Review: BlazBlue Alter Memory

Azure Grimoire! Lift the jinx on fighting game anime!

BlazBlue anime poster

A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment

The wheel of fate is turning!  What’s up ladies and gentlemen, the Inverseman here with another review. This time we’re looking at the anime adaptation of Arc System Works’ popular fighting game series, BlazBlue. With the vastness of the BlazBlue storyline, does the anime live up to the hype? Find out!

For starters, video game anime tend to have a checkered history, fans tend to evaluate them higher than they should from prior familiarity, and new viewers tend to be left in the dark. The story to BlazBlue is known to be complex but also convoluted. However, I believed there to be potential for a good anime if played correctly, but sadly the source material seems to exacerbate the problems instead.

On its surface, the story runs like so: long ago mankind combined magic and science to create Ars Magus, but in the advances came forth the Black Beast who terrorized the land. After its bloody defeat, the Novus Orbis Librarium was established, an all-powerful empire that controls Ars Magus with sinister agendas. The reincarnation of the Black Beast and wielder of the forbidden Azure Grimoire, Ragna the Bloodedge, begins his attacks on the NOL, and so everyone is after the bounty on his head.

BlazBlue anime Ragna vs Nu

Seems simple enough until you throw in a Groundhog Day-esque plot, all-seeing entities, seemingly arbitrary side-plots, clones, and plenty of jargon. The game series’ story is already complicated, but to cram three whole games’ worth of story (each with its own character stories) into twelve episodes is not a recipe for success. Case in point, the first episode rushes through all the events of Calamity Trigger unceremoniously. If you didn’t know anything about the story, you would be completely lost as Ragna goes plowing through most of the main cast and if you somehow kept up, the [first] time loop would have left you in the dust.

That’s only the first episode, and the rest of the story doesn’t fare much better. Most fighting game fans don’t really even spend too much time in story mode, and some ignore it completely, so even the most-intnded audience is lost in the mad dash. I’ve played through and read up on the plot before, so I was hanging in there, but since I haven’t played every entry of the series, there were noticeable gaps in my knowledge base.  I can only imagine it being worse for newer fans, who should always play the newest version instead of older ones.  Alter Memory expects you to have done your homework through at least the first two games (and their myriad expansions), to which it falters.

BlazBlue anime Noel vs Nu

As for the cast, most of the story focuses on Ragna and Noel during the events of Continuum Shift, but we don’t get much character development out of much anyone. Fortunately, the cast remains likable and their characters shine through, but again expect this to fall on deaf ears since a prior fan knows the cast from the games. The anime tries as best as possible to cram in as much of the support cast, but there’s only enough screentime to go around.

Some characters get shoved to the wayside entirely, like Platinum the Trinity (has the soul of one of the Six Heroes inside her) and Carl Clover (son of one of the puppeteer designer of a certain character), but when there are more important plot threads to follow, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s only the minor cast though, even the main cast has its own subplots; with the exception of one episode, there’s no time to take a breath or reflect so just move onto the next major plot point we have to hit. In a way, the game’s story is already too ambitious for its own good, and it’s a fighting game storyline no less. As such, turning several games from this behemoth into a small anime isn’t going to do you any favors.

BlazBlue anime Ragna vs Jin

Seeing this to be a straight adaptation of the first two games and their expansions, I didn’t have much hope for the story, but there were a few more holdouts I had for this adaptation. Since it is a fighting game anime, I hoped the fight choreography to be peerless, but most of the battles follow the generic repeated slashes, occasional clashes, and explosions. With so many moves for each character to call on, you would expect fights to look somewhat more varied, but even the battles themselves are as short lived as they are underwhelming.

Then there’s the soundtrack, which has the game music right inside the anime, from our favorite Daisuke Ishiwatari, no better way to create fanservice than that. Too bad the non-game compositions aren’t as exciting, so you know when the game OST is playing when your ears suddenly perk up. Then there’s the matter of the the anime relying a little too much on the game’s soundtrack, you can only hear the opening measures to “Rebellion” so many times.

The saving grace in all this is the voice acting and script. All the actors and actresses reprise their roles and we have that snappy BlazBlue dialogue fans have come to love. Ragna’s crass attitude and Hazama’s sassy taunts are showstoppers that never fail to put a grin on my face. While visually the show was not impressive, it was a feast for the ears.

BlazBlue Ragna and Lambda

To answer the quote from the beginning of the review, BlazBlue Alter Memory does not lift the curse on fighting game anime adaptations; it kind of stumbles into all the weaknesses video game anime adaptations are infamous for.  The sad part for Hoods Entertainment is that this story could have been good, perhaps as a side-story, alternate universe, new original story, or simply being more focused. There’s more than enough game lore to go around, so a good anime is definitely not impossible; you just need to try something different from your predecessors.

While the adaptation ends with a hook to cover the most recent game, I doubt a second season is on its way. At least I’m now caught up on the story. I can’t recommend this series at all to new fans, and preexisting fans who should be excited will either be scratching their heads or  have an unsatisfying cliffnotes version of a not-half-bad story (for a fighting game). I give BlazBlue Alter Memory a failing grade of 2.0 out of 5. If you want a better way to experience the story is, grab your PS3 and your arcade stick. There’s probably a good summary in Chronophantama Extend that will catch you up nicely anyway. Join me next time when I set sail for the Island of Brotherly Paradise.

Pros

– faithful script and great acting

– A-plus soundtrack from the games

Cons

– story is rushed and speeds from plot-point to plot-point

– confusing plot expects the audience to know every facet of game’s lore prior

– equally rushed character development gives no real time for audience connections

– generic animation and fight choreography

Rating 2/5

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Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

Inverseman

The Inverseman is an evil overlord from an alternate dimension representing humanity's anti-existence who wound up becoming a modest civil servant.

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