When Blassreiter started airing in April, I suppose I wasn’t the only one to ignore it, but why is that? Wait, isn’t it obvious? Just two damn words are all it takes.
In recent years, despite the odd exception, their name has become synonymous with bland, conventional, boring anime. Hence, somewhat unfairly, I had Blassreiter pegged from the start as one to avoid, as a dumb, generic action series. For a while, that seemed to be working just fine, no-one was talking about it, really, especially as The Tower of Druaga, Blassreiter‘s video streaming partner on the likes of YouTube and Crunchyroll, was attracting the admiration of many. Alas, everything changed when I read this timely review at Sea Slugs!; according to them, Blassreiter wasn’t as bad as first thought. It was a surprise for them, and that was enough for me, the mere idea of someone actually enjoying Blassreiter was sufficient enough reason to intrigue, especially as I had expected nothing less than abject failure. Suddenly, excitement had gripped me. This was a new series to watch, a series I knew nothing about, another obscure little adventure.
[12 episodes later.]
I expected a dumb, generic action series, and there is no denying it, Blassreiter is stupid, unoriginal and adrenaline-fuelled. Yet I loved it, because it is fun, exciting and compelling, a kind of back to basics, refreshingly straight-forward action anime that is stylish, well animated and thoroughly well crafted. It harkens back to something like Gungrave, an unashamedly action-packed story that mixes tried-and-tested themes of science-fiction and horror with melodramatic, serious characters. Like Gerd Frentzen.
Note that Blassreiter is set in Germany. Not that this is important, but that’s a relatively exotic locale for anime, right? Anyway, the square-jawed Gerd Frentzen is a champion motorcycle racer who, in the very first episode, has a terrible crash on the circuit and is paralyzed from the waist down. His career is finished in an instant, his life left in tatters, but just as all hope seems lost, a voluptuous scientist, having mysteriously lurked forth from the shadows, springs our vulnerable Gerd in the throes of absolute despair to offer him a delicious reprieve; “Swallow this pill and you’ll be healed!” Suffice to say, she is not exactly telling the truth.
In any other series, Gerd might be the (anti) hero, but six episodes in, he dies. It’s the first in a long line of surprising deaths, but this illustrates an important point, that no-one is safe in Blassreiter. Rather, this is apocalyptic science fiction in the vein of another personal favorite, Wolf’s Rain. The first half of the series concludes at the end of episode 12, an iconic, exhilarating episode, but true to form, this isn’t a happy end. In fact, when a bomb is literally dropped on top of our escaping heroes, via a tearful old comrade no less, such is the sense of hopelessness that one suspects that the end of their world might not be such a remote possibility after all.
Blassreiter is the kind of series where, when a character dies, he has just enough energy left to offer one last, melodramatic speech. I know you might be rolling your eyes, I suppose it is a tad cliche, but regardless, it’s a nice touch, I think, and lends some meaning to that end, conjuring a really quite potent pathos with a sense of tragic beauty. This is a show with colorful motorcycles, huge guns, hulking monsters and military maneuvers, it is stylish, macho and serious, but without that pathos, the rest is merely superficial. I never anticipated caring this much about the characters in Blassreiter, but I do, undeniably, I do. It won’t win awards, but it is solid, exciting and compelling, and that is so much more than I dared hope for.