The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Blade and Soul
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
Review: There's two things that Blade and Soul can be commended for, and they aren't the two things you're thinking of when you see the key art. For one thing, it may be a low fantasy adventure revolving entirely around boobies, but it's not icky or uncomfortable, at least not yet, not even a little. The vast and voluptuous female cast have bombshell proportions but haven't dipped into bland sleaze narratively (yet.) They aren't gyrating into the camera or displaying mewling or dominatrix-y traits for a leering audience, they're just going about their business as warrior women, with motivations seemingly as varied as their silly outfits. They're familiar and bland fantasy archetypes for the most part, but nothing a female audience would feel uneasy sitting through or potentially even relating to if the characters develop more over time. It's still clearly a fanservice show, but that all by itself isn't a bad thing. Sex appeal is perfectly fine if it's tasteful, and Blade and Soul does have some genuine dignity to it.
The second admirable thing about the show ties into the former bonus: the character designs are really nice-looking. They hit this appealing balance between D-cup anime pinups and Frank Frazetta-ish fantasy hyperrealism that makes them unique. It's so rare to see women in anime that look remotely similar to actual women that might exist, (even if those women are mostly porn stars,) that the result is engaging and memorable just on a visual level.
But that's it. The rest of the show isn't really any good. It's an awkwardly-animated (hi Gonzo) D&D cliche-fest rolling so low for charisma that it's hard to summon any interest in the story, which takes itself very seriously, with lots of lore and zero levity. Basic world and character details are defined, but there's no emotional hook or endearing characters for the plot to take, and it's a simple plot we've seen told thousands of times, from the vengeful rogue mercenary to the burning of a beloved peasant village. The worst offense here is the bland protagonist, an emotionless femme fatale with no distinguishable character traits other than "wants revenge, handy with knives." Yawn.
It's nice that Blade and Soul is aiming for cheesecake with a little class, which could stand to be encouraged more in fanservice shows, but it's just too boring for that to matter very much, and the embarrassing Gonzo bargain-imation and garish CG compositing dragging down the otherwise lovely art don't help.
Blade and Soul is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)
In a beautiful fantasy land filled with beautiful women who must all have severe back problems, Alka is a mysterious beauty who has no human emotions. She kills people. For revenge. Or if you hire her, as Morii, the leader of a village menaced by the Palam Empire finds out. Sadly for Morii, the Palam Empire has put a bounty on Alka's head, which has some pretty negative repercussions for the village. But don't worry, because next week Alka learns about human desire! (I assume they mean greed.)
Based on a popular MMO, Blade and Soul is a pretty but not particularly thrilling fantasy show. It mostly suffers from an overuse of symbolism in the forms of butterflies and flowers, but the lack of a compelling heroine also makes this first episode less engaging than it could have been. Alka is so blank that she fails to provoke interest. Clearly she's suffered some sort of upset in her past, and it probably involved the blue flowers (or “flour[s]” as the subtitles have it at one point), but an ability to kill with ease and to sleep on a tree branch without falling off do not make for an interesting main character. The camera lingers on close-ups of her face far too often for someone who never changes expressions, especially when her action scenes are much more thrilling. Those do look good, fluid and exciting, and the landscapes and cityscapes look very nice, rich with detail. Where Blade and Soul suffers, sadly, is in its plot and characters. It does try. The idea that the Palam Empire wants to take land not for power but for agriculture is an interesting change, especially since they appear to have no intentions of making the original landowners their minions. The many races populating the world are visually interesting and will hopefully be explored in later episodes, and Alka's mysterious clan sounds much more promising than she herself is. So there is potential here, should the show in future episodes decide to expand away from its heroine. It may merit a second look to see if anything is done to change this decidedly mediocre introduction, but right now Blade and Soul is pretty underwhelming.
Blade and Soul is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Let me save you some time in evaluating Hiroshi Hamasaki and Gonzo's animated tie-in to the Blade & Soul MMORPG. Ahem… Animation blah blah blah writing. Characters blah blah blah soundtrack. Blah blah background artistry blah blah action. Stacks of truly gorgeous women trying to kill each other. Bam. Everything you need to know. You can now skip the rest of this review.
The only real reason to watch this rote RPG adaptation is to see illustrator Hyung-Tae Kim's lovely, clean-lined female designs in action. That is not an entirely petty reason. Rarely has so much feminine beauty been gathered in one place. The series throws a bewildering array of lady warriors, schemers, and even peasants at us, and every one is luscious. Kim's women have a maturity, a visual personality, a delicate beauty of eye, nose, and lip that sets them apart from run-of-the-mill service-bait. Sure they're curvaceous and scantily clad, but they're at their most striking when the camera sinks into the crystalline perfection of their eyes or when Gonzo captures the proportions of their faces just so.
If you need more than that, well… there is a satisfyingly large quantity of blood squirted about during the fights. And it's kind of refreshing that the main character, mysterious avenger Alka, says maybe two whole words the entire episode. The end of the episode also packs a nihilistic punch. Unfortunately, you can attach equal-sized minuses to each of those plusses, effectively cancelling them out. Gonzo's animation is stiff and uneven, hamstringing Hamasaki's action fireworks at every turn. Alka isn't just taciturn, she's reserved to the point of being personality-impaired. That nihilistic punch is built on Alka's transparently manipulative stay at a friendly village. Add in a lot of confused nonsense about a magic-doping evil empire plus a chop-socky-movie backstory for Alka and that leaves you with just Kim and his women.
Blade & Soul is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Blade and Soul is the newest offering from Studio Gonzo, one based on a Korean fantasy martial arts MMORPG which is supposed to be in development for release in the U.S., though no news about that project more recent than early December is available. It is a world of four races and several classes, all with distinct Far Eastern themes rather than more traditional fantasy themes; apparent lead character Alka is likely supposed to be a Jin assassin, for instance. Each of the four races is at least briefly represented in the first episode (yes, the big guys aren't just oversized humans), but one wouldn't know that merely from watching the first episode. This is a series which expects some familiarity with the source material, as it does not waste a minute explaining itself.
In the first episode we learn that pale-haired, pale-skinned beauty Alka is a member of the Clan of the Sword wanted by the Palam Empire for killing her master, though in actuality she seek revenge on the ones who were truly responsible. (We also later learn that she was in the Empire's employ before this all went down.) Some dangerous-looking characters who use dark magic apparently seek her, but she instead meets representatives of an isolated village and gets recruited to serve as the bodyguard for the daughter of the former chieftain, who is concerned about an upcoming meeting with agents of the Palam Empire who seek to buy out their land. (They don't want to give it, of course, since it is their ancestral homeland.) As one might expect, Palam isn't about to take no for an answer, and things get bloody.
The cast shown so far is awash in gorgeous, sexy, fully-adult beauties, and the artistry and animation successfully portray them as creatures of great grace and elegance. It also shows them as disturbingly cold, and Alka's clan is supposedly renowned for being emotionless (beyond, of course, burning for revenge). Character designs for villagers are more ordinary but still attractive. Slick moves, bloody action (the Clan of the Sword is apparently also renowned for killing neck shots), and distinct near-nudity all look to be staples, though the look and feel does not suggest that this is intended to be a raw fan service fest – definitely not like, say, Queen's Blade. No, the story takes itself a lot more seriously than that. It does suffer some from moving too fast towards the end of the episode, however, so there are still some pacing issues to work out.
Seeing fantasy done largely without traditional anime fantasy trappings is a refreshing change of pace, and the first episode certainly looks great visually, but will the story hold up? MMORPGs are not known for successful adaptations in that regard. Still, it does not appear to be a slave to game mechanics, so it might have a chance.
Blade and Soul is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Fantasy Japan is overrun by blade-wielding women in ridiculous outfits! Representatives from the Palam Empire show up in a tavern to announce there's a 7000 gold bounty on the head of a woman who murdered her master, and bikini-clad Hazuki is on the case. Then we meet Alka, aloof and mysterious who's bathing naked in a lake when she's spied on by two dudes from the local village who wind up recruiting her to help out Morii, the village chief's daughter who's trying to handle things on her own. Anyway, turns out Alka is the lady Hazuki (and the imperial forces of the evil Palam empire) is on the hunt for, and she's a super-dangerous killer with a mysterious past who winds up helping the village when some Palam thugs come looking to buy the place out by force. Of course, they come back and bomb the hell out of the place trying to capture her.
So this is a Gonzo adaptation of an NCSoft MMORPG, and it's exactly as fantastic as that sounds, which is not at all. I didn't find myself particularly drawn in to the fairly rote Fightin' Fantasy Ladies plot (it's kind of like Diet Queen's Blade, with less fanservice, more story and more pretense that you're not just here for the T&A) mostly because I was distracted by the strange, off-putting animation. It doesn't look particularly cheap, per se - there are attempts at fluidity and it doesn't look any better or worse than your average late night show, maybe a touch glossier. The issue here is that the whole show looks like it was animated by people who just can't draw very well, or at least very consistently. Everyone's faces and bodies are changing outline and structure all the time - eyes move apart, facial features spread around, boobs change size and shape depending on the frame. People don't look the same even inside the same few seconds of animation. Often they look like different characters from one moment to the next; it's wildly inconsistent, poor animation on another level, one I don't think I've seen since Gonzo's earlier days (or maybe the bad ol' days of SoftX in the 90s). The lead character's eyes are never quite in the same place, changing distance apart even in closeup. The problem is even worse on secondary characters and it's so distracting I had a hard time paying attention to the story, so I went back and watched a few segments again and still wasn't having any fun.
At the end of the show there's a short lesson that explains some terminology used in the show that comes from the game (in this case pretty important backstory information for the lead character, which is strange that they'd tack it on in an extra segment afterward and not include it in the main narrative, but hey, whatever).
With a show like this you either hope for an engaging story that really draws you in or high camp that makes you laugh and this has neither. It's just a parade of misshapen characters in skimpy outfits taking themselves way too seriously. Not for me.
Blade and Soul is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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