Actually, Blassreiter is quite good

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.

Studio Gonzo.

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.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

19 thoughts on “Actually, Blassreiter is quite good”

  1. I’ve always wondered why I’m wary of gonzo shows – after all, with the exception of Gravion (which I’ve avoided like the plague), they never do anything that’s universally bad. I’ve just finished Last Exile and enjoyed every episode, even (at a stretch) the ending; Saikano was traumatic, but only because the character drama was so powerful.

    I think watching a Gonzo show is like getting a school report consisting of As and Es with nothing in between; it’s frustrating because you wind up with such polarised, mixed feelings from watching them excel at one aspect and fail at another. It seems the studio can’t multitask: Welcome to the NHK and Speed Grapher had interesting concepts and decent storylines; and yet the visuals were so bad they distracted from what the series did right. When they are given a big budget, the script is clunky and derivative and the plot is rubbish (I’m surprised Miyazaki didn’t sue over Origin: Spirits of the Past for instance).

    Gonzo are I think at their best when they don’t try to be over-ambitious and stick with modest visuals and concentrate on the story (Saikano, Bokurano) or do something that isn’t complex but is superficially stylish and entertaining, like Chrono Crusade or Hellsing. I guess Blassreiter falls into this latter category?

  2. I’ve always had that little voice in the back of my head insistently telling me to start downloading Blassreiter, however I’ve yet to compile. Theres just this odd aura to a Gonzo show (Druaga was good and well funded, Bokurano was an utter failure to the many that have gobbled up the manga). I can’t seem to garner any enthusiasm to their shows anymore. After the horrific Speed Grapher (which had spades of potential) fell flat, my patience started to swindle. Greeted by NHK next I was pleasantly surprised at how well produced the first episode was. Imagine my surprise when I had to watch 20 or so odd episodes of animated garbage (it was engaging yes, but boy was it ugly). Gonzo need to shape up and stop using up their entire budget on the first episode as it creates hefty expectations that can’t be reached by (the now) meager Gonzo. K now that I’ve got that out of the way lol, I’ll check this out! Characters dying (not sure who exactly, I try to avoid spoilers) is always a welcome change and Gonzo have had a history of creating memorable deaths. Since everyone seems to be jumping on the “its not so bad” bandwagon, I’ll guess I’ll have to too since I do trust your taste in anime. I’ll test the waters first (first few episodes) cause I know better.

  3. The CGI didn’t work well with the beginning motorcycle race, but it picks up when motorcycles get more sophisticated. Other mecha that are introduced later on are just gorgeous. As for the amalgam models, they pay special attention to them when it comes to individual presentation, the blassreiters themselves, and 1-on-1 fights; basically the 3D CG stuff that really matters is presented well, even breathtaking at times. 3D models were designed by Nitroplus, so they look very cool.

  4. I was less put off by the idea of it being Gonzo than I was of it being directed by Itano (considering what he’s directed in the past he doesn’t have a good track record). It is unexpected to hear that the series is of redemable quality, but then again Gonzo have a knack for surprising me when I’m expecting the least. While Martin may have earlier pointed out that ‘Welcome to the NHK’ had bad visuals, the underlying concept and story for the show turned out to be spectacular. Something I never would have associated with the studio before.

    I’d like to check this out, but having recently begun watching ‘Xam’d’ among several other shows my viewing shedules probably too busy. Still, will make a note to watch it some time.

  5. @Baka-Raptor: Kind of like the perception that Kaiba is pretentious and artsy, eh? ;)

    @Martin: Pretty much the latter, yes, though I’d put Blassreiter ahead of Chrono Crusade and Hellsing because it delivers some really compelling characters, in addition to all the good superficial stuff. It’s directed by Ichiro Itano, who recently worked on Gantz for Gonzo, and it’s around that level of competance, albeit there’s a lot more action and much less fan-service. It flows like an original anime, with all of the spirit that entails, rather than as a rather clinical manga adaptation. Of course, I think another of the biggest differences is that Blassreiter is definitely aimed at the seinen demographic, as most of the characters are fully grown adults, so it’s a lot easier for me to empathise with them.

    Anyway, I’m really tempted to write a post about Studio Gonzo. They are very interesting. For my money, they have yet to top Gankutsuou, which is a masterpiece. Last Exile was excellent too, but like you said, it rapidly loses steam towards its end; probably needed a 52 episode run.

    @Demian: It’s been on my list for a while, but I needed a good few weeks just to build up enough enthusiasm to give it a try. Keep going, I’m listening! :)

    @Ivy: I can safely say that Blassreiter is the best animated series they’ve produced for some years. I guess they pushed a lot of budget into their flopped theatrical projects (Brave Story, Origin) a couple of years ago and are only now recovering some of that consistency. Having seen series like Last Exile and Gankutsuou, we know what they are capable of.

    Regardless, do give Blassreiter a fair shake. I’ll freely admit that the first few episodes aren’t outstanding, but if you make it up to episodes four/five, the story will start to sink in. The last two episodes I’ve watched (13,14) were some of the best yet, but you definitely have to come through some early mediocre elements to get this far. Just trust me when I say it gets better with each new episode.

    @Anonymous: The CG is distracting at first and doesn’t capture the bright motorcycle races particularly well. I wouldn’t call it horrible, rather it just stands out like a sore thumb. However, you’ll get used to it. I know I did, and I’ve been impressed with how consistently good it looks, much better than something like Macross Frontier, the only problem being that in some cases, the use of CG is very obvious. Regardless, the action sequences are extremely fluid and exciting.

    @Miha: Totally agree. In particular, the snowy graveyard scene depicted in the last few moments of episode 14 were so strikingly beautiful; so much so, in fact, I almost took a snap-shot just for the hell of it.

    @Wildcard: I was wary of Itano’s involvement too, but I’ve critisized him enough in the past to let him off this time! Violence Jack, Angel Cop, this is not. Anyway, you’ll probably benefit from giving yourself time to watch this, it’s the kind of story that is really easily to envelop yourself within, so marathoning it over a week or so would be ideal. Must admit, I’m similarly hording episodes of Xam’d at the moment, another series that is so deep and involving that I want to savour every moment of it.

  6. The idea of a Gonzo Studio related post just makes me “giddy” (can’t think of a better word to express how I feel!). I’ll be waiting in anticipation. hehe

  7. It’s nice to read a blog where they can put aside’s their opinion of gonzo’s work without hearing the pretentious it’s Gonzo and it will suck, of course you did mention it in the op but the review is objective and it’s a nice read. Give credit where its due as I constantly tell myself.

    I will have to disgree somewhat with “Brave story” Being a flop as it did sell around 140,000+ copies. As a children’s show it did what it set up to do, make an entertaining fantasy stories for kids. It doesn’t have to be breathtaking visually not that brave story exhibit low animation but entertaining enough for the viewers its aiming towards which I believed work in this case.

    On a lesser budget than Last Exile and Gankutsuou even Kaleido Star looked good and the story intriguing but that much is expected when you have Junichi Saito working as director.

    There’s one from I do regret is not watching Blassreier in HQ, youtube isn’t the best source but looking at your screens its tempting somewhat to watch it on BOST.

  8. @Ivy: It may take a while, but I hope to meet your expectations! :) Gonzo and Sunrise are two of the most fascinating anime studios in Japan, precisely because they are capable of doing so much, yet so often disappoint. When they do get it right, both are capable of producing masterpieces; Gankutsuou and Planetes are both good examples of that. On the other hand, we have massive disappointments, like Speed Grapher; I so wanted that to be good, but the animation was probably the worst I’ve ever seen in a TV series.

    @zaeris: I haven’t seen Brave Story (or Origin, for that matter), so when I called it a ‘flop’, I wasn’t commenting on its quality, rather I was thinking about its box office, in comparison with the Studio Ghibli movies. Basically, it didn’t seem to have as much of an impact as even something like Gedo Senki, but then again, those DVD sales you’ve quoted are mightily impressive. Regardless, I do want to see Brave Story at some point, it looks good (much better than Origin) and the reviews always seemed to be quite positive.

    And talking of Junichi Sato, have you seen Princess Tutu? That’s definitely the best magical girl anime I’ve seen, albeit I’m limited to a few odd episodes of Sailor Moon and Pretear. Kaleido Star is another of these Gonzo series that I’ve always heard good things about.

    Now, if only there were more hours in the day; I’ve still got so much anime I want to take a look at.

  9. @bateszi

    I have to confess I’m a big Junichi Saito fan myself. As I’ve seen all the aria series, princess tutu, sailor moon and Pretear which hardly anyone mention’s. Sketch Book is one of series he directed which I haven’t finish…. somewhere along the lines I needed a break from number of cats/chicken in the shows.

    While understandable I don’t think studio Ghibli is a good bench mark since it will beat out almost any anime at box office, well anime aimed at older teens. Of course with shows like Eva it’s a miracle sometimes.

    Judging by your screen shots it seems you’re at the half way point. Maybe I’m making too much assumption.

  10. You can count me in as one of the people that doesn’t have anything against Gonzo. Although, I have to say that my favorite show from them is Speed Grapher (yes, I said it and yes I have seen Gankutsuou and Last Exile). I’d like to check out Blassreiter too, if only I had time for it.

  11. @zaeris – Half way is about right. I’m actually up to episode 15 of Blassreiter and my feelings are that it just keeps getting better and better, which is probably due to my growing attachment to the characters. For example, I thought Joseph/Xargin’s back-story was thoroughly poignant and compelling, the best arc of the anime so far. Also, with it being set in Germany, I wonder if all the conflicts/tension between the town nativies and ‘outsiders’ is supposed to symbolise the rise of the Nazi government? That whole aspect of the story seems to be a little bit vague to me.

    Anyway, I suppose, for whatever reason, Blassreiter is just a series that gets me really excited. I’ve loved almost every episode.

    @ThatQuebecGuy – Ahh, time. I used to have that too (hence why this reply is three days late!). In a way, I’m not surprised that you really liked Speed Grapher, it wasn’t a bad show per se (in fact, it’s probably ripe for a rewatch with DVD quality video) but the low budget animation really killed it for me. I reached around episode 4 or 5 before quitting it in disgust at the complete lack of motion on screen. Care to explain why you liked it so much?

  12. I love Speed Grapher mostly for it’s characters; it’s just crazy how much they develop thorough the series, they start out as mostly forgettable and they become so fleshed out it’s almost impossible not too like ’em (or at least I think so). The themes and certain aspects of the show makes it a winner too; like the paternal side of Saiga’s relationship with Kagura (something you won’t come across often in anime), it’s critique of capitalism and materialism and how it leads a large population of Tokyo to become prisoners of their on fetishes and/or obsessions (Ginza is the best example), although none of this is groundbreaking it does adds considerable depth to the anime.

    And of course there is the great soundtrack, the kick ass voice acting (the English dub) and gorgeous art (when it’s not so goddamn inconsistent), I am in love.

  13. I have to say that while the animation quality of Speed Grapher was terrible (it IS bad but at least it’s consistent in its sloppiness) it was really good fun. I think it was just refreshing to see the studio present an interesting idea and push the boundaries of good taste a little. The end result of all that was a show whose social commentary was about as subtle as a punch in the face (a bit like a Steven Seagal movie really) but it’s a break from the norm and once you get past the cheap animation it’s really quite enjoyable. The music’s above average too – it really fits the sleazy, trashy 80s atmosphere. Looking at the visuals, maybe that’s a throwback to the 80s too…

  14. so you’ve seen the episode where XAT was annilihated, i agree it was surprising that blassreiter improved its paced in an instant and We have to admit that it has more potential than we thought before.

    Problem is that episode was the only good thing about the series and after that we have an Anime that is full of cliches, and Yeah Blassreiter SUCKS BAD

    the only good thing here is the Joseph arc (Gerd arc was decent) but rest SUCKS esp episode 20 or so

  15. I was in love with this anime for 6 episodes then as soon as gerd dies, i lost complete interest. im thinking of dropping the series and calling that the end. litteraly he was the life that contained me to the plot. Blue was horribly brought into character and in my opinion since they started with gerd they should have kept him or atleast them both. This sucks Gonzo did a better job but a cut short of happiness in my opinion.

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