Sometimes it is hard to sum up something in just one sentence. BlazBlue: Alter Memory made it all too easy, and not in a good way. You can’t please everybody, but BlazBlue fails to please anyone at all.
BlazBlue has an interesting narrative concept, based on the best-selling fighting video game series. It is a world caught in a never-ending Groundhog Day loop, where only a few characters are aware of the loop. Some are looking to shatter it into little pieces. The main character, Ragna the Bloodedge, is an outlaw at the center of the loop and who has never been able to get out of it. The loop always resets in a climactic showdown between Ragna and the android Nu-13, whose murder-suicide intentions always get the best of Ragna. However, this changes with the interference of a young lieutenant named Noel Vermillion (who bears uncomfortable similarity to Nu-13), who unexpectedly saves Ragna before this loop can occur once again. As a result, the loop is broken (for the moment), and everyone is suddenly entering uncharted territory.
This narrative, unfortunately, is muddled and confusing in anime form. It takes playing all of the routes in the games (or, alternatively, spending hours reading an online BlazBlue encyclopedia) to discover the true narrative and what is occurring. It is difficult to translate this into an anime, especially one that is only 12 episodes long. This adaptation adapts the first two games of the series, Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, but only the first two episodes are devoted to Calamity Trigger, with the rest almost entirely dedicated to the sequel game. The writers (Deko Akao and Tetsuya Takahashi) made a mistake in doing this. It’s understandable to want to skip to the sequel as it gets the time loop issue out of the way, instead devoting itself to the arguably more exciting aftermath when anything can happen. Also understandably, the zillions of routes and possibilities are pared down to Ragna’s, Noel’s, and semi-villain Jin Kisaragi’s.
However, skipping Calamity Trigger means that no one other than established fans will see a worthwhile introduction to any character, including Ragna, Noel, and Jin (especially as Jin spends much of the time after the first episode too wounded to do anything). It’s not even immediately clear that a time loop is in play; it is only obvious if you have explored the story of the games. This doesn’t get any better later, as BlazBlue: Alter Memory outright forgets to mention why Ragna is sparing a rather despicable villain rather than just ending him before the villain can lash out at someone else (and, unsurprisingly, that is exactly what happens). There is a logical explanation in the games, but the anime is nonsense to anyone unfamiliar with the games’ storyline. The final four episodes are a complete mess, with several gambits and betrayals piling up all at once on top of several pure continuity failures, like a character suddenly switching uniforms right after a defeat despite having no way of doing so.
Perhaps this could have been fixed with another 12 episodes, so more time could be devoted to Calamity Trigger and to flesh outÂ Continuum Shift further. Or perhaps the project was ultimately doomed from the get-go, especially as even the ten episodes given to Continuum Shift still aren’t enough to achieve any sort of worthwhile impact. It’s like reading a Cliff’s Notes of the Cliff’s Notes: reduced and simplified to the point where you have only a vague idea of what’s going on, but always sense that you don’t quite get it. There’s simply no chance to understand even the main characters and their motivations. They’re just doing what they do, for whatever reasons they have. Or maybe they’re just they’re insane. The director, Hideki Tachibana, enlisted the assistance of industry veteran Seiji Mizushima to try to pull this series off, but even their combined efforts can’t make this series stand out at all.
Perhaps this would have been more forgivable if BlazBlue: Alter Memory looked flashier. At least in that case, it would be like watching an epic re-enactment of your favorite matches from the games. However, the animation, outside of some fluid smoke effects, tends to be as stiff as a board. Fans of the games mocked many of the off-model moments in the original broadcast; it seems that an effort was made to fix those for this physical release, but not much was done to help overall fluidity. The first fight in the series, when the animation team should be showing off their best skills to suck the viewer in, sets the wrong sort of tone as all of the typical shortcuts witnessed in anime to reduce costs are employed. It doesn’t get any better from there. The best the series is able to achieve is “slightly better than mediocre”, which is not desirable considering this is an action show. Poor choreography and too many cutaways serve to make the fights difficult to follow and robs them of high-octane impact. The rather blah drawings also make highly stylish characters like Ragna, Noel, Tsubaki, etc. lose quite of bit of their respective cool factors. The only part where the animation team seems to have any fun is when Hazama goes stark raving insane and starts channeling the Joker, and there’s not enough of that to redeem all of the letdowns.
The audio is better, but it’s not quite enough. The opening and ending themes, “Blue Blaze” by faylan and “Reincarnation Blue” by Aira Yuki are pleasant enough from an audio standpoint, but neither of them have inspired visuals to help make them memorable. Well, other than “Blue Blaze” getting better visuals than the series itself, but that’s not saying an awful lot. The background music, by Arte Refact, does the best it can do to inject energy into the proceedings (sometimes too hard, there are multiple scenes of pure conversation punctuated by violent guitar riffs). Fans will pick out several themes from the video games getting rearrangements here, which is the unquestionably right decision, showing that even this broken “wheel of fate” can still turn enough be right twice a day.
BlazBlue: Alter Memory‘s English dub brings back nearly everyone as of the third game in the series (this means Steve Kramer is the voice of Bang Shishigami, not Tony Oliver). The only two exceptions are multi-personalitied Platinum the Trinity (voiced by Laura Bailey in the games) and Jubei (likewise, Ezra Weisz). ADR Director Patrick Seitz finds suitable replacements; Alexis Tipton does rather convincing imitations of the three voices Bailey needed to do for Platinum’s personalities, and Kirk Thornton takes an original route for Jubei that is still fitting.
For the rest of the dub, the voice actors are well-used to their roles by now and do the best that they can with the material. The only voices I really have problems are those I’ve never liked from the games to begin with (Cristina Vee’s Noel Vermillion/Nu-13 & Lauren Landa’s Litchi are both miscast and no amount of experience in the roles will fix that). My favorites include Julie Ann Taylor, does a great job sounding like two entirely different people as unrelated characters Kakonoe and Tsubaki, and Doug Erholtz, who has the time of his life unleashing the ham as Hazama in the final episodes. I hope Erholtz is considered for voicing the Joker in future Batman productions, because this was really something. Overall, the dub is entertaining but can’t lift up the material. Strangely, both Taokaka and Iron Tager are uncredited in the English dub, but it’s obvious that both of their original voice actors returned.
Patrick Seitz wrote the dub scripts himself in addition to directing, and he makes two interesting deviations from the Japanese script. The first one is that the dialogue tends to be more direct and confrontational as opposed to the more meandering dialogue in the Japanese version. This choice is arguably better, as it is based on a fighting game after all, and you would expect the characters to be more eager to go at it. The second one is that gamer slang like “Pro tip” peppers a lot of the dialogue during the fights, which can be distracting at its worst. It’s up to you in the end whether these creative choices work or not; I like the decision to make the characters sound a bit more aggressive when fighting with each other (it’s just logic), but I find the gamer slang mostly annoying and not really contributing anything.
The Japanese version, for its part, brings everyone back regardless of how large or small their role ultimately is in this anime. Much like the English dub, it operates like clockwork, everyone used to their characters and making a professional go at it. The only issue I have with the Japanese version from a voice standpoint is Kanako Hondou’s Noel/Nu-13 (who both tend to be way too squeaky). Perhaps this reveals that I have a quite different view on what Noel should sound like compared to the Japanese and English directors. However, as mentioned before, the Japanese dialogue is surprisingly limp for a violent show, except for the parts where Hazama absolutely loses it. As a result, the dub actually has more impact in dramatic scenes compared to the Japanese version.
Extras are borderline negligible, lacking even episode commentaries. Just clean opening and closing themes, the US trailer, and the original Japanese trailer.
Overall, the BlazBlue anime adaptation, which was long begged-for by the game producers, is not what anyone was waiting for. BlazBlue: Alter Memory is just a limply-animated show that does a poor job hooking newcomers to the franchise or providing anything interesting for long-time fans. This series’ ultimate fate is the eternal dust-bin of poor video game adaptations.