Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 25th 2013
The Qwaser of Stigmata
Sub.DVD - Collection 1
Teenage Mafuyu Oribe was taken in by her adoptive father at a young age and asked to look after her father's like-aged real daughter, Tomo Yamanobe, a duty that Mafuyu has always taken quite seriously. The recent mysterious disappearance of their father has left them somewhat as outcasts at the school that he used to be the dean for, but that grief pales in comparison to the problems that arise when super-powered, element-manipulating Adepts called Qwasers start showing up and threatening them because the Adepts believe that Mafuyu and Tomo know the location of the Theotokos of Tsarytsin (i.e., a picture of the Virgin Mary breast-feeding Jesus), a legendary item said to greatly enhance Qwaser powers which Mafayu and Tomo's father supposedly possessed and hid somewhere. They are saved from harm by the arrival on the scene of a defender in the form of Alexander Nikolaevitch Hell (“Sasha” to people he tolerates), the Qwaser of iron, a foul-tempered youth with a stigmata-like scar on his face who proves a capable fighter but also an acerbic personality. The trio is eventually joined by the allied Qwaser of copper, the petite Ekaterina “Katja” Kurae, who outwardly projects a sweet and innocent persona to hide her true dominatrix nature and makes a veritable pet of Hana (a classmate of Mafuyu and Tomo's who is otherwise something of a bully). Meanwhile, Lizzie, the Qwaser of titanium, lurks on the fringes of the scene, her ally/enemy status in question. To fuel their powers, the Qwasers must regularly consume soma (a sacred substance which manifests as breast milk) from a chosen Mary/Maria, and taking it directly from the source by sucking a nubile maiden's breast is the quickest and most direct route.
Over the last few years, anime production committees have become increasingly willing to push the boundaries of acceptable explicit content in an anime TV series. No title to date pushes that boundary harder than this shonen manga-based series from the first half of 2010, a series whose original broadcast was so infamously censored – despite airing in a late-night slot – that some episodes were virtually unwatchable in any but the webcast “Director's Cut” form. This was not merely a case of a company self-censoring the TV broadcast just to encourage uncensored DVD sales, either, as graphically-depicted breast-sucking (sometimes with strongly implied sexual arousal) is a staple element of virtually every episode, and that is far from the extent of perversity that this series delves into. Here's a basic acid test: does a scene where a Goth loli lesbian dominatrix allows her teen girl pet trainee to eat her out in a leaves-little-to-the-imagination cunnilingus scene intrigue you or revolt you? Those with the former reaction will probably enjoy this series mightily, while those with the latter reaction should only watch at their peril.
Set the heavy fan service elements aside and the series actually does have some other merits. The basic story is a fairly typical one for a super-powered action series, but in execution the first half of the series shows more meat than that. Several elements of the Eastern Orthodox Church are imbedded into the content, which gives the religious aspects a bit different flavor; Theotokos, for instance, is the Orthodox title given to the Virgin Mary. Most key characters receive at least some degree of background exploration and character development, with Sasha and Mafuyu getting the lion's share. Some interesting character dynamics develop, too, especially between Katja and Hana, and a fair amount of humor can be found tucked into the crevices. Element-using Qwasers also get to show off an interesting degree of creativity with command of their elements, such as in one episode where Sasha must find a way to protect his iron weapon from instant oxidation by a manipulator of oxygen. (His solution? Mix some chrome into it and make it stainless steel.) The action scenes are nothing to sneeze at, either; in fact, they can be quite satisfyingly thrilling, enough so that the series could probably succeed as an action series alone if the barrier to appreciating it was not set so high.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, though, the fan service component is both unavoidable and impossible to ignore, as it is inextricably linked to almost everything that goes on in the series, from its opening scene through to the closing credits of episode 12. Some (but not all) of such content is so crass and exploitive that the series at times seems deliberately designed to drive away viewers with low tolerances so that it can have a lewd party with those that remain. Typical fare like undergarments shots, shredded clothing, groping, outright nudity, implied or outright lesbianism, and incest are regularly present, but the series steps things up with the breast-sucking, animation of female arousal, the aforementioned sex scene, and extensive S&M play, some of the latter of which includes some of the first half's best jokes and character byplay; Katja's status as the series' fan-favorite character is virtually beyond dispute, and that comes much more from her two-faced nature and deliciously twisted treatment of Hana than her being a lolicon princess (er, queen). Some of the series' sweetest moments to date also involve fan service elements.
The series also joins a recent trend of fan service-centered titles which sport quality artistry. Hoods Entertainment, whose other lead credits consist of edgy fare like Aki Sora, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and Manyū Hiken-chō, produce here a good-looking and vividly-colored effort which attractively displays all of the sexiness of the fan service aspects and flashy intensity of the power use and action scenes. The character design aesthetic, which does not produce especially pretty faces, most closely resembles Witchblade (no surprise, since they share a common character designer), though it does not share that series' obsession with huge-breasted women; Tomo and one other character are quite busty, but builds for female characters run the full gamut and so should satisfy any viewers' predilections. Sasha is perhaps the sharpest and most distinctive design, a cross between a bad boy and a bishonen who would doubtless have many female fans if the show was otherwise more female viewer-friendly. Studio Easter provides the quality background art and animation in general is above-average. While the graphic violence does not get taken to the extremes that the fan service does, this is still a very graphically violent series, with a considerable amount of bloodletting, characters getting cut in half or impaled, and so forth.
The musical effort is also quite effective, with a score that can manage comical and lightly dramatic tones but more commonly opts for heavy, intense numbers to back up the action scenes. It also offers a strong set of opener and closers, with the J-rock sensibility of “Errand” by Faylan starting off each episode in dramatic fashion and “Passionate Squall,” sung by the main female cast and paired with an odd bathtub motif in its visuals, giving a sexy, harder-rocking close to most episodes. Episode 5 instead uses a much softer and gentler closer keyed to an exploration into the background of the nun Teresa Beria, who serves as Sasha's main Maria.
Back during my Anime in America: Best (and Worst) of 2010 feature, I gave this series an “I Dare You to License This” award to this series because of its content. Though it took a year and a half, Sentai Filmworks eventually took up that dare – not too surprising, really, since this is the same company willing to license fare like To Love-Ru and Samurai Girls. In an apparent recognition of how narrow the target audience is for this one, though, they are only releasing it on DVD in subbed-only form. The only Extras present on the two disks are clean opener and both clean closers on the first disk, but at least the subtitles are error-free. Original Japanese openers and closers are also retained, with translations and English credits separately at the end of each episode. Conspicuously absent are the extended Next Episode previews used for the Director's Cut episodes.
Despite a set-up prime for harem shenanigans – by the end of this set Sasha is cohabitating with three young women and regularly interacts with four others, with the only recurring male characters present being peripheral ones – Qwaser of Stigmata has yet to show any harem inclinations by the end of episode 12. In fact, the only definitive romantic attraction evident so far is a gradually growing one between Mafuyu and Sasha; Katja and Hana's connection does not really fit the definition of love, and the Mafuyu-Tomo loving interactions are more sisterly than romantic (though reading more into that would not be hard). The overall plot is also still vague, with an emphasis more on individual encounters and character/relationship development but a suggestion that some shonen-like power advancement may be in store. Despite that, the series so far is still a big load of decidedly unclean fun, albeit one that is definitely not recommended for all audiences.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Good artistry and music, great action, extreme fan service content (for those with a high tolerance).
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