Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVDs 2 and 3
While she and Rihoko establish their new home, Masane's continued work hunting down X-Cons for Takayama and his Douji Group brings her into contact and conflict with the NSWF's Clonebaldes, artificially created women who wield functional copies of the Witchblade. More surprising to Masane is the discovery that her boss once worked closely with one of their elites, Dr. Reina “Lady” Soho, and how the Witchblade might have been involved in the Great Earthquake that cost Masane her memory. Meanwhile Tozawa's continuing investigation into the serial murders discovers Masane's alter ego, while Rihoko hangs out with the rest of the tenants of Marry's and takes control of managing the household for her mother. The situation gets more complicated when a rival of Takayama's within the Douji Group starts to cause trouble and the long-term side effects of wielding the Witchblade or its clones become apparent, but bigger problems loom on the horizon as the NSWF maneuvers to develop new Cloneblades even more powerful than the originals, an effort that involves getting hold of the original (and its current wielder) for study. Just as troublesome is the behavior of Reina/Lady, a NSWF loyalist and prime Witchblade candidate, who may be developing her own personal motives.
The second and third volumes of this series derived from an American comic book franchise do little to change up the formula they established in the first volume: put sexy, big-breasted women in ridiculously skimpy battle armor fighting mechanical monsters or each other and mix it up with corporate intrigue, interesting character relationships, some oddball supporting characters, and lots of graphic content. But can the series maintain what it started? By the end of the third volume (and probably sooner) the initial shock value of the scandalously impractical battle costumes and sensual, almost orgasmic combat experiences has worn off, and few of the plot developments innovate; none of the secrets revealed about the weapons programs of the competing Douji Group and NSWF offer anything excitingly new, and the revelation that the Witchblade had something to do with causing the Great Earthquake should not surprise anyone. The cliffhanger revelation on which episode 12 ends likewise should not be unexpected, though it is certainly a big deal.
For all that the series tries to be a solid, racy actioner, the character relationships may ultimately be what keep fans coming back for the long haul. Gonzo has shown a penchant for this in the past, as their heavy-handed attempt at a sexy, edgy, graphic anime series in Speed Grapher ended up being tolerable primarily because of the dynamic that developed between Saiga and Kagura. The first volume of this one showed signs of that in the tight, fun relationship between Masane and Rihoko, and these two volumes offer an additional intriguing twist: hints that Takayama and Masane might be developing some kind of relationship, too. As improbable as a pairing between the fiery, uncultured Masane and stone-faced Takayama may seem, the earliest direct contacts between the two made it clear that Masane's vivacious take-no-crap attitude made an impression on Takayama, and throughout these eight episodes the opinions of each towards the other soften markedly despite their continued sniping at each other. (But, of course, dramatic opposites sniping at each other initially and hooking up later have been a staple of entertainment media for decades.) Tozawa and Masane, whom you would more naturally expect to be developing in that direction, have no such spark even though they do start working together.
The fun factor that the supporting cast at Marry's adds into the mix also cannot be ignored. Their antics may differ little from comic relief used in other serious series but they work remarkably well here. Regularly getting to play off of the precocious Rihoko, who very nearly steals the whole series (much less the scenes she's actually in), certainly doesn't hurt. The notion that a 6-year-old is the more mature, capable, and responsible individual in a mother-daughter relationship continues to amuse, although some scenes do strain credibility more than a bit; the writing handles her more like she's at least double the age she actually is.
For better and worse, the second and third volumes also maintain the artistic standards set in the first volume. Rihoko's appealing cuteness shines through, and nice background art complements character designs that usually look respectable when not portrayed in an overtly sexy manner or as caricatures. Masane looks her best in one episode in volume three in which she is forced to dress up but otherwise looks a bit frumpy, but the new girl Maria, with the tri-colored hair and '80s Madonna get-up, has got to go. The animation focuses more on jiggling breasts than anything else but otherwise does not impress much. The artistry most disappoints in its laughable depictions of women in their Cloneblade get-ups, although the simplified version of the Witchblade armor will probably not satisfy fans of the original comic books, either. Granted, some compromises had to be made to make it feasible to animate, but once you get beyond the extreme minimalist design it does not do any of the special things in these volumes which so distinguished the original and gave it its edge (both literally and figuratively).
If you like your anime with a rock sensibility then the musical score should work for you, although it also still depends on the occasional horror-themed tension-inducing riff and does not shy from mixing in lighter and more sentimental numbers depending on the mood. It does not impress as much as in the early going but is still a passable effort, with good opening and closing numbers anchoring it at both ends.
Casting for the English dub continues to be the American production's greatest strength, with every role hitting the mark on sound, attitude, and delivery. The style of Jamie Marchi as Masane may not agree with dedicated sub fans, but it is the only performance reasonably subject to question and still conveys the essence of the character. The English script handles the misnaming of Masane according to her assets by changing it to Melanie (Melanie sounds like “melons,” you see) and putting a note in the subtitles to explain the joke rather than try to go through some convoluted way of making “Masamune” work in English. It also refers to Reina more commonly as Reina rather than Lady (as the subtitles do) and is a bit more liberal in its refinements of the dialog than the first few episodes.
Both volumes come satisfyingly stocked with Extras, with common ones including textless songs, cast interviews, and eight-page liner booklets containing staff interviews, character profiles, and brief Glossaries. Each also has the same kind of hinged, silver foil slip cover as the first volume, with cover art by actual Witchblade comic artists. Additionally, each one has a “behind the scenes” Extra focusing on Top Cow Productions, the American company responsible for the Witchblade franchise. The volume 2 entry provides a detailed look at the production process for bringing a comic to market, while the volume 3 entry is the first of a multi-part look at the creation of Top Cow and their flagship title. The latter should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as some of the claims made in it are, at the least, subject to interpretation.
If the first volume hooked you then the contents of the second and third volumes are unlikely to cause you to lose interest, as they throw out enough fan-pandering elements to keep those so hooked firmly on the line. If you had only a tepid reaction to the first volume then the second and third volumes probably will not change your mind, either, although the reduced emphasis on action in favor of increased emphasis on scheming and character interaction may offer you some hope. Essentially, though, everything that made the series what it was at the start is still there.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ English dub casting, good character relationships.
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