Blood Blockade Battlefront, Episode 2

Before I launch into this post, I want to direct readers to something I wrote over on Tumblr last night, an abbreviated essay called “Blood Blockade Battlefront: Style vs Substance(?) and Cinematic Language.” This essay lays out the theoretical framework this post will be operating out of—simply, that visual language is a valid semiotic code [1] capable of expressing meaning, just as more traditional methods are. So, the point of today’s post is to essentially lay out an example of how this is true, breaking down the way director Rie Matsumoto and her team have constructed a cinematic code that conveys information, themes, and ideas to the audience through the images on the screen.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Episode 2: “Vision for the Blind”

The starting point for this whole discussion begins with the abstract idea that the cinematography and visual language in Blood Blockade Battlefront is very much self-aware and, indeed, announces its presence to the audience. To put it in more familiar terms, what BBB constantly does is equivalent to the cinematic breaking of the fourth wall; that is, it uses techniques that intentionally remind the viewer that they are watching a film on a screen. In the first episode, this manifested itself in a pretty brash way through the use of some big ole block letters announcing the name of Zapp’s attacks and while the second episode certainly has some of these types of techniques (the hilarious hovering descriptions around the characters was my favorite example from this episode), there’s also a ton of most sophisticated techniques that do this floating around in episode two.

Let me show you what I mean with an example from this episode:

Blood Blockade Battlefront

What you see in the image above are two images captured from a single take where the camera begins towards the back of the room, then slowly zooms out until we get the shot on the right. The shot on the right uses the bone structures we see around the perimeter of the room to form a “frame with a frame.” We have, of course, the actual frame—that is, the screen on which we’re watching the episode and within which the entirety of the cinematic artifact is contained—but we also have another frame, created by the jagged black shadows of the bones the camera is now looking through. This example is particularly useful because of the picture on the left, which occurs before the picture on the right and is composed of more traditional shot framing, in which we simply see the characters within the context of the truck’s interior. But by zooming out and creating the second frame by placing the bones between the viewer and the characters, the cinematic language reminds use that we’re seeing something inherently artificial.

Or, how about this sequence of shots, where we cut from watching the episode’s villain force Leo’s eyes open to a shot LITERALLY INSIDE LEO’S EYE.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

There are, of course, a bunch of other ways that BBB draws attention to the fact that it is cinema—shots with mirrors as display screensshots using screens, shots through glass, shots through absurdly placed security cameras—all of which are essentially just ways to call the audience’s attention to the fact that there are things happening with the way the visuals are constructed. The techniques are begging for attention, for the audience to look for, recognize, and understand their meaning: “Hello! Look at what we’re doing!”

But all that is simply to justify my claim that none of this is by accident. The real meat of the episode is only visible when the themes and ideas inhabiting the visuals are pulled out and understood. [2] The really cool thing about this episode is that it builds on a number of plot points and visual motifs established in the first episode. The big visual metaphor this episode is circles (something we saw at least once in the first episode) and the plot points that lend texture to the visual messaging are the ones involving Leo’s acquisition of his supernatural eyes, which happen to be the focus of this episode. Given that Leo’s eyes are the prime subject of the events that transpire in the episode (from the reason Zapp is stalking his pizza deliveries to the reason he is kidnapped), the repetition of the circle image makes a lot of sense.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

If I had to sum it up quickly, I’d say the meaning of the visual language Matsumoto uses is this episode centers around the idea of seeing and not seeing. Obviously, this is reflective of some of the stuff I talked about in yesterday’s post (Leo not being able to see his own courage), but the more pressing narrative element are that Leo was given the power to see almost anything. [3]

This kicks us into the full weight of the episode’s cinematic efforts, which are most concentrated during the scenes inside the criminals’ truck after Leo has been abducted. At this point in the episode, we’ve seen the circle motif scattered throughout the episode, but inside the truck the presence becomes almost oppressive, starting from the very first shot inside the truck—a swinging lamp formed with two concentric circles, mimicking the appearance of an eye. And from this point on, the screen is littered with circular forms everywhere. Below, you’ll find a small gallery of some of the circular imagery used.

As you can see, the circular form isn’t just limited to inside the truck where Leo is, but spreads out into the chase after him (I particularly like the image of the GPS tracker—again, seeing something that cannot be seen with ordinary eyes). But the circles are everywhere, produced by Leo, reflecting Leo, on the faces of the criminals. And the juxtaposition of all these circular images with the frequent returns to Leo’s eyes and his use of them generates an association between his eyes and the shape [4—read this one!], magnifying the sensation of seeing everything until it all veritably explodes in the faces of the criminals as Leo invokes offensive use of his power. In other words, this isn’t just the plot-based event of Leo making his escape attempt, but also a burst of imagery (note how the final image in the gallery is made up of multiple circles) that is a condensed cumulative effect of everything we’ve been seeing to this point.

This is fantastically well-crafted filmmaking, as Matsumoto and her team have essentially produced an visual climax to parallel the climax of the plot events. But, of course, that would be merely superficial (if stylishly so) if there weren’t another layer of meaning lurking beneath the actual visual execution. The deeper layer here has to do with the importance of Leo’s eyes and making the audience viscerally aware of their power—the effects of which we see at the very end of the episode.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

But, at this point, the substance—the “what” being communicated by the circle/eye motif mediated by the self-aware cinema—is that seeing is power. And Leo, because he can see, has power. We see this both literally played out in the way he hijacks the vision of the criminals to aid his escape and cinematically in the way visual symbols linked to his eyes pervade the episode. This point is further emphasized by the helplessness of Zapp before the illusionry of the criminal on the street and by the blind fury of Klaus’ revenge, which Stephen later calls a success despite the fact that everything was left in little pieces and Leo seriously injured.

It’s almost entertainingly appropriate that the enemy technique Leo foils is called “illusionry,” a term that invokes associations with falsity, specifically of vision (“optical illusions,” i.e. illusions that fool the eyes). This isn’t so much a matter of perspective (as it is with shows like Monogatari) as it is of simply seeing the truth of things. If seeing the truth of things is power, the Leo, as the one who sees, is put in the strong position of being able to communicate truth to his friends and to the audience. In the serious elements of the plot, this shows up as Leo’s eyes cut through a powerful new type of supernatural activity; in comedic terms, BBB gives us the hilarious conclusion to Leo and Zapp’s pizza adventures.

Here, the seeing is much less of a literal kind and more of a metaphorical kind, but I found it pretty clever how BBB essentially plays the trick twice—first transforming Zapp’s persecution of Leo into a thankful remembrance, until the glass cracks and Leo internally decries his “asshat” bodyguard. It’s like Matsumoto and Nightow just needed one more laugh at the audience’s expense—and once again it’s Leo who sees into the truth of the matter. It’s a clever comedic expression of the theme of seeing that’s been present throughout the episode, but it’s also just great comedy.

Blood Blockade Battlefront Blood Blockade Battlefront

But I promised you guys that we’d see the effects of this episode’s visual musing on the power of Leo’s eyes and on the thematic idea of seeing. And so I will. The circles are gone (they aren’t needed, now that the point has been made) as Leo steps into the ethereally peaceful green of the hospital graveyard. In the top image, you see end of the first long zoom out from Leo’s initial entrance—a shot that runs several seconds, allowing the audience to see there’s no one there. Except, there actually is: White, winning grin and all. At this point, Matsumoto doesn’t need to make a big deal out of it, but we get the telltale shot of Leo just barely opening his eyes to see her as he queries, “Who are you?

Yup, this is the practical, in-universe result of all the cinematic prowess employed throughout the episode—we’ve been made explicitly aware of the qualities of Leo’s eyes (in exciting fashion) so that when we see a ghost who, it should be noted, seems to have some sort of connection with his sister, we understand that it’s through the properties of Leo’s supernatural eyesight that she is revealed.The trick is further emphasized by not showing us White in the first show, but then using the exact same shot later to show her talking to Leo. In other words, the “seeing is power” substance of the episode has returned here to actually impact the events of the plot and facilitate the transition of the story from part of the narrative to the next.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Hopefully, after some 1800+ words, I’ve made my theoretical point about Blood Blockade Battlefront‘s style serving as substance well enough. I hope you enjoyed the post and I hope I’ve convinced you, even if just a little bit, that there’s style for miles in this show—and just as much substance.


[1] Yeah, I know that’s a pretty freaking esoteric phrase. Basically it just means a system of conventions used to communicate meaning. I just couldn’t find a better way to phrase it here.

[2] Both the OP and the ED animation contain some interesting pieces that add a lot of texture to the interpretation I’m about to embark upon, but both of them are so incredibly dense that they’d require their own posts to fully explicate.

[3] This is where the OP/ED would come into my interpretation. There are already connections being made between Leo’s enhanced sight and his sister’s blindness, but that particular relationship hasn’t really been expanded upon enough to make substantial interpretive claims about its thematic significance. For now, I think it’s enough to just allow the hints to add a richness to the sight theme.

[4] In case you aren’t convinced, check out this image (#2 in the gallery). See all those green lines on the floor of the truck? They’re ostensibly some form of life support for the humans being taken for consumption, but do they remind you of anything in the context of this specific image? Like the veins of an eye? Or how about the bright spot of light that very well could function like a pupil?

Blood Blockade Battlefront

23 thoughts on “Blood Blockade Battlefront, Episode 2

  1. I keep looking at that shot of White, since it’s the one everyone is using, and thinking “man that is SUCH a Koto expression.” Different face shapes but that cocky half-grin really reminded me of her.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I never do, yet have to explain it over and over to people in tidbits, which is really obnoxious. Especially when they are wholly unaware of these things, and stick to their guns that all it takes to look good is to trace photos nicely, stay on-model, and use lots of in-between frames. Things like framing and motifs are lost on a lot of people, and I envy them for being able to see cinematographically flat and uninteresting visual worlds as “beautiful”.

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  3. I know you disagree and I respect that, but I still think that while BBB has enough substance to make it a worthwhile watch even without the style, the latter outweighs the former just in terms of sheer quantity. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either – in fact, if one is watching anime purely for entertainment’s sake, then that’s actually a positive.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that the relatively large cast, combined with all that fast-paced onscreen action and cinematic oomph, will result in the plot execution getting a little sloppy (much as I feel the second season of Durarara did) – although that of course remains to be seen, and likely won’t dim my enjoyment of the show either way. I’m attracted to BBB mostly because of the infectious energy of the piece, which means I’ll probably be happy no matter what.

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    • Hey, it’s all good! I definitely don’t think it should be required for everyone to watch the show the same way I do! I actually really appreciate your opinion on the whole style versus substance thing, as it was pretty crucial in helping me to formulate my own thoughts on the subject. So, yeah, thanks a bunch for that!

      Plus, you’re totally right! It’s energetic and entertaining and super duper stylish! That’s really not a bad way to enjoy a show at all. 🙂

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  4. I’m not certain you’ve addressed the “substance” issue. I agree with your main thesis, that Rie Matsumoto is using her visuals to talk to the audience. But what is she saying? That vision/perception is important?

    That’s not exactly substantial. Substance is generally conveying a non-obvious truth, or making a argument for a debatable position, or possibly re-affirming a great truth in a powerful manner.

    Let’s take another show commonly considered “style over substance”: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I consider TTGL substantial because I read it as an attack on the Precautionary Principle, on the idea that the best way forward is to be cautious and choose the path with the least chance of failure. TTGL emphatically rejects that position, arguing that position just leads to stagnation, and the way forward is take big risks with big rewards, even if the price is high.

    That’s something debatable. Something important. That’s substance. BBB is brilliant in its use of visuals to convey meaning. But that’s style. Substance lies in the meaning which is conveyed, and I do not think that BBB has conveyed a substantial meaning yet.

    Of course, “yet” being the operable world. It’s only episode 2, and there’s plenty of time for Rie Matsumoto’s message to become clear.

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    • The idea that I’ve dropped 1800 words and still haven’t finished the argument… ;_;

      No, but really, always great to hear feedback to the contrary! I think where our thoughts diverge is at your definition of substance. What I’m reading in your definition (which I think is a good, if incomplete and somewhat limited one) is a conception of substance as being necessarily “words-based.” You’re using words like “argument,” “debatable,” which I think imply a logical, easily articulable theme.

      I actually meant to put this into the post, but the substance I’m arguing for is of an impressionistic nature—it’s the image (appropriately), the idea, the sense of something meaningful, even if it isn’t explicitly spelled out in a way that can be easily summarized as “an argument for this” or “a stand against that.” Rather, this is a substance of suggestion and feeling—as appropriate for something as fleeting as an image on a screen.

      I’ll admit, this might be a less strong position than I’d ordinarily like, but I’m pretty convinced that this is true and becoming more and more true as the show continues. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see the substance of the visuals coalesce into the type of substance you’re talking about and, honestly, I probably still could stand to articulate more clearly my ideas of what substance is being conveyed, but that’s probably the sort of thing that’ll pop into my head in the shower and make me go, “Ugh, I can’t believe I didn’t put that in the post.”

      Anyways, thanks a lot for your comment! People disagreeing with me on this is really helping me to shape my thoughts!

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      • I agree with you that substance can be ” the image (appropriately), the idea, the sense of something meaningful”. But that requires you to able to state or define the “something” in that phrase. What is the meaningful thing being evoked?

        I think most people would agree that:
        – substance is what you say
        – style is how you say it

        To me, your position seems to still be falling mostly on the “how you say it” side, which is style.

        Perhaps giving an example of another show or piece of art which you believe has “substance” in the same manner as BBB would help illuminate your definition of substance?

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        • Ah, so basically where we’re at is that you’re saying I haven’t clearly describe what I think is “being said.” And you know, I don’t think I disagree with you!

          I don’t I have the mental capacity left tonight address that question, but the way you’ve framed it—”what is being said?”—I think will help me to further polish my ideas. So, once again, thank you! I’ll come back at this tomorrow with a fresh brain and see what I can pull up. I’m still pretty confident that there is a “what” to all this, even if I didn’t quite get to describing it super well.

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        • Hey, soo…I thought about things and ended up adding in a paragraph that I think illustrates what I was trying to say about the substance. It’s right under the image of Leo using his eyes on the criminals.

          Thanks again for your thoughtful comments! They really have been helpful!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Now I’m gonna pay more attention when watching BBB, or even any anime. Achieving the ability to see the layers within each shot can be an amazing power.

    New… best girl candidate? That cocky grin… could make me fall in love. Is it bad that I’m easily attracted to various little things?

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    • To be fair, the first time I watched the episode, I was just totally enamored and basically caught none of this stuff. At this point, I’ve probably seen the episode 4+ times over, so it’s definitely not something that just happens to me instantly haha!

      It’ll be a fierce battle for my heart between White and Chain—they’re both great so far.

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  6. First what great vision you have / you must have a big TV ! Myself I watch on a 18″ Monitor and I need glasses !

    But you are the only person to go deeper in the visuals and the connection to the anime ! I was right yesterday in a discussion about reviews that 2 reviewers do a consistently good job of explaining things pro or con about an anime !Darn all those circles ! Excellent Job Standing Ovation >!

    This kind of art / animation deserves an award! I hope you post the link IN CR so people could apprieciate your insight and that of the show staff!

    Back to why I basically trust only two reviewers . You mention comparsions or point out things about an anime that other bloggers just seem what to voice their opinion more than the substance of the show!

    So again excellent job way beyond the call of duty but very welcomed!

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    • 22″ monitor here! But a lot of practice!

      I mean, I think all my writing is based on my opinions—but I try really hard to explain why I like what I do and to make those opinions accessible to other people. Plus, I basically just write about stuff I like, so I kind of just assume people already know that when I spend an entire day putting together a 2000 word post.

      Thanks very much for your kind words! ^_^

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  7. Hi! First time commenting here. That’s a great analysis, it geared my brain into action ^^. So I’ll be hijacking the space for my thoughts.

    I really really love BBB, it’s my Ping Pong the animation this spring. I never knew Matsumoto was behind it, and I wasn’t keen on the original material, but there we are, proof that an alright material can be elevated to greatness in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing (and do it with a flare).

    About the topic of style vs. substance: I’m with you that in this case, style is the substance. I guess that first, we need to establish what we mean by ‘substance’. Is it deep characterisation? There are only 2 ep. so far, so what can really come to conclusion about, but if we mean by ‘substance’ thematic meaning, I think BBB has that in abundance.

    (I have no background in cinematography or visual studies, so I’ll be putting down my thoughts in lay terms.)

    Usually in anime, the narrative follows the main characters, their journey, their relationships, their exploits, etc, against the backdrop of their environment. The characters are the focus. In BBB, however, the setting, Hellsalem’s lot (how cool is that) is the focus, and the (main) characters are merely few of the thousands of the citizens who make up the city. Matsumoto wants us to focus on how the setting reflects the characters and vice versa: many shots have our protagonists among crowds; the small conversations between the mains and extras we only see once; the girl who trips and cries reminds Leo of his sister; nurses reprimand Zapp for smoking (do they know him?); the restaurant owner (?) gruffly offers Leo something to eat and, as the monkey runs away with Leo’s camera, the quaint incident becomes a topic for conversation for the other diners (are they complete strangers, or do they know each other?). And then there are the times when we’re given shots that have nothing to do with the main characters: youths playing basketball, an alien playing cello for bystanders, the tv/radio segments, etc. This is a big city, teeming with personality, and our heroes (and villains) have to make something of their lives in such a setting.

    Now here’s where the (awesome) visuals come in: it gives such a huge city a sense of limited scale. Screens are part of the average citizen’s life. Cameras are everywhere. While watching the pizza sequence (which was the highlight of the ep.) there was this unsettling feeling at the back of my mind. Why is there a camera in such (as you put it, iblessall) an absurd place? Who’s watching? When Leo was waiting before the door, we see his reflection on the peephole: the implication is that there’s someone watching from the other side of the door. In the chase scene, we have the GPS (also circular). To me, every reflection, camera or screen (or even any circular object) indicates that there’s someone out there watching. That’s how the city, despite being big, is reduced in scale. But (and here’s where the main characters come in), even if there are always eyes watching whatever is going on at any given moment, only the Libra (who we’re told ‘keep watch over the city’) may take action based on what they see, and Leo has the power to see what even the cameras fail to see (making him a valuable asset and the rightful protagonist).

    Finally, I’d like to connect the previous points to the last scene in ep. 2. Leo (again) sees things that no one else notices: the cemetery, and White. As you pointed out, there are no circular objects in view: no cameras, no reflection. The eyes of the city which monitored every movement of the people are not interested in this place because, as White says, they don’t want to see anything that reminds them of death. They’re keeping their eyes closed to this aspect of reality. Leo, however, doesn’t have such luxury: whether he wants it or not, his eyes will see reality as it is. Also, to achieve his goal, he will have to find the answers he’s looking for, even if it involves the dead. And now White finally finds someone who’s willing to look reality in the eye. The stage, as I see it, is finally set.

    That’s a lot of bumbling (sorry, couldn’t help myself ^^). Your decision to write about BBB in terms of the direction and cinematography instead of the usual fair (though I love your usual fair as well, being lurking here for months now) is commendable, and I’ll sure be following you in this.

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    • Oooh, wow, that penultimate paragraph in your comment is a great interpretation! I actually…really love that train of thought. A really nice cap on the rest of your reflections on the city that’s always watching—Leo finds a ghost in the place where no one else is willing to look.

      And thanks for your comment! I’m always excited to see new faces pop up in the comments section. ^_^ Even more so when I hear you’ve been following the blog for a while. >\\< Hope to see you back soon!

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  8. So you’re doing Kekkai Sensen, too! Great!

    I’ll keep this short, since cinematography isn’t really my field of expertise (doesn’t mean I know nothing about it :P), but I won’t say much mostly because I actually don’t pay much attention on the detailed cinematography part of Kekkai Sensen because the two episodes I’ve been watching are enjoyable as f*ck. And yeah, it’s artsy, it’s stylish, but I haven’t go deeper yet.

    Will be commenting more when I actually go really deeper on the art style for the next episodes.

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    • Yup! This is my favorite show of the season thus far, and I hope it continues that way!

      I definitely wasn’t thinking about all this stuff the first time I watched the episode, but by the time I’d seen it through a couple times I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted to say about it.

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