Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 4th 2010
Queen's Blade - The Exiled Virgin
Volume 1: A Single Step
NOTE: Although the subtitle in the picture says "Wandering Warrior," the subtitle given above is the one which actually appears on the DVD case.
In an unnamed fantasy world, the gods hold a grand tournament every four years, aptly called Queen's Blade, where the mightiest female warriors compete to determine which has the best combination of skill, power, and beauty. As the prize, the winner becomes the new Queen. Leina, second daughter and heir to Count Vance, has no such lofty ambitions, however. She merely wishes to flee her home and strike out on her own, free of the burdens of her father's inheritance. She is wholly unprepared for the dire threats which await her, though, including devils, outlaws, mercenaries intent on toying with her, and even her formidable older sister, the Thunder General Claudette, who has also been charged with recovering her. Though she finds a friend of sorts in the outlaw Risty, Leina's own comparative weakness hampers her efforts to decide upon and achieve a purpose greater than just being free. And despite Leina's initial lack of interest in Queen's Blade, the ditzy, gimp-winged angel Nanael, who claims to be charged with watching and broadcasting the tournament, seems intent on drawing her into the spectacle.
Meanwhile, in the land of Hinomoto, warrior-priestesses struggle to offset the corrupt government officials surrounding their Mikado. Their only hope is to send their star, Tomoe, to the mainland to compete in the Queen's Blade tournament. Accompanying her is loyal companion Shizuka, herself a traitor to a ninja clan which seeks to destroy the warrior-priestesses.
The sexy, buxom warrior babe wearing impractically scanty clothing and/or armor has been a staple of high fantasy art at least since Red Sonja debuted the chain mail bikini back in the early 1970s, with artists such as Boris Vallejo and Larry Elmore rigorously reinforcing her presence in the genre over the years. Such female characters have made surprisingly infrequent appearances in fantasy anime titles, however (perhaps because of Japan's fixation on cute?), and it is equally surprising that it took until 2009's Queen's Blade, itself an adaptation of an ero game, to finally get a non-hentai title wholly dedicated to such minimally-covered warriors. That is not an understatement, either; if you do not have an appreciation for frequent and brazen displays of T&A, or might be offended by a crotch-level shot of a woman using a live snake for a G-string, then this is definitely not a series for you.
Oh, this one does have at least something which passes for a plot; there are two main plotlines, in fact, one each centered on Leina and Tomoe, which will eventually converge at a point beyond the scope of this volume. Those are more excuses for establishing character motivations and defining the overall setting than an actual story progression at this point, however, as these early episodes concentrate heavily on progressively expanding the cast of female fighters. The writing does also devote some effort to developing its characters, with the focus primarily on Leina and, to a much lesser extent, Claudette, Risty, and Shizuka; Tomoe, by comparison, gets little development so far despite being billed by the opening animation as the co-lead. Leina is the classic adventurer wannabe, a young woman looking to gain and experience freedom from confining circumstances while at the same time completely unsure about what direction she is heading and woefully lacking in the skill and power necessary to support the kind of freedom she wants – in other words, she is the kind of character who is normally the comedy sidekick to the hero, and indeed she is as put-upon as such characters normally are and does have a couple of true comic moments. (The business with the mushrooms is rather funny.) Just seeing if she is tough enough to endure all of the abuse dumped upon her and still retain any shred of dignity provides a complement to all of the fan service. Claudette also shows potential as a conflicted woman trapped between duty, sisterly love, and Daddy issues, and the snake mercenary Echidna is deliciously wicked without outright being a villain, but Risty fails to make as much of an impression as she's supposed to, Leina's incestuously possessive younger sister Elina is just annoying, and most others are merely bland. Ditzy, marginally competent angel Nanael adds some comedy value but is more hit-or-miss.
The fan service is where the heart and soul of the series lies, however, and animation producer ARMS (which, not surprisingly, is also behind numerous hentai titles) goes all-out to emphasize it, creating a festival of nudity and implied sexuality rarely matched in TV series. Clothing is as expendable in battles here as it is in Ikki Tousen (whose second and third seasons were also produced by ARMS), to the point that one of the included Extras even pokes fun at that, but here the series highlights breast exposure rather than just barely concealing it. Viewers can also look foreword to half-naked female mud and oil wrestling, a devilic girl with bunny ears whose halter top looks like a pair of hands grabbing her breasts and whose nipples shoot out acidic breast milk as an attack form, and the aforementioned my-G-string-is-really-a-live-snake mercenary. Even the opener and one version of the closer feature nudity, too. Clothing standards for most female characters would make lingerie models look overdressed, and even Nanael gets in on the action by flashing her panties as she flits about. There are plenty of implied yuri elements for good measure, too.
Even though ARMS has made trashiness a way of doing business, it has still routinely produced pretty artistry and respectable animation in its productions. Queen's Blade is no different. The nudity and impressively-varied character designs showcase a great deal of effort, colors are generally sharp and bold, and background artistry offers some well-drawn and nicely-detailed cityscapes and natural vistas, with just a hint of obvious CG in those strange floating spheres. Quality control in the rendering does deteriorate in places, and these episodes use superdeformed gimmicks a little too much for the type of series this is, but the animation is actually pretty good and the fight choreography and special effects are sufficiently exciting. This is hardly top-tier action fare but it does give the viewer something else to look at besides just exposed breasts.
The music does not disappoint, either. The fully-orchestrated core themes are worthy of independent listens, as they do a superb job of both sounding great as stand-alone pieces and enhancing the content without being obtrusive. Even more importantly, the soundtrack ably adjusts to different settings, such as using traditional Japanese instrumentation for scenes in the Japan-themed Hinomoto setting or shifting to harder rock themes for the pit fighting scenes. The normal opener nicely captures a spirit of adventure, while the normal closer is also a solid number. The alternate closer for episode 4, which is the normal closer done simply on piano, is also simply beautiful.
Media Blasters, in a rare recent move for them, is releasing this title under their Anime Works imprint with a full English dub. Produced by longtime dub producer John Sirabella, the dub features a cast consisting of a mix of complete or near-complete newcomers and veterans most-known for their work in early 2000s dubs (Angora Deb, Jessica Calvello). Perhaps because of this, the dub quality is spotty. Ms. Deb sounds fine as Leina, as do newcomers as Claudette and the devil Melona, but Ms. Calvello's take on Nanael has an even more irritating vocal quality than the original's and many other roles prioritize duplicating the tone and delivery style of the Japanese performances over actually acting. There are enough solid performances to avoid calling this a bad dub, and the English script does not deviate much, but it is certainly not among the better ones.
Media Blaster has reverted back a couple of years by taking the now-atypical approach of releasing the series in four-episode volumes, but at least this one does have a significant number of Extras. Among them are a broad set of clean openers and closers, including the special-artwork version of the closer used for episode 1 and both the nudity-focused and nudity-free versions of the closer used for episodes 2 and 3. (The version with the nudity is present on the DVD episodes.) Curiously, the alternate closer for episode 4 was not included, however. Also present are TV spots, a promotional video, and two short OVAs, which feature Tomoe and Shizuka as new transfer students to Gynos Academy who must deal with delinquents who look like the series' main villainesses. Their inclusion here is a little odd, since two of the villainesses strutting their stuff in these OVAs have not yet been introduced in the main series; they would have been a better fit for volume 2 instead.
Are the first few episodes of Queen's Blade trashy? Absolutely. These episodes do have a story, character development, and some action, but those are more complementary to the fan service in this case rather than the other way around. They are not enough at this point to make the series worth watching for someone indifferent to the fan service, but those who appreciate rampant nudity and crotch shots will find good technical merits and at least some substance here.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Soundtrack, character designs, plentiful fan service.
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