30 March 2008 | zhwilliam
A solid anime series
I discovered Witchblade when I happened to catch the first episode on IFC while channel surfing one Friday night. I have been watching it ever since and have seen all the episodes that IFC has shown so far. Witchblade has some stereotypical anime elements to it, but anyone who likes a good drama/action series should look into giving Witchblade a chance.
To provide a little overview the show is set in a future Tokyo and its title comes from the mysterious artifact which is bonded to the show's lead character, Masane Amaha, who doesn't remember anything about her life before an earthquake that devastated Tokyo. Six years have passed and Masane and her daughter Rihoko return to a rebuilt Tokyo to start a new life. It doesn't take long though for numerous incidents (serial killings, interference from a government welfare agency, and subterfuge from mysterious corporations) to converge and reveal to Masane that the artifact is actually an ancient magical weapon, which when danger is near transforms its bearer into a powerful warrior.
Although I like the show so far I have to admit that Witchblade has a few stereotypical anime elements, most obviously that Masane and most of the adult female characters are quite buxom. Though the Japanese writers of Witchblade at least seem to have a sense of humor about this common anime predilection, as the early episodes have more than one in-joke about Masane's looks. Such as when she is at a clothing store looking for a bra and told that the store doesn't carry any big enough for her, and Masane's nickname 'Melanie' comes about when another character takes note of her rather pronounced curves. Of course the criticism of lead female characters being almost impossibly good-looking is certainly not limited to anime, and plenty of live action American movies do the same thing when they cast an Angelina Jolie or Jessica Alba as the lead. Other aspects of the show deserve a bit more criticism though, like the rather complicated storyline and somewhat convoluted plot twists (common to many anime series) which can make Witchblade somewhat difficult to follow for those who don't watch all the episodes. Then there are the instances of characters suddenly acting just plain silly, for no apparent reason other than because the writers wanted to create come additional action in a particular scene (thankfully the silly scenes become less frequent as the series progresses).
Episodes of Witchblade also tend to be somewhat formulaic, generally consisting of some mother/daughter drama with Masane and Rihoko, along with some comic relief from either them (using the tried and true 'daughter is more mature than mother' conceit) or other characters, then some scenes involving the mysterious corporations, and of course one or two fight scenes usually involving Masane in her transformed Witchblade warrior form. In these fight scenes the opponent is typically either a mechanized foe of some kind or a female enemy who has the super powers (and of course the curves) to match the Witchblade transformed Masane. The fight scenes are pretty over the top, too. Not only is there plenty of violence in them but sometimes also sexual overtones (in a not so subtle attempt by the show's writers to compare the thrill Masane feels in battle to sexual excitement), and then there is the outfit of the Witchblade transformed Masane (and the similar outfits of her female enemies) which leaves little to the imagination. There is no nudity in Witchblade, but the fighting outfits of Masane and the other female characters are definitely skimpy (the show was actually censored for Japanese TV to have the female characters' fighting outfits revised to cover more, but the show is in its original uncensored form on DVD and in its U.S. release on IFC).
Somewhat surprisingly though, while the show's creators doubtless intended scenes of a super powered heroin fighting in a barely-there outfit to be the show's signature feature, such scenes have so far taken up just a few minutes in each episode. This is probably just due to the practical limitations of an animated TV series (where the constraints of a weekly TV schedule prevent long complexly animated fight scenes), but whether by necessity or design it leaves more time per episode for story development, and more importantly for the relationship between Masane and Rihoko. It is this mother/daughter relationship that really gives the show a dramatic center and elevates Witchblade above the usual anime fair. After all, lots of anime shows have battle scenes and curvaceous heroines, but eye candy alone isn't enough to keep a viewer's attention if the characters are shallow and the story boring. This is what makes Witchblade a special anime show, that it stays fun to watch even outside of the scenes where Masane is kicking butt in her over the top Witchblade costume.
Witchblade may not change the minds of those who don't like anime, but it definitely hasn't been boring so far, and I am sure many of those who give it a chance will be glad they did.