#1 A horror-esque setting
Stories about special days or times where our reality overlaps with the supernatural are plentiful across history and urban legend. Kekkai Sensen is an anime that explores this idea taken to its extreme; one day, literal “all hell” breaks loose over New York City, releasing all kinds of monsters and supernatural nonsense into our world. Life promptly goes on as usual.
Hellsalem’s Lot, as it is now known, is a melting pot between cultures from across dimensions. Its atmosphere is drenched in the jazzy feel of mid-20th century American city life, but its residents are a mix of Humans, monsters, and anything in-between. It’s a place where all kinds of people & creatures can eat in the same diner together or where a 6-eyed, Lovecraftian creature can be found busking outside a tram station. It’s bizarre, yet deeply interesting.
However, it is also a place of such danger that people take extreme violence for granted. Tram lines casually disclose their survival rate, random battles break out all across the city on a daily basis, and going to the wrong restaurant may mean you get served food that will try to eat you back. There is friendship and unity to be found in Hellsalem’s Lot, but there’s no denying that the place is also home to much violence, crime, and intrigue.
In short, a fascinating setting for an anime like this.
#2 Diverse characters
The character-design for this series deserves special praise. The monster-like inhabitants of Hellsalem’s Lot look fantastic, drawing inspiration from aliens, demons, insects, and many other themes. This includes my favorite side-character who is basically a chubby fungus on tiny legs. There’s a constant drive to come up with new designs and ideas, even for minor characters and background folks where the effort is hard to even notice.
However, just pointing at all the cool monsters would sell the designers short. Its human characters are no less appealing, with New Yorkers that cover all kinds of builds and skin tones. Combined with the supernatural characters, this causes any crowd in Kekkai Sensen to look dynamic and interesting.
Fans of diversity in anime like myself will also be pleased to know that this reaches beyond just set-dressing. Within Libra, the faction that the story centers around, we got a similar mix of white, POC, and monster characters that star in major roles and get ample development.
#3 Shounen feel
Studio Bones taking on an action series is always cause for excitement. While comparatively underrated, I’d say that Kekkai Sensen is a series that’s worthy of standing besides other Bones works like My Hero Academia and Soul Eater.
The action scenes are kick-ass stuff. Every member of Libra has amazing powers, which are presented with much fanfare and animated spectacularly. Besides plain, ol’ fighting, the anime also loves to experiment with different types of conflict and knows how to drum up hype for those. For example, one episode centers around an otherworldly variant of chess, which became one of the most exciting, memorable storylines of the first season.
Besides hype, Kekkai Sensen also captures the lighthearted side of shounen. There’s a bunch of lovable comedy in here, thanks to goofy animations, funny characters, and witty visual gags. It’s not overbearing either, so those on the fence about shounen anime may want to check this out as well.
#4 Libra’s dynamics
Speaking of comedy, I was really fond of the dynamics between the characters that make up Libra. This is an organization of heroes dedicated to protecting the city against the most powerful dangers of the supernatural world, like vampires and evil overlords. They are some of mankind’s most remarkable people and, unsurprisingly, a tad eccentric.
Their unique personalities give way to entertaining relationships and sharp dialogue. Zapp Renfro is a playboy who can worm his way into the bed of any woman in Hellsalem’s Lot, but who gets pushed around effortlessly by the women he works with. Klaus is a respected leader whose unrestrained civility catches people by surprise, and the duo of K.K. and Steven A. Starphase make for near-unbeatable partners, safe for the fact that they can’t stand one another.
Then there is Leonardo Watch; the series actual protagonist, who is a young dude that gets caught up in Libra’s affairs when he suddenly finds himself inheriting special powers. He makes an effort to get along with everybody in Libra, but struggles with the realization that mankind’s greatest protectors are also a bunch of erratic goofs.