Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Qwaser of Stigmata
Sub.DVD - Collection 2
Due to injuries suffered in his battle against Eva Silver, Sasha has reverted to a childlike persona, a situation only complicated further for Mafuyu by a certain mischievous someone convincing child-Sasha that he is actually a girl cursed to be stuck in a boy's body. Various shenanigans ensue, but neither the Adepts nor Otori wait for long to continue their bold plans concerning acquiring the Theotokos of Tsarytin, and once Sasha eventually snaps out of his funk further battles must be fought. Another faction of Qwasers, one focused purely on protecting Japan's interests, also shows up, but the much greater problem is the arrival on the scene of the Qwaser of Gold, who has transcended other Qwasers to such a degree that he exists as a disembodied spirit who can actually possess people – and his target this time strikes uncomfortably close to home for Sasha. On top of that, Sasha and Mafuyu both discover the hard way that they are integral parts of the prophecy that will reveal the Theotokus' true location.
NOTE: The cover image provided in this review is the correct one. Some prominent retail sites are showing an incorrect (out-of-date?) cover image for this volume.
Despite various temporary forays into humor (most notably the episode involving Joshua), the first half of Qwaser no Stigmata took itself mostly seriously. So does the second half – eventually, but only after most of three episodes of puttering around in some very silly territory. This activity gives the feel that the series really only had about 21.5 episodes' worth of story content that would fit in a two-cour series and so had to come up with some off-kilter fare to fill in the gap. That and some rougher plot progression make this the weaker of the two halves. However, it still manages to infuse enough action and drama into its content to keep the series from being purely a fan service fest; take all of the breast-sucking and other prurient content out and this would probably still stand as a decent shonen actioner.
Of course, fan service is still an integral focal point of the series, and the second half wastes no time in reminding the viewer of that; the first few shots of episode 13 are of naked breasts in a hot springs scene and roughly half of the whole episode's running time features characters either in the nude or in compromising S&M positions. As the next 11 episodes progress, considerable more beast-sucking ensues (including a veritable gusher of “soma” at one point), much beast-fondling takes place (one new character is even nicknamed “Breast Fondler From Hell,” and her likely status as Sasha's martial trainer explains a lot about Sasha's behavior) and “talking” breasts appear at a couple of points, amongst other sexual behavior and nudity, although clothes being destroyed in fights is actually rarely being the cause of the latter in this half. The ongoing S&M bits involving Katja and Hana continue to be amusing for anyone with enough tolerance to handle a lesbian dominatrix who attends a 5th grade class (Katja's actual age is never made clear in the anime, but the fact that she's the only named female character in the hot springs episode whose nipples are not on display seems significant), but some other scenes push the level of tastelessness so far that even die-hard fan service troopers may find certain gimmicks to be completely crass. Some of it being justified by plot and story concept does not abate that, although an occasional genuinely tender moment involving nudity does offset it a little. Even so, complaints about these episodes being exploitive would be hard to defend against.
The storyline suffers a bit through this period. The hot springs episode is largely a throw-away plot-wise, as is the following episode involving one character becoming deluded into believing that she is a super-heroine due to temporarily being imprinted with a power-granting Elemental Circuit; the latter briefly introduces two new ongoing characters, but that is its only real relevance beyond highlighting the capabilities of Elemental Circuits. Most of episode 15 is also disposable in its meandering into cosplay territory (watch for references to Fate/stay night and Linebarrels of Iron here) before finally getting back to heavy-duty action. From that point on the main plot takes over again and continues with little further interruption until its climax in episode 23, with 24 purely constituting the story's denouement. That does not necessarily mean that things progress smoothly, however, as the actual motivations and mechanics laid out here are ill-explained and more than a bit muddled at times. Too many scenes also seem to happen simply for the excuse of following through on requisite shonen clichés, such as yet another rendition of the tired “you go on ahead, this one's mine” routine, and new characters are introduced who seem like they should be important but get largely ignored in the late stages. The story does come to a proper climax, and the content in the final episode is handled well, but that does not fully compensate for the sometimes-rough ride getting there.
Still, when a scene absolutely needs to make a dramatic impact, the series is usually able to pull it off, due in no small part to the continuing excellence of the series' soundtrack. In fact, the soundtrack is unquestionably the series' greatest strength through its second half. Reuse of certain orchestrated dramatic themes from the first half is accompanied by new numbers that have hard rock edges, which give a gravitas to the action and drama scenes well beyond what the series could convey on the strength of its writing alone. That soaring sound is accompanied by dramatic background vocals and an intense beat in sizzling new opener “Baptize” by group Yousei Teikoku, a definite upgrade over the original opener which should contend for one of the year's best. New closer “Wishes Hypocrites” by the primary female vocal cast is lesser than its original musically but features much sexier visuals.
The artistic effort more or less maintains the standards set by the first half: a good-looking, vividly-colored effort which provides some dynamic action scenes (though this half has less of them) and pays loving attention to detail in its fan service, especially in depicting female arousal. Body types for the girls run the gamut from completely flat-chested to tremendously busty, with one character even temporarily gaining a few cup sizes due to powers involved at one point and Sasha again looking almost trap-level girly early on. New characters introduced range from the powerfully-built and full-figured Big Ma'am to the girl Qwaser who always wears a gas mask for some unexplained reason. This half also has a few scenes which involve substantial bloodshed, though it is not a point of emphasis for the series.
The Japanese dub faced some trickier situations in this half, as a couple of characters require modulating voices dramatically between two different personalities. Yuko Sanpei pulls this off just fine as Sasha, although in her case it is more a matter of returning to her regular voice from the deeper pitch she uses for Sasha. Aki Toyosaki, who must essentially do the reverse for Tomo, is less convincing. That makes the lack of an English dub an even bigger shame, since American voice actors are usually better at that. Newly-cast roles all seem fine but unremarkable.
As with the first half, Sentai Filmworks is only releasing this half on DVD and is only including clean versions of the new opener and closer as Extras. An OVA episode set during this series has been released but is not present here; according to Sentai, it will be included in their eventual release of the second series.
And yes, for those who want more, there is a second Qwaser of Stigmata series; the epilogue for episode 24, which shows Sasha and another regular cast member being introduced in a radically different setting, is actually a preview for the second season. However, while this series leaves a few loose threads at the end, it does tell a complete enough story that viewers could end here and be satisfied. (Although the suggestion of what Sasha will have to do on his next mission is rather enticing!) Over the course of the series the character relationships are built firmly enough, and the action component is good enough, for the series to succeed aside from its intense fan service elements and despite some down time and rough spots in the second half's writing.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ All of the fan service one could want, respectable character development, terrific new opener.
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