MVM already have some great titles lined up for 2008, but for true crossover appeal Witchblade has to be the pick of the bunch. Based on an American comic franchise and produced by the seemingly omnipresent anime studio Gonzo, Witchblade certainly looks interesting too.
Despite being based on an American comic series, the anime of
Witchblade introduces an entirely new cast, setting and story for the
franchise. As with the other incarnations the story revolves around the
titular Witchblade, a legendary symbiotic weapon of immense power that
can only be wielded by women. The Witchblade appears at various
times in history and finds a new host for its power, activating when the need
arises, seemingly at the cost of the wielder's clothes. In a near future
Japan a massive earthquake leaves the country decimated, but right at its
epicentre a young woman and her child miraculously survive. The woman,
Masane Amaha, has completely lost her memory and only her maternity book proves
she is the child's mother. As the series starts the pair come to Tokyo in
search of a new life, but the Department of Child Welfare have other ideas.
They want to take Masane's daughter Rihoko into care, and the pair's desperate
attempts to escape them lands Masane in jail. However, she doesn't stay
there for long. She survived the earthquake because the Witchblade
chose her as its host, and when a monstrous mechanical creature tries to attack
her in jail, the Witchblade's power is released. Now with the power
of the Witchblade, Masane soon finds she is the centre of even more
unwanted attention. The Doji Group claim to own the Witchblade and
want her to work for them, they offer her the chance to live with her daughter
unaccosted, but what are their aims? And can Masane really afford to
I must admit that I didn't know much about Witchblade when I first watched this, but luckily it doesn't expect you to. With a new cast and story to introduce, Witchblade avoids the usual trap of spin-offs by actually providing some background to both the story and characters. Masane and Rihoko are likeable leads, both are vulnerable in the earthquake ravaged Tokyo, but they simply want to be left alone to live their own lives. Masane is kind hearted but ditzy, and is often more childish and impulsive than her daughter. She seems
like the last person who'd have the power of the Witchblade, but when it takes hold of her she becomes a different person entirely. With the Witchblade activated she craves battle and gets a thrill out of facing increasingly strong opponents. It's a side of her personality she wishes to keep from her daughter, but how long can she hide what's happening?
You get the impression whilst watching these first few
episodes that the pair's gentle naivety is going to land them in a whole heap of
trouble. The Doji Group seems to be rather benevolent at the moment, but
you know there's something sinister going on behind the scenes. Masane's
job for them is to clear up humanoid biomechanical weapons that they were
developing before the earthquake. After the earthquake hit large numbers
of these weapons went missing and have gone to ground in Tokyo, they are hard to
find as they look human and only manifest their powers occasionally, but always
to murderous effect. Conventional weaponry seems pretty useless against
them, but the Witchblade goes through them like a knife through butter.
Whilst this cleanup seems to be quite noble it does throw up a lot of
questions. Why was Doji manufacturing these massively powerful (and
decidedly messy) weapons? And why have the victims of these weapons always
been linked to the National Scientific Welfare Agency? The plot thickens
towards the end of the volume with further enemies coming to the fore, and it's
starts to become clear that Masane could be a pawn in a much bigger conflict.
This all sounds like a pretty standard anime setup, and to be honest it is. A kind-hearted innocent with a mysterious power getting caught between two factions who want to use the power for their own ends is nothing new. Neither are the mutating enemies, hugely revealing costumes and a little girl who's far too responsible and grown up for someone her age. However, despite this I still found Witchblade highly enjoyable. The characters are decent, if clichéd, whilst the animation is superb. The story moves at a fair pace and
throws in plenty of action as it goes on, but it
retains some human interest. Masane is doing
I'll be the first to admit that there's not too much originality to Witchblade, but it does have style. It's great to see a focus on Masane and Rihoko's normal lives, and when the Witchblade does activate (and Masane loses the vast majority of her clothes in favour of possibly the most revealing armour ever created) there's plenty of slick action to sink your teeth into. At the moment we haven't really got into the meat of the story, but there's enough in this volume to make me think that there will be some good things to come when it does. I will admit that the series doesn't come close to the emotional impact of Manga's 'living-weapon' drama She, The Ultimate Weapon, but Witchblade is more than just the action-horror you may expect. Well worth a look if you like action and drama. Oh, and buxom, scantily-clad, sword-wielding demon women...
A decent amount of extras on here. As well as the clean opening and ending sequence and trailers that are almost standard extras nowadays, there's a promotional video and an interview with Japanese voice actress Mamiko Noto. Also on offer is a video tour of Top Cow Studios, the American creators of the Witchblade franchise. Impressive stuff.