot - he is caught up in the strange fusion of the magical, bizarre, and mundane that is life in the city.

N'aww, Zapp.

That's a slightly vague plot synopsis, because while Kekkai Sensen does have a sort of overarching plot involving siblings Black and White; the vampiric Blood Breed; and Black's alternate identity, the King of Despair, it is for the most part a very episodic story, with most episodes in the series being standalone stories that don't necessarily gel with each other in terms of tone. One story, for example, was an action-adventure plotline involving Leo being kidnapped and a chase through the city; while another one was a comedy storyline about Leo, Zapp, and Zedd trying to find a fast food place that wasn't either extremely disturbing or destroyed shortly after their arrival.

The show hops from genre to genre, but it does so with an unfailing sense of style and pizazz that seeps into every episode. Everything looks and sounds sharp, the action is always quick, scenes of eating fast food are treated to the same animation tricks as fast-paced fight scenes, every scene is treated like it's a important, cinematic moment. While the relative light focus on the main plot and comparatively greater focus on short, episodic stories can be quite frustrating for a viewer, I never got the impression that it was frustrating for anyone on the production team - they seemed to be putting just as much effort into making those episodic stories exciting as the big, important plot beats.

Those episodes might have been a little less frustrating if they'd focused more on the many interesting members of Libra, but what often happens is that they focus on Klaus, Zapp, and Leo, with the rest of Libra's members as the supporting cast. That's a shame, really, because all of the characters seem hugely interesting, and it would've been very nice indeed to see focus episodes for all of them. Well, for most of them at least - I'm not sure there are enough episodes to do all of them.

N'aww, Leo.

Technically, Kekkai Sensen is also a fairly astounding production. The animation is gorgeous, not just sometimes but always; the character designs are unique and interesting, and while they're sometimes a bit silly, the silliness undeniably works for the setting; the soundtrack is superb, with quite a few of the songs having jazzy tones to them; and the voice-acting is also good, more or less across the board. I don't often see anime (or anything, for that matter) that seems to not only tick every box, but excels in every area as far as the nuts and bolts of the production go.

In an ideal world, this would be a fifty episode anime, and I'm not just saying that because I really enjoyed it - I'm saying that because it's two major problems: Too big a ratio of episodic shenanigans to plot, and a plot that often felt underdeveloped and confusing could have been dealt with with more episodes. And the main plot did feel oddly underdeveloped at points: Who is the Watchman? My initial thought was 'it's Longinus, isn't it', which might still be correct. What happened to him at the end, since he seemed to be in a new body? Why was White the living form of the barrier, and was that intentional on the part of her parents? So many questions.

While my enthusiasm has been dampened considerably by the massive delay, this is still a pretty stellar series, and definitely one of the standout anime of the year.

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