Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 22nd 2013
Queen's Blade: Rebellion
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Years have passed since the conclusion of the last Queen's Blade, and Queen Claudette's rule has benefited the land. With the dissolution of noble houses and the Queen's Blade tournament system, the common people are happier and more prosperous than ever before and new developments in magic and technology have been fostered. However, the Queen's army has started to grow oppressive, which has sparked some resistance. Annalotte, the sole remaining knight and scion of a destroyed noble house, wanders the land helping out where she can, while the journalistic elf Huit and her automaton companion Vante seek to further their newspaper and look into some shady behavior by the Queen's forces. They cross paths with other beautiful warriors, including the tribal dancer Luna Luna, the reluctant Valkyrie Mirim, the gladiator Branwen, the samurai Izumi, the Oriental sisters Tarnyang and Sainyang, the Pirate Queen Liliana, the Inquisitor Shigi, and some familiar faces from the last Queen's Blade tournament as they muddle their way across the land with vague goals about doing something about the Queen's increasingly problematic behavior.
For those not already familiar with the franchise, Queen's Blade has a very unusual origin by anime standards: it is based on a series of fantasy RPG visual combat books published by Hobby Japan. Though designed to be compatible with the Lost Words system published on-and-off since the early 1980s by various American companies (most prominently Flying Buffalo), these books feature original illustrations of female warriors by various artists from the anime and manga industry. Characters featured in the first set of books, originally published from late 2005 through early 2008, form the primary cast of the first two Queen's Blade anime series, while characters features in the second set beginning in late 2008 form most of the primary cast of this series. The TV anime series do combine the stories of the individual characters into an overall plot progression, with Rebellion being a “several years later” sequel to the original two series. While it is possible to start fresh with this series and at least generally be able to follow it, viewers unfamiliar with the earlier series will definitely miss some important references.
Of course, viewers who have seen the earlier content which has been formally released in the U.S. may still find themselves missing important references. This is partly due to a convoluted collection of OVA episodes (either 8 or 10 in all, depending on whether or not a couple of pairs are considered separate OVAs) which exist in between the earlier series and this one, none of which have yet been licensed for release or streaming in the States. Most of those just continue or round out stories of characters in the wake of the second series, but two of them – the Queen's Blade Rebellion Visual Book OVAs – are direct lead-ins to this TV series, and the first of the two is especially important for establishing lead character Annalotte, where she is coming from, and why she talks like Combat Instructor Alleyne at one point. Even viewers who have seen those may still feel like they are missing a lot of important details, as some circumstances concerning certain characters are never explained in animated content, such as how one certain character recurring from the first two series ended up suffering from narcolepsy or how a couple of others ended up with significant upgrades in job titles.
Given that things like “plot” and “character development” are not the primary reasons why people watch this franchise, those gaps in storytelling may not matter. Perhaps even moreso than its predecessor TV series, Rebellion is, first and foremost, a graphic fan service fest, and in that respect it delivers quite strongly. Skimpy, sexy costumes and panty shots abound, and aficionados of lovingly-details breasts will find every bit as much to enjoy here as in High School DxD, since clothing must inevitably get destroyed before serious bodily injury gets inflicted. “Holy Poses” are still as provocative as ever, the method for using divine healing magic is an eyebrow-raiser, one character is a masochist, another is implied to ultimately not care too much when her destined man turns out to be a woman, and yet another character wears “Hyper-Vibration Armor,” which has exactly the kind of side effect that you might imagine it does.
Rebellion does not have much going for it beyond its fan service and character designs, however, and the series does suffer for it. As salacious as the original two series were, they did at least have a definite plot and considerable character exploration. Here, though, none of the characters – not even Annalotte – are developed to any significant degree, and several seem to exist just to be cool-looking warrior-women. In fact, it's a sad testament that that the series' best-developed character may actually be one who only appears in a single episode: the “War God Samurai” Izumi. The plot is also rather vague, as Annalotte essentially spends much of the series wandering around doing good deeds and unintentionally collecting followers; unlike how she is portrayed in the lead-in OVA, she is not specifically seeking vengeance. Granted, this could be because she has, by this point, seen enough of how the common people have benefited from Queen Claudette's rule that she is now more ambivalent about the situation, but that is more speculation than something clearly supported by the series. More evidence of an actual plot, and a couple of big twists, does manifest in the final couple of episodes, but it is not enough to justify the dearth of motivation and direction in the rest of the series.
Arms, the studio which has produced all previous Queen's Blade animated content, also handled this work, and with about the same level of artistry and technical merits seen in previous installments. The lushly-drawn, vividly-colored “beautiful warriors” are as sharp, sexy, and distinctive-looking as ever and are complemented by some creative fantasy architecture in the design of the palace at Gainos. (Really, though, that hornlike protrusion that the dancer character wears over her groin, which is undoubtedly meant to suggest a dildo, is a little much.) The animation is only mediocre beyond the careful attention devoted to bouncing breasts, and the action scenes depend heavily enough on cuts that they often do not flow well. Despite some crazy power usages, the fights simply are not as thrilling or dynamic as those seen in the better anime fantasy titles. For all of the mayhem that goes on, this installment actually has almost no bloodshed, but the nudity and sexuality is more than enough to justify its TV-MA rating.
Masaru Yokoyama, who has done all of the music for every installment of the franchise, is back again to make the score for this one, but his effort here does not impress as much as it did for the earlier TV series. Although he still employs full orchestration for some numbers, gone is the franchise's signature theme, and musical impact on the most dramatic scenes does not carry quite as much punch. It is hardly a bad effort, but not up to the standards he has previously set for this franchise. Rock opener “You Can Hear the Song of Life” by Naomi Tamuri (probably most-known for some of the themes in the Rayearth franchise) is a strong number which effectively introduces the main cast, while more ordinary closer “future is serious” is surprisingly tame despite its body-ogling approach. (Previous franchise closers have been vastly more lurid.)
Sentai Filmworks farmed the dub for this one out to NYAV Post, the studio which dubbed the first two TV series. That allows the actresses who voiced recurring characters to reprise their roles, while some actresses who voiced other roles take on new roles here; for instance, Eva Chistensen was the voice of Cattleya and Lana in the first two series but here voices Tarnyang. Although many of the other new roles are either one-shot performances or credited to pseudonyms, Vibe Jones (the voice of Urd from the Ah! My Goddess TV series) gets the call for Annalotte and gives her a deep, somewhat raspy voice that, like the original Japanese performance, is probably intended to sound masculine. In general, English performances average at a passable level, with Liliana being one of the weakest and Mirim, Shigi, Izumi, and Aldra being among the strongest. (The latter is a major reversal from the second series, as Kenzie Brooke could not make Aldra sound mean or evil enough there but handles Aldra's gentler and more loving demeanor here beautifully well.) The English script does not take big liberties, and perhaps most importantly retains Huit's references to Annalotte as “Big Brother.” However, one significant technical slip does escape quality control: two of Queen Claudette's lines are conspicuously missing in English in one mid-series scene.
Sentai Filmworks gives this release the deluxe treatment, as it is loaded with quality Extras. The most prominent are the two included soundtrack CDs (much like they did for Dusk maiden of Amnesia), while on-disk Extras include clean opener and closer, a set of six “Pushing the Limits of What Can Be Seen!?” omake, and a set of six audio dramas. The omake average about three minutes in length, take the typical approach of constituting racy side stories, and are (quite surprisingly for short omake these days) dubbed. The “dramas” are actually subtitled comedy routines which average around 11 minutes in length and feature a varying assortment of characters from the series. They are, by a mile, the funniest content on the disks. The Blu-Ray transfer is also well-done, nicely bringing out the rich color scheme of the series. The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtracks for both language produce typical sound quality for recent series releases on Blu-Ray. A DVD version is also available separately.
Ultimately Rebellion falls well short of telling a complete story, as the end of episode 12 feels more like a mid-season break point than a series resolution. Though the franchise has been persistently successful, Japanese sales of this series were far from stellar, so whether or not a completion of this storyline will ever be seen is in question. That may be for the best, though, because at this point the franchise is clearly in decline.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Character designs, quality fan service, Extras included with Blu-Ray release (especially the audio “dramas”).
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