Yasuhiro Nightow – Dark Horse – 2012 – 2+ volumes

After Trigun crashed and burned in a major way at the end of the series, I was very surprised when Blood Blockade Battlefront wound up being… well, understandable. In fact, I loved the first volume, which I was not expecting. The Cthulhu-like takeover of New York City is super-interesting, not only because I like the weird monsters and situations that pop up, but also because Nightow’s action scenes have gotten much better since Trigun as well. That was another stumbling point at the end of the series, that I couldn’t tell what was going on. Not so for Blood Blockade Battlefront.

In the two volumes I read, the only part I had trouble understanding was the set-up to the first story in this volume. Libra’s leader is, for some reason, playing escort for a celebrity in a game with a kind of Cthulhu crime leader. That he is an escort is not explained, so I was confused about what was going on for about half of the story. I was still a bit unclear about how the celebrity got the gig playing the crime leader in this game, or why he required an escort.

The rest of that chapter was fantastic, though. The Libra leader, Klaus, constantly plays the Cthulhu variant of chess, and the depiction of this game is utterly fantastic. It’s what a fantasy-themed boardgame of the future should be. I mean, the monster folds time and space to play it, and it taxes the mind to the point where the player risks going insane every time they play. But Klaus is up to the challenge. It’s so good.

Plus, I liked the suspense-minus-action story. The boardgame is played as a means to get information from the Cthulhu monster that enjoys playing it, so there are action scenes before and after the boardgame war. But that’s what I’ll remember most about this volume.

The second half of the volume is about fighting vampires. Blood Blockade Battlefront is better than that, though, so the vampires are hunted by the bright aura they give off that only Leonard, the main character can see. They wind up chasing them into some sort of crazy vampire pit. Their consultant on this case has been cursed by Cthulhu monsters to have bad luck, but as he is agile enough to avoid the plentiful accidents that happen around him, it’s those that he travels with that have to be weary.

I don’t know, there are just so many good ideas in this series, and I love that they are just dashed off one right after the other. It’s pretty great for that reason alone. There are a lot of action scenes, and while Nightow can draw a fantastic action scene, that’s the least exciting thing about this series. It’s really the bizarre world that’s sustaining the story at this point, and that’s good enough for me.

Yasuhiro Nightow – Dark Horse – 2011 – 1+ volume

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but in my mind, Trigun and Hellsing are inextricably linked. Both comics ran in the same Japanese magazine (Young King Ours), both started around the same time, and both had popular anime that were very popular in the US at the same time. Both Trigun and Hellsing were picked up for English translation at the same time by the same US publisher. Both comics finished their 10-year runs within a year of each other. And now, both creators have started a new series a few years later. Once again, Dark Horse is publishing them both, and both volume 1s came out the exact same month last year.

The thing was… I started off as Trigun’s biggest fan. Somewhere in the bowels of the internet, I have an abandoned Trigun fansite. I wore out my VHS tapes watching the episodes over and over again. I prayed nightly for the manga to be translated into English, or even for a script or summary to surface on the internet… anything. But by the end of Trigun Maximum, I had no idea what was going on with the plot of that series anymore. I wanted to like it badly, but not even I could make heads or tails of it. It saddened me a great deal.

Conversely, I loved Hellsing all the way through. I love Hellsing far more than any sane person should. I didn’t watch the anime until after I’d finished the manga, so all my love is for the comic.

So, when Yasuhiro Nightow and Kohta Hirano released new series, I read Hirano’s first, since I loved Hellsing so much. Alas, I hated the first volume of Drifters with a passion. And if I hated Drifters that much, what chance does Blood Blockade Battlefront stand? Even the name is way more ridiculous.

What that long, tangential story means is that I put off reading this because I absolutely did not think it was going to be any good. Imagine my surprise when the first volume was… quite delightful, actually.

The setting is completely different. Not just from Trigun, but there just aren’t too many manga that start like this. It takes place in New York City, but after it has merged with another dimension, so the town is shrouded in fog and humans co-habit the city with Lovecraftian horrors. The city is called Jerusalem’s Lot, which is traditionally a home for vampires, but whatever. This is a peaceful co-existence. It’s unclear to me whether anything, human or monster, can enter or leave the city, though outside governments appear to be hostile to the monsters, and the protagonist was said to have “moved into” the city, though it’s implied he may have been taken from just outside the borders.

So, the story starts with the main character, Leo, in a cafe. He works for Lonely Planet as a travel writer, but doesn’t make a whole lot of money at it. Suddenly, a tiny monkey demon steals the camera from around his neck, and he has to chase it to get back what is essentially his livelihood. But then he finds himself in the middle of a very violent bank robbery, headed by a very large monster. A loud man shows up, beats the bank robber, then drags Leo with him. Turns out the loud man is part of a secret organization that stops bloodthirsty creatures from harassing humans illegally. In this volume, the organization, Libra, stops a ring of monsters who are smuggling human bodies for consumption, along with a madcap scheme by Femt to destroy the whole town.

So. Various members of Libra can do various things. The branch that Leo works for has three other members. Two can form weapons out of their blood, and the other is super-quick. All three are good fighters. Leo is not. Leo isn’t brave, and he doesn’t know anything about benevolent or evil monsters. The other members have to protect him when something happens. But Leo can see, due to the way he was drawn into Jerusalem’s Lot. His eyes can see through the illusion magic the monsters use, and he can also see super-quick movements. The other members of Leo don’t have this ability, so Leo has to spot trouble, while the others neutralize it. Leo makes for a great main character since he is literally an average joe. No money, no excess of courage in a pinch, and he’s definitely not trying to make friends with the other Libra members.

So far, it’s a great series. I’m intrigued about Jerusalem’s Lot, and would love more details about the whole dimension merge situation. Leo makes for a good protagonist for all the crazy stuff that goes on, and the sense of humor and extreme violence carry over from Trigun, except this time it’s more clear what’s going on. Only one of the action scenes was confusing to me, and even that lasted only one page. I couldn’t be happier with this right now.

I’m also glad I waited a bit to read it, because now I have less than a month to go before I can pick up volume 2. Hooray!