Reviewby Theron Martin,
Disturbed by the notion of her ultimate fate because of the Witchblade, Masane starts to become overly protective and possessive of Rihoko, to the dismay of those around them. Bigger issues are at hand, however. Wadou tries to make his power-play with his Ultimate Blade, Maria decides to quit being childish and get serious, and Tozawa decides to delve deeper into the past and family of Father. Although Takayama manages to outmaneuver Wadou, a public relations catastrophe for the Douji group takes its toll. In its wake a concerned Masane seeks out Takayama to further their relationship and encourage him to start bonding with Rihoko, his biological daughter, as a hedge against a time when she may not be able to be there for Rihoko anymore. Although new conflicts reveal an even greater power level to the Witchblade that Masane has previously experienced, it becomes all too clear to her that her time may be running short.
Gonzo series are generally known better for being flashy than for offering compelling writing, but episodes 17-20 of this one produce such satisfying story and plot development that one can almost forget that this was originally a series centered around big-breasted women in scandalously scanty combat armor getting thrills from committing mayhem. In fact, for all of the early emphasis on action, these four episodes offer only two intense but relatively brief true action scenes and may be better for it. One key revelation and several major character and story developments occur during this span, and the writers wisely decided to concentrate on them and furthering character relationships rather than punctuating the series with needless additional violence.
The biggest change is in Maria, who finally gets rid of both her irritating childishness and her awful hair color scheme, trading them for a more mature outwardness and sensible monocolor dark shade, respectively. The direction she heads over this span may surprise some, though it does remain consistent with the ultimate motive she forms. (Yes, she has a purpose now beyond just trying to please Father, and that actually makes her somewhat scary.) At about the same time we also learn the true nature of Father's motivations with the Neo-Genes, and they show that he is more deeply warped than may have originally been apparent. Developments on the Masane/Takayama front are not unexpected and certainly do not disappoint; watching two people of such diametrically different dispositions falling for each other continues to amuse. Watching Takayama struggle mightily to interact with Rihoko after so deftly putting Wadou in his place is also good for a smile or two.
Despite all of the other developments and colorful supporting cast members, Rihoko continues to steal the show in virtually every scene in which she appears. Granted, being the only regular child character gives her an advantage, but her precocious cuteness allows her to dominate scenes like few other supporting child characters ever have. Her screen presence is all the more remarkable because the series does not go out of its way to aggrandize her; it just lets her be herself. A viewer could justify watching the series just for her and her sparkling interactions with virtually anyone else.
Aside from the improvement in Maria's appearance and the new “second stage” look for Masane in her battle get-up, little can be said about the visuals that has not been said in previous reviews. The animation seems to drop off a notch through this run, while a couple of clothes-buying sequences allow Rihoko opportunities for dress-up. These episodes do offer significant graphic content but little for fan service.
The feature piece of the musical score through this volume is unquestionably the second opener “Hey, Bob” by Koologi, a hip, rockin' number which mixes Japanese and English in a distinct Jamaican style. The more typical but still solid rock sound of second closer “Kutsuhimo” closes out each episode. With less action in this volume the soundtrack in between depends more heavily on lower-key suspenseful pieces but still retains some rock sensibility.
The English dub also holds true to the work seen in previous volumes. Carrie Savage is perfect as Rihoko, but all of the casting choices are excellent ones, with the only possible objectionable voice being Jaime Marchi as Masane. English performances likewise hit the mark, with Mark Stoddard softening Takayama just the right amount to make certain scenes with Rihoko credible. As usual, the English script wanders, sometimes a lot and sometimes very little, though in no place does it go off track enough to be a problem.
In addition to yet another hinged foil slipcover, volume 5 includes a good stock of Extras. “The Witchblade Forged III” offers the third part of a discussion by key Top Cow personnel, which this time focuses on how the purely American property got turned into an anime, similarities and differences between the anime and comic versions, and how the anime fits into the overall Witchblade continuity. Shorter interviews with two of the seiyuu, taken from the original Japanese DVD releases, prove most interesting in the questions they get to pose for the next person to be reviewed. Textless versions of the current opener and closer are also present. The DVD case includes an 8-page liner booklet providing a text interview with the music director and brief profiles on various supporting characters. Notably, the DVD cover art does not appear anywhere in this volume.
Even those who got into the series originally for the action and sexiness may still find that all of the relationship and story development in this volume makes it the best one yet. That the series has not headed in the decidedly tawdry direction it originally appeared it was going, and instead decided to focus more on its content, is perhaps the best thing about the second half of this series.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Plenty of plot, character, and relationship development, great opening song.
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