Director: Yoshimitsu Ohashi
Writer: Yosuko Kobayashi
Animation Studios: Gonzo
Version Watched: Subbed
A little while ago a friend of mine suggested I watch Witchblade, an anime inspired by an American comic of the same name. They weren’t prepared to guarantee the quality of the show, so this was a recommendation made from nostalgia and as such I was a little wary going into it. That wariness was well deserved, as initially the show was simply average and I was close to dropping it about half way through. I was encouraged to persevere, however, and sitting here now I’m really glad I did. Despite some confused and poorly fleshed out plotlines, Witchblade has some intense emotion lying in store for its watchers behind heart-warming character relationships. Its faults aren’t easy to ignore but, for me at least, the payoff was worth it.
Masane Amaha lost all of her memories during the Great Tokyo Quake, waking up with only her baby daughter, Rihoko, and maternity book to point to her identity. Years later, the mother-daughter pair return to the city to start a new life together, though Rihoko’s mature, collected nature might have you confuse her for the parent instead of Masane’s scatterbrained hot-headedness. Happiness will be hard to find, however, as the other remnant from the Quake remains firmly attached to Masane’s wrist – the legendary Witchblade. Artificially engineered superweapons, mega-corporations and government agencies are all after the power of this mysterious artefact, while the only thing Masane cares about is providing for her daughter.
I think Witchblade is the only anime series I’ve seen with a single mother as its protagonist. Different is good, and this particular difference is a major asset that the narrative makes good use of. The relationships within the show are not its focus but are in my opinion its most rewarding aspect. Characters complement each others’ personalities well, with each individual’s motivations and thought patterns remaining consistently human throughout the production. Additionally, the second half is packed with emotion in all the right ways and concludes beautifully, which is praise I don’t get to give very often.
So why did I nearly stop watching? While the ending managed to grip me effortlessly, the first season left much to be desired. There are several plotlines the series tries to juggle and it does so poorly, with introduced characters and issues going unexplored for episodes at a time and thereby losing relevance until all of a sudden they pop back in and become important again. Even when a particular thread is pursued by an episode it seems to stagnate without offering anything meaningful to the watcher, and that’s where Witchblade falls down for me (not to mention the several plot holes that pop up). You could certainly argue that this dull period is necessary to build connections with characters and build suspense, and I would probably agree with you, but unfortunately that doesn’t stop it from bordering on boring for an extended period of time.
Animation-wise Witchblade wobbles back and forth between good, decent and really quite poor, though for a slightly older anime it looks very nice overall. Anyone who’s seen pictures from the series may be worried about fan service, though I’m pleased to report that it’s a relatively minor aspect beyond some admittedly skimpy costumes; it never gets in the way of more important things (except finding decent pictures for this review). You might expect lots of action in a series with super-powered weapons but it’s mostly absent and over quickly when it shows up, which is unfortunate because it could have spiced up the slower beginning episodes. I have no complaints about the accompanying music, though it doesn’t particularly stand out either.
Summary – Witchblade’s value depends on what you’re looking for when you watch it. If you want something that’s action-packed or has intricate and well-managed plotlines you’ll be out of luck, but if you’re a sucker for character development and emotional relationships you’ll find its slower portions well worth trudging through. Overall I’m thankful for both the suggestion to watch and encouragement to continue, because the series’ latter episodes were a valuable experience (that may or may not have caused my eyes to sweat).
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable