Guys, I think I made a mistake trying to cover this show. Never before have I encountered a show that I love so much, yet struggle so hard to understand. Every episode feels like it’s teeming with details I’m missing, pieces of the proverbial puzzle slipping right past my mind. Which probably just shows how surprisingly intricate and well made Kekkai Sensen is. Even after 10 episodes, the show is still just as surprising and beautiful as it was at the beginning. I feel strangely unqualified to try to decipher this. Still, I’ll try my best, so let’s dive on in!
Now I’m going to be quite honest with you, I don’t really think Kekkai Sensen is complex thematically. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. Like Trigun, it’s very much a simple shonen action show that’s supported by interesting moral messages of self-sacrifice and, in the case of Kekkai Sensen’s adaptation, family values. What makes Kekkai Sensen feel complex though is the way it’s presented. A lot like Rie Matsumoto’s previous directorial work Kyousougiga, the story’s exposition is delivered in a way that walks a very fine line between being a reward for paying extra attention to the show’s content and pure obfuscation. Story details can fly right over your head while watching an episode, but everything is still presented well enough that it makes sense even without picking up the little details hidden in the cinematography. Basically, the basic plot is visible, but it rewards viewers for being more engaged with what’s happening on screen.
A perfect example of this is pretty much any scene with Black and White. Being anime original characters, Matsumoto and her team of writers clearly had a lot of fun making the pair of siblings seem as mysterious as possible. Everything they say is a hint at their past, and most of their flashbacks help bring the pieces together, but unless you’re trying to deliberately connect the pieces you won’t really understand what’s going on. When I got up to episode 8, I was extremely intrigued by Black and White’s story, but I felt like I was missing something. Black talked about White having heart problems, he had a weird alternate ego, and I wasn’t quite sure what any of the brief flashbacks to his parents being engulfed in fire meant. And it wasn’t until I read other people’s analyses that I began to understand some of the things that were going on underneath the surface. The reason the scene of exposition about casters was juxtaposed with Black and White’s parents being engulfed by fire is because it was supposed to imply their parents were casters who helped create Hellsalem’s Lot.
It’s those little things that make the narrative of Kekkai Sensen a lot more interesting than most other action shows; and like Kill la Kill it has that kind of passionate, multi-layered execution that makes the show’s initially simple concepts more effective than they should be. Of course, like I said before, this style only works when the main story is understandable even without the subtle exposition. Sadly, this isn’t always consistent in Kekkai Sensen, like in episode 9 where the dialogue becomes pure confusing bait. While the main plot of the episode is fighting the literal second half of the previous episode’s Blood Breed, it’s interspersed with scenes where a possessed Black spouts questions and strange phrases that even seem to have Femt baffled. Meanwhile there’s a couple more flashbacks to White and Black’s childhood which help make things slightly clearer, but everything is still vague as all hell. Not only is this episode less coherent as a result, but it may leave some viewers angry. Personally, I was fine with this because I knew the next few episodes would probably answer my questions, but I can definitely understand why someone would be frustrated by this show’s constant smoke and mirrors.
However, even with all those complaints, I don’t think that’s the biggest problem that Kekkai Sensen has. In fact, the only problem I’d consider detrimental is the series’ structure, which is a bit lopsided. You see, for the most part Kekkai Sensen is broken up into episodic adventures, which consist of hints at the overall plot and action/comedic antics. It actually feels a lot like Cowboy Bebop, in that it’s a set of very fun collection of stand alone episodes that help build up the story’s main themes and plot, even if they’re not directly propelling it forward. Now I loved this structure in Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, but with Kekkai Sensen it ends up muddling things somewhat. Not necessarily because it doesn’t work per say, but because there isn’t enough room to breath here.
Kekkai Sensen twelve episode run time just does not allow much room for these kind of one off side stories, whereas Cowboy Bebop had enough episodes to create fun diversions and flesh out its main cast. Here in Kekkai Sensen, the large of cast of characters feels like wasted potential, sure they have enough personality to make them likable and fun, but there is no episode purely focused on one character’s backstory or development. Except for maybe Klaus, Leonardo, White, and Black, most of the cast feels underexplored and full of missed opportunities. In an ideal world this show would be a split cour or a twenty five episode series, but alas we live in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. It makes me sad, because the creators clearly love this material, and I’m interested in seeing what Chain, K.K., and the other members of Libra are like outside of their very limited story roles.
In spite of these complaints though, I still think Kekkai Sensen is a must watch show. It may not immediately hook you by the seat of your pants, but this series is interesting enough artistically that anyone could get some enjoyment out of it. Whether it be the gorgeous visuals or the simple yet poignant story, Kekkai Sensen is shaping itself up to be a show I’ll remember and love for a long time coming. Currently though, a large part of the series’ success rests on the indefinitely delayed final episode. The grand finale will ultimately decide whether or not Kekkai Sensen is satisfying romp, or a slightly underwhelming gem. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be very disappointed in the final product.