Kekkai Sensen centers around the crime-fighting organization "Libra" and their battles in Hellsalem's Lot, formerly known as New York City. Hellsalem's Lot was created in a single night when a portal to the "Beyond" opened, and now it is a paranormal melting pot of monsters, magic, and the everyday mundane city life. It's up to Libra to prevent the horrors of this city from spreading to the outside world.
When mild-mannered Leonard Watch arrives in the city, he's inducted into Libra and things spiral out of control from there.
Pilot serialization ran in Jump SQ from February to April 2009 issues under the title "Kekkai Sensen: Mafuugai Kessha" (血界戦線 ―魔封街結社―), which was later collected in the first volume. Official serialization started next year in Jump SQ.19 Vol.1 (2010/5), and continued until Vol.18, when the magazine was discontinued. Second season, Kekkai Sensen: Back 2 Back, started in the same year in new quarterly magazine Jump SQ.Crown.
The series has been published in English as Blood Blockade Battlefront by Dark Horse Manga since September 14, 2011.
Alright everybody, prepare to read the only review of this manga you're ever going to find. Why's that? Because I'm confident that I may be the only one who actively reads it in the Western Hemisphere. Hopefully that'll now change with the advent of the anime.
Also, if you're looking, no scanlations exist for this, so go out and buy the Dark Horse releases if you want to read it in English (highly recommended)
We're gonna start by talking about the author. Yasuhiro Nightow is one of very few manga authors who is almost completely incomparable in style and content. Nightow is an Americanaphile. He loves
action figures, super heroes, Spawn and American popcorn movies, and all of that shows in his approach to art and writing. While his content is very American, Nightow's method of drawing that content in action is perhaps more Japanese than any Japanese works I've ever read. He generally just doesn't "do" plain square panels or simple dialogue scenes. His paneling is completely unlike most other mangaka, where he relies more on dynamic panels of all size and shape, crazy angles, negative space and very little dialogue, and the reader has to interpret his drawings and how they organically flow into each other to infer what's happening. When you enter into a Nightow work, it's an investment. He is a visual storyteller, and like you reread poetry, you'll reread Nightow's work and each time the action becomes clearer and more rewarding. It's why I enjoy owning BBB and Trigun Maximum so much, I reread them constantly. If you're only getting the story and the dialogue out of his manga, you're only experiencing about 30% of what actually happened.
Now, the manga is Blood Blockade Battlefront, and I guarantee you it's unlike anything else you're going to read, probably ever. It's action-packed. It's hilarious. It's horrifying. It's abstract. It's oddly relate-able. It's a superhero story. It's a slice of life story. It has no plot progression. It has great characterization. It's a cross between Ugly Americans, Hellboy and Durarara!! that's completely off-the-rails.
The story takes place in New York City after a portal to the Beyond opened and turned the place into a hellscape of demons, monsters and the downright abstract. Life is normal. NYC is now a hub where the ordinary and utterly fantastic have lunch next to each other at the diner down the street, and where sometimes the fate of the world is being decided right around the corner. Now called Jerusalem's Lot, it's honestly as much a central character of this series as much as it is the setting. The whole concept of this manga wouldn't work if the city weren't so intricate, yet so completely out of logic's reach at the same time. Nightow goes far out of his way to explore the culture, the locations and the denizens and factions of this place and it never becomes less interesting. His imagination is boundless.
The central movers and shakers here are the members of "Libra," a top-secret crime-fighting outfit that makes sure all the demi-gods and powerful organizations floating around don't destroy the world somehow. They're a band comprised of super-powered misfits, martial artists, vampire hunters, mercenaries and one kid named Leonard. The manga progresses by showing the members of Libra taking on some unwieldy problems beyond imagination (except for Nightow's apparently), such as a giant car-eating monster car rampaging through the city, or someone's brain getting stolen, or trying to find somewhere to eat for lunch in the weirdest city in the universe.
Let's break them down:
Leonard(o) "Watchman Leo" Watch: The protagonist of the series who came to the city to uncover the mystery of why a giant monster came out of an interdimensional vagina to blind his sister and give him the Eyes of God in exchange. Yeah. He's just kind of a normal goober, with the Eyes of God. That is, he has super awesome eyes that can do all sorts of tricks like swapping sight with someone or swapping sight with /everyone/. He's the relate-able human kid who's just trying to adjust when he suddenly becomes part of the supernatural Avengers.
Klaus Von Reinhertz: The other protagonist of the series, the Optimus Prime to Leo's Spike Witwicky (had to look that one up). Klaus is a 7ft tall brick shithouse of gentlemanly strength and serves as Libra's fearless leader. He's kind, honest to a fault, impossibly stubborn and utterly unbreakable. He's possibly not even the most powerful member of Libra, his DEF and HP stats are just through the roof on top of being able to punch your head clean off. I like Klaus, he's an interesting spin on the leader archetype.
Zap Renfro: He's Bender from Futurama, with a sword and fire powers. He's a good "simultaneously competent badass/comic relief" character. Many of the stories feature him and Leo palling around, and in general this character is "the life of the party" when compared to his more professional, moral cohorts.
Chain Sumeragi: The spy of the party, she's an "Invisible Werewolf", a type of being who's able to do all sorts of things like go really, really fast, phase through things and disappear out of existence on a whim. She's normally stoic, but also a bitchy sadist and it's great. She kinda looks like a genderbent Wolfwood.
Stephen A. Starphase: Libra's second-in-command and someone not to be fucked with. A foil to Klaus' obliviousness, he's basically Scarface, but a pretty nice guy on the surface. He has ice-based powers and can kick pretty good.
K.K.: Enter BulletMom. K.K. feels like a Tarantino character, she's a doting, eye patch-wearing mom, and she has lightning guns to shoot you with.
Brody&Hammer: Probably my favorite character(s). One day Doug Hammer was a handsome guy minding his own business, then some crazy bitch mashes a dude named Deldro Brody into a paste and replaces Doug's blood with him. The result is that they are now the BBB version of the Hulk, where Doug can summon Brody from inside himself to form a gigantic exoskeleton to punch things. He/they spend most of their time in jail, and Libra ask for them to be released when something big needs to be punched.
Gilbert F. Alstein: Combat Butler who looks like a mummy. He's Libra's driver and all around great guy. He generally fits the Alfred (Batman)/Norman (Big O) archetype, which is honestly fine, with the added coolness of being functionally immortal.
Zed O'Brien: He's a merman! Mainly a serious foil to Zap's asshatting, he's pretty cool.
The cast feels like a great superhero team. One of my favorite aspects to the characterization in this series is that Nightow doesn't do hamfisted flashbacks. Just like the setting, his methods here are "show, don't tell." We're introduced to most of the cast as if we already know them, and they don't get traditional introduction arcs, and over time through seeing them interact with each other, you learn more about them organically. Each character in BBB is reasonably complex, but they don't have their personal data handed to you in a handy list format. Even Leo, who is the only character with a showcased origin story, has most aspects of his power and their true nature shrouded in mystery. And that's cool, because the series is about the characters and their day-to-day lives, not the exposition.
Blood Blockade flows in mini arcs, or episodes. Some sort of weird problem is happening in Jerusalem's Lot, like a bacteria-sized evil scientist that's making somebody huge for some reason, and some members of Libra assemble to save the day using similarly odd methodologies. These episodes are usually very character-focused and serve to expand on a Libra member's personality or past, or the relationship between two characters. When an arc ends, a new one begins, and the series continues in a very episodic pattern. Though there is definitely over-arching continuity, there is pretty much no hard-set, serious ongoing story. It's a slice of life series, but not the kind you're probably used to. BBB uses its episodic structure to its advantage, keeping things really fresh all the time, and its investment into its own characters and setting makes you want to continue to find out more about them.
On the art: Nightow has some of the best panel flow in the business. His art is completely organic, where panels change shape with what's going on, and action is told entirely visually with little to no supporting dialogue as a crutch. He tackles much more complex, ambitious movements and action sequences than 99% of other mangaka and he deserves props for that. His fights and chase scenes use the environment, background objects, and all sorts of angles and negative space to tell a story. All of his sequences make perfect sense, but you can't half-assedly skim his work and immediately absorb everything that happens like most other manga. The man is a scientist of visual storytelling, and you have to learn and adapt to his style.
The actual designs of characters and environments are fabulous. The author has a signature style for heroes, creatures and mechanical things, and they always look really, really cool and/or out-of-this-world. He puts sharp detail into pretty much everything, while at the same time knowing how to not clutter a panel or a page. He's not very good at drawing 'moe' or women in the traditional anime sense, but it's part of his charm. But man, you can spot a Nightow monster design from miles away, the perfect mix of completely bizarre and clearly functional. Many of Leonard's friends are non-human, and some don't even have faces, but Nightow is still able to give them a full range of emotions, movements and understandable behavior which is very impressive considering that there are plenty of mangaka who can barely emote their human characters.
All of this is why I was surprised when this series got announced for an anime adaption. Not only is it completely obscure, but it's also nigh unadaptable: There's no story, the visuals are too complex, the concept is too abstract, and the action relies heavily on Nightow's skills as a comic illustrator and his panels can't just be copy/pasted into storyboards like Naruto's. That said, the anime is absolutely beautiful and is doing a great job, the manga is however, a completely different experience.
Above all though, this manga is fun. Just plain fun. And that's what it's really trying to be. It's not a Hero's Journey like Trigun or a bullet-riddled revenge tale like Gungrave, it's its own thing: one part superhero comic, one part Seinfeld, one part Pan's Labyrinth, and all parts Nightow.
Blood Blockade Battlefront (also known as Kekkai Sensen) is a manga about Leonard Watch, he is dragged into the city of Jerusalem's Lot and has acquired a power called the "Eye of The Gods;" this makes him see things that others can't. Leonard becomes involved with the group Libra which is a group of supernatural humans, as well as monsters, who help non-humans that the "police" cannot.
The first problem I have with Kekkai Sensen is Leo's "Eye of The Gods," he always discovers a new ability with his eyes almost every volume. This makes it seem like the author can't decide what Leo can or
can't do. In the first volume he could see different things that other couldn't, in another, he can suddenly create illusions, then he can use his power shock people; there seemed to be no end to the limitations of his power. However, no two people have the same power(s).
The next problem is the story, it begins to become pretty random throughout the manga; after the first volume, the plot lacks direction. A new character gets introduced every so often but most conflicts are resolved in one volume. After the first volume, it begins to take on a slice of life "feel."
Despite this, Kekkai Sensen is a funny manga, I laughed as much as I was confused by the seemingly random writing; some of the tangents are quite funny. The characters are well developed, the story was presented well, and reading it was a great experience. I recommend you read this manga if you like serious fighting involving supernatural stuff but also where you can find comedic relief.