Blood Blockade Battlefront, Episode 5

Right so, deep thematic analysis, resonance between cinematographic technique and unstated meaning…it’s all there in Blood Blockade Battlefront. It’s exceptional, in a way only a Rie Matsumoto show could be. Those qualities…have almost not bearing whatsoever on this episode—because this episode is about one thing and one thing only: having a good time. And if you didn’t enjoy this episode, you might as well get off the giant car-eating monster vehicle now, because this is the reality of Blood Blockade Battlefront. And this is my favorite episode of the season.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Episode 5: “Make It Fun, and Also Cool. Make It Very Cool”

I suppose, if there is one focus for this post—which will inevitably be tackling an assortment of different parts of the episode—it’s that Matsumoto is really great at using different kinds of cinematography to create energy, humor, and engagement in her shows. She doesn’t “sell out” to generic cool shots or abandon her style just to achieve a particular effect. Instead, she takes elements from her existing bag of trick and repurposes and recontextualizes them to produce an episode that’s uniquely Matsumoto and hugely fun. This whole post is kind of about that, but I’ll start off with some of the first shots in the episode to illustrate my point.

The opening sequence between White and Leo, who are apparently in some sort of fight (at least according to White) starts off with some simple medium shots of the two adorable kids talking, but it’s when the camera shoots from that classic Matsumoto high-angle long shot, composed to imply the maximum possible distance between the two characters, that we truly understand how much trouble Leo really is in. The long shot is signature Matsumoto technique, but it’s being used here to add a bit of an edge to the otherwise comic proceedings of their fight. Combined with Leo’s puzzled reaction, it’s a great way to set up the adorable scenes that’ll show up at the end of the episode. But again, the point here is that Matsumoto’s style is showing through, even with a light-hearted scene like this, which is a trend that continues throughout the rest of the episode.

Blood Blockade BattlefrontBlood Blockade Battlefront

~Using Scale~

Probably my favorite progression of shots comes towards the beginning of the episode, as Leo and Zapp make their way through the city by motorcycle prior to the arrival of Aligura’s car-chomping monstrosity of a vehicle. One of the problems that arises when dealing with really huge objects/characters/etc. in a visual medium is communicating an accurate sense of just how big those things are, but in this sequence BBB uses one large vehicle to emphasize the immensity of the one that comes later.

In the four shots below, we start with the intrepid Zapp and Leo driving in traffic at a fairly standard distance. However, the placement of the two character at the bottom frame and the use of a bland visual background emphasizes the empty space behind them…which is eventually filled with a single, massive tire that stands taller than them. That shot then zooms out to reveal the entirety of the truck. And yeah, it’s huge, nearly pushing them out of the frame! Which is all well and good and funny for drawing attention to how much danger they were in, but then, in the final shot, when the truck gets devoured by Aligura’s vehicle, that same big vehicle is becomes small in comparison. That final shot, as well, uses three planes of depth (Aligura’s vehicle eating the truck, the cars, and Leo and Zapp) to allow to understand the true bulk of this newcomer on the streets.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

This, of course, isn’t the only time scale is used effectively in this episode, but a lot of times it actually comes into play when involved with long shots (and we’ll talk about that later). There is, however, one other moment involving scale that I’d like to draw attention to: Brody and Hummer’s first punch. Having seen the two men…err, or one man and his blood…leap into action inside a frame in which their physical presence is augmented by the addition of their title card, nearly filling the frame, we shift to a long shot from behind them and then to a low angle shot as they strike the vehicle. Put simply, Brody and Hummer are made to look huge in the title card frame, but then are shown to be tiny in comparison to the vehicle—and both of them are shown to be relatively small compared to the city in the second shot below. The city stretches out behind their battle, which, for all it’s intensity and largeness, is just one more event in a city full of them.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

~Ketchup, Blood, and Comedy~

Of course, this is all just the precursor to the most ridiculous thing Blood Blockade Battlefront has done all season, a “dramatization” in visuals both horrifying and hilarious, while setting up the unsuspecting audience for a parallel sequence equally horrifying, but without humor. I am, of course, referring to the bit of genius that was the ketchup sequence accompanying Aligura’s first explanation of how Brody and Hummer became one being. On a character level, this kind of twisted explanation of the inhumane process makes perfect sense when considered from Aligura’s insane perspective. For this psychotic, hyper-energetic [1] Queen of Monomania (monomania is an obsessive desire for one specific thing), such a stomach-turning operation really probably was nothing more than a kitchen procedure.

But it wasn’t like that for Dog Hummer or Deldro Brody, as shown in the genius transition from Aligura delighted face upon finding the two men into the blood-covered camera of Hummer’s memories of the operation, which ends with a matched image to the initial grin. The move from Aligura’s cutesy, cartoony account of the procedure into the horrific reality abuses the comedic nature of the earlier sequence, the contrast in tone and visual style impressing upon the audience the true awfulness of what has happened. It’s like gap moe gone very, very wrong.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

~Who Sees Whom~

Continuing in this post’s vein of not really have a super cohesive thematic bent, I just wanted to point out some interesting parts of the episode involving the seeing/not-seeing theme that is, by this time, obviously BBB‘s main thematic pillar. [2] To begin, if you look at those two Aligura screenshots above, you’ll notice the the purple eye showing through her mask. In both of those scenes, she’s fixated on Brody and Hummer; in other words, she sees the one thing (Queen of Monomania, remember?) she cares about and that alone. Other than when she’s looking at Brody and Hummer, that eye remains hidden—forming a neat parallel with Leo’s own closed-eye syndrome, which Aligura breaks through when she commands him to confess that he’s in love. I wouldn’t say I’ve come to a conclusion as to what exactly BBB is saying about love and seeing (beyond the necessity of pushing), but we’re getting more and more hints as to what the thematic climax of the show will be about.

In fact, Aligura’s ability to force Leo to “see” (after all, he does act on her advice!) demonstrates a level of inequality between them that doesn’t show up in the King of Despair’s interactions with Femt. If you see the two sets of images below, you’ll notice that both times we see Femt from the King of Despair’s perspective, we get an equalizing shot of from Femt’s point of view. At this point, my interpretation returns to the framework I laid out in my episode 2 post: vision is power. Because Femt and the King of Despair are equals, the see each other the same way. However, there’s an element of controlling vision that’s at work here, as well. Even Leo’s comedic routine with Zapp at the beginning of the episode—”Humans tend to steer in the direction they’re looking!” Leo crows—is a small-scale conflict based on the apprehension of someone else’s vision capacity.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

~Long Shots and Connection~

If you ask me, the bulk of cinematographic analysis is the ability to see patterns in a show’s visual code (that’s basically my secret to these posts), but anyone who’s been paying attention even halfway to BBB‘s visuals should have noticed the prevalence of long shots throughout the episodes. At various times they’ve been used from comedic effect (like Zapp’s pizza stealing efforts in episode 2), to contextualize the characters in their world (like the ones I point out in episode 1), but in this episode they’re used, rather unusually, to connect trains of action.

In all of these shots, the main movement is generated by something other that the connecting point (the character)—Aligura’s vehicle—but the visually smaller characters are used to locate the action in relation to the shots preceding them. I don’t think I need to remind you of the shot immediately before the first image in the gallery, but I will anyways. The second follows Leo flying off of the motorcycle; the third, K.K.’s Strafingvolt 2000; the fourth, Steven’s attack. In both Chain’s shot and K.K.’s shot, I missed them the first few times I watched the episode, but the locating technique here is similar to one I talked about a while ago on ask.fm; that is, the use of things other than the subject of the shot to locate them in relationship to each other. And, again, it’s the amazing attention to detail that’s going into Blood Blockade Battlefront. They didn’t have to put Chain or K.K. in those shots, but they did. Thank you, Matsumoto and BONES.

~Turning Up the Cool~

The last little bit I want to talk about here is Blood Blockade Battlefront‘s unabashed “cool mode,” which crops up right as Steven announces the plan to Leo. Yes, indeed, the lovable dweebs of Libra are ready to swing into action and the show lets you know it immediately. This about as close as BBB has gotten to unjustifiably “cool” shots, but at this point in the story it’s very much time for shots that just look cool to take over and so, for a brief few moments, they do. This is more about directorial timing than it is about cinematography; it’s not so much the composition of the shots that makes them cool (although that’s part of it) as it is the fact that, in the exact moment that Libra sheds their dorky skins to join together and stop a threat, we suddenly see them as the superhumans they are.

(Image of Zapp included only to make the gallery even. Zapp’s a little stinker.) [3]


[1] Oh my gosh, such huge props to Satomi Koorogi (Chuu Chuu from Revolutionary Girl Utena) for what was a genuinely inspired vocal performance as Aligura. The hyper-squeaky voice filled with incredible treble spikes was one thing, but the variety of vocal inflections throughout the performance and chilling serious moments added a ton to the character and wow, I would listen to her as Aligura forever and ever.

[2] Incidentally, I know there have been complaints about BBB‘s liberal use of the fog effect, but I’ve been paying attention to when it’s being used in the show for the last few episodes and the pattern seems pretty clear to me. The fog effect almost exclusively shows up when the alterworld or vampires are involved—you know, the places and people having the ability to alter the perception of humans…

[3] I swear I will talk about Leo x White all at once. I promise. I’m not ignoring their story, but I don’t want to talk about it until it’s all done. But, I will say that this episode was pretty special for their relationship—not only because White threw her arm around Leo and touched her head to his and not only because Leo actually asked her out on a date—but because the way BBB used a film to communicate information about both her and Leo brought them closer together as friends and let us, the audience, understand better the similarities between these two lovable kids.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

9 thoughts on “Blood Blockade Battlefront, Episode 5

    • It’s such a fun episode! And thanks! I never really thought the fog was all that intrusive in the first place, but for a show where everything else is so deliberate, I figured that must have been, as well.

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  1. That WhitexLeo hug was adorable, hell their whole relationship is built on adorableness somehow. And, while Zapp continues to be a “dick suck” in the show’s own words, I do like how even now it seems like he’s deliberately staying close to Leo. Sometimes it seems to be just to be an ass but it seemed like he was going to take his chances with Hummer and Brody’s second punch to help make sure Leo got out of it.

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    • Yeah, they’re stinking cute. Very tough competition for Yamada and Urara.

      Oh, that’s an interesting way to read Zapp sticking by Hummer and Brody. I thought he was just sulking by them after Chain and K.K. gushing over him haha—thus the scowling faces he was making the whole time.

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      • They are tough compeition but I think Yamada and Urara edge them out since they’re even more forward in their relationship (well, Shirashi is anyway ^^;).

        And that’s totally a reading on it but since I don’t see Zapp putting himself in harm’s way often I don’t think that’s totally it (although he did jump out of the way just in time, but we see him sticking pretty close to Leo in most of the episodes so far, Leo does need it considering he’s gotten kidnapped every other episode so far….)

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    • It really is! Rie Matsumoto is clearly more talented than a lot of the male directors in the industry—hopefully she’ll open the doors for many more talented women to come in a direct great stuff.

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  2. This was such a great episode. I want to throw a whole bunch of adjectives at it like amazing and thrilling and hilarious and awesome but I feel like all of them fall short. It was just so good. The pacing was particularly excellent. I loved Aligura. I hope we see more of her soon. I also really enjoyed the introduction of Dog Hummer (quite a name) and Deldro Brody. I think there’s a lot of potential with that character dynamic, the way they have come to terms with their situation and clearly have a unique relationship. I hope to see more of them too.

    Man, I’m going to be so bummed when this show ends.

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