Reviewby Theron Martin, May 21st 2008
Masane's last battle left her hospitalized and both her and Takayama acutely aware that time for her is running short. Unable to remove the Witchblade, Masane must come to terms with her own impending death and, perhaps even more importantly, figure out how exactly to tell Rihoko that she will soon lose the woman she considers her mother. Wadou and Rie Nishida's continuing efforts to use I-Weapons to claim the Witchblade exposes Masane's battle form to the public, while Maria and her assistant Aoi recruit another second-gen Neo-Gene in order to make their own final play for the Witchblade. The Witchblade's newest second-stage also starts to show an adverse effect on the I-Weapons, resulting in a plague of rogue I-Weapons moving towards the city even as Takayama and his former subordinates to race to update the shielding of the I-Weapons they have in stock.
Having to faces one's own impending (and seemingly premature) mortality and the prospect of leaving a loved one behind is hard enough; one of the few things that could be worse is trying to explain that to a little kid. Yet Witchblade spends most of episode 22 exploring exactly that. It lays out the struggles Masane goes though in figuring out how to approach the matter and what exactly she is going to say, and caps it off with actually playing out the scene. Yes, it is as uncomfortable to watch as it sounds, but it should be. Gonzo deserves enormous credit for tackling such a serious and sensitive issue with great tact and care, something that viewers might not have initially expected to see from a series which, much like the earlier Speed Grapher, initially seemed obsessed with its more tawdry side. The way that and certain other parts of these final four episodes play out show that Gonzo may have learned its lesson with Speed Grapher: that graphic adult content does not alone make a series mature. Stuff like this does.
In fact, it is the humanity of the story, much moreso than the action, which elevates the content over these final few episodes, so much so that that one major character who shows none seems pathetic by comparison. Although this can be seen most in the bond between Masane and Rihoko, it also shows clearly in the behavior of Takayama as he lets his emotions show through his stony exterior or in Takawa when he learns the full truth and must decide what to do with it. It shows in Maria, who despite her newfound maturity is still haunted by the image of her mother and seems, in her grasping for even more power, to be reaching for something else more ephemeral, and the insightful observations by odd new Neo-Gene Asagi suggest that she is far less composed than she acts. All of it builds towards a finale which fans may or may not find satisfying but which will certainly leave an impression. Not many anime series will leave you thinking about it long after you've seen the final scene, but this one might.
Of course, being a nominal action series it cannot step entirely away from its violence. It still features several battles, including Masane's battles against the I-Weapons and against the Maria-led Neo-Genes, but these scenes seem decreasingly like the focus and increasingly like flashy mechanics necessary to move the story along. Although executed well, even at their best they cannot match the dramatics of scenes like Masane desperately trying to smash/remove the Witchblade or the sad beauty of scenes like Masane explaining to Rihoko about how she will “never be alone, even if I can't be around anymore” in the midst of a field of flowers. Still, they can be exciting, especially when backed by heavy metal sounds.
Although the merits of these final episodes far outweigh the flaws, the latter are still evident. The obsession with research portrayed by Rie seems forced and the empowered designs of the Neo-Genes (especially Aoi) look almost too silly to be credible, while Asagi's normal design looks so dumpy that she would fit right in at a White Trash Expo. The “rogue I-Weapons attacking en masse” gimmick towards the climax never delivers the scary-threat punch it should and smacks much too much of late scenes from Bubblegum Crisis 2040 to be regarded as anything more than a rip-off by those who have seen both.
Back on the plus side, though, the artistry still features impressive backgrounds and characters designs which may not always be the sharpest but are never dull. The soundtrack is also at its best through these episodes, capably handling both poignant and powerfully dramatic moments as well as giving the action scenes a proper punch. The second-half opener and closer remain through episodes 21-23, while the original opener returns for the final episode. The English dub also successfully captures the urgency of its characters and hits the right notes in key moments while avoiding messing too much with the script.
As with previous volumes, the liner book includes print staff interviews, character and equipment profiles, and background art. The cover art for the hinged foil cover, which features Masane in her second-stage powered-up form, was done by Marc Silvestri, the founder of Top Cow Productions and co-creator of the original Witchblade comic book. The on-disk Cast Interview this time involves the seiyuu for Maria, with Japanese TV spots and clean opener and closer accompanying it.
The mechanics of how the Witchblade works, and the effect it ultimate has on its wielders, is markedly different here than in the source material, but that doesn't matter. With this potent and surprisingly emotional wrap-up, Gonzo has accomplished something truly remarkable here: it has taken a series that could have easily been a flashy but forgettable piece of trash and given it real heart and soul. Those who decided to give this one a chance despite the ridiculous battle costumes will find themselves well-rewarded in the end.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Packs an emotional punch, maintains its humanity to the end, soundtrack is at its peak.
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