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AKA: ブレイドアンドソウル
Genre: Action, fantasy
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks, but also available on Crunchyroll.
Content Rating: 17+ (Fanservice, death, murder, mature elements.)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Queen's Blade, Freezing.
Notes: Based on a Korean martial arts MMORPG game for the PC by developers Team Bloodlust.
Rating:

Blade & Soul

Synopsis

After the murder of her master, Alka, an assassin from the Clan of the Sword, sets out on a quest of revenge to kill his murderer, a woman named Jin Varrel. While travelling, she meets with a lot of people and gets caught up in their problems.


Review

It's easy to brush off Blade & Soul as yet another show in the vein of Ikkitousen or Queen's Blade; when something you make is the most famous for containing the art of a certain Kim Hyung-tae -- who is famous for making quite detailed art of curvy, yet willowy beauties, it's almost to be expected. Yet, Blade & Soul has things it wants to say, things that goes a little beyond the effort most cheesecake shows bother to make. Doesn't mean it does a particularly good job of it, but you gotta respect the effort, at least.

Alka is our main protagonist, an almost handicappedly silent woman who also happen to be an assassin. You could probably argue that an assassin has little reason going on a quest for revenge for murder for very... ironic reasons, and this isn't entirely lost on Blade & Soul. She's basically the show's blank slate, adding little to the proceedings outside of red gushes of mist shooting out of people's necks once she goes to work.

To make up for that, most of the other characters are blabbermouths, shooting in most of the exposition each episode brings to the table. The game this show is based on haven't gotten an English release, so I can't really tell how much familiarity with it would have helped. I can only hope it does, though, because the series story is... extremely episodic, and what happens in one episode has little to nothing to do with the former one. This wouldn't have been so bad if the episodes hadn't been so weird.

The world of Blade & Soul has this dry, sand-blasted feel to it, and while I wouldn't call it post-apocalyptic per se, it's got a rather rogue-ish Tatooine feel to it; where law and morality is a huge grey area, and lush, vibrant villages are there to burn as an example of the badness of the Palam empire, the main antagonists of this show. One of the few beacons of light that survives for more than a single episode is a place called Tomon Inn, run by what is probably my favorite character in the show; Karen El. It doubles as a saloon, where people can come and drink their worries away and sample some of the local entertainment. Curiously enough, despite the show's propensity for fanservice, Karen's inn is not a haven of prostitutes. Sure, they're there in the city, but their work is mostly alluded to, more of a portrayal of the state of the world rather than played out for titillation.

Kim Hyung-tae's art certainly isn't unpleasant. He's got this flair for drawing long-legged, willowy beauties in costumes that are as visually impressive as they are impractical -- seriously; Jin Varrel's female aide looks like she gets dressed by a splattergun loaded with oil each morning. And while most of the ladies have chest sizes to spare, it's quite clear that Kim is a thigh man more than anything else. The anime, sadly, doesn't do a particularly good job at transferring that to the screen, though, and the animation quality is even worse. For an action-based show, the battle scenes are just embarrassing to watch; either because it gets too obsessed with closeups, or because it chooses to do its many confusing clash montages with heavy usage of clumsy 3D CG backgrounds.

Just so we're clear on this: the show is based on an MMORPG with a heavy focus on martial arts fighting, and its fighting scenes look mostly terrible. That's not good. That's not good at all.

Complicating things further, some of the episode plots are... irrelevant, to say the least. Blade & Soul seems to have taken some lessons from Queen's Blade: Rebellion there, being more interested in introducing us to the cast than doing anything meaningful with them. Yet, the show apparently has the time to run these subplots about an idiot who considers himself a hero, yet he's more concerned with his own image than the wellbeing of anyone. But in doing so, they basically promoted the idea that it's quite alright for a village to survive by producing a flower that will eventually be made into a drug that ruins lives, and quite easily at that. There is also an episode centered around what it means to take a life, which also involves secondary characters who show up in one episode -- which is also the general life expectancy of character who don't matter in the greater span of things. Sensible lessons, to be sure, but you already have an assassin in your cast, Blade & Soul. Wouldn't it be better to leave those lessons up to her?

This might sound like nitpicking to some of you, but really; this is the sort of thing Blade & Soul keeps doing for more than half of its runtime, with Alka mostly standing around saying little to nothing, ending more lives than she does sentences. It makes the whole thing a bit jarring when the show chooses to start moving again, and Alka snaps into focus hard enough to whiplash even the sleepiest viewer, and the remainder of the show is spent on her almost literally awakening and wallowing in angst, and even then, the general tone of the show changes from episode to episode, as the people Alka meets rarely last a single one.

The core story in the show is -- presumably -- the whole idea that revenge only fosters more violence, and while I wouldn't say I disagree with that -- or most of the things Blade & Soul has to say -- the show is being so obvious about it while at the same time trying to come off as deep and obtuse, I'm not sure whether I find it hilarious or irritating. Maybe both, which is why I find it so damn frustrating. The odd contradiction it sometimes throws at you, like the aforementioned hero subplot, or the fact that Alka's master seems to have designs on Alka that goes against the code of the assassin's guild she belonged to before this all started. Well... he did, anyway, before Jin Varrel killed him.

I wouldn't really recommend Blade & Soul. I don't generally mind episodic plots, but when you introduce a core idea and then just shove it aside for seven episodes so you can ramble about anything and everything, it just becomes a chore. Even the plot-relevant stuff takes forever, loaded down by speeches and inconsistencies. To punctuate it all; the show actually ends with a typical OAV episode where, once the main story is over and done with, the female leads head off to a hotspring to show some more skin, and that episode didn't really feel as out of place as its kind normally does.

Maybe you should just play the game instead.Stig Høgset

Recommended Audience: There is actually a fairly large amount of violence in this show. Aika does her share of throat-slitting, to telltale gushes of red, while Jin Varrel does horrible things to other people with her powers of "impurity".

On the fanservice side; the show might feature loads of hilariously dressed women, all of which have huge breasts, but the show isn't as full of fanservice as one might think. There is little to no outward nudity, and women in general are left alone. There are no sexual assaults of any kind, so that's a plus.

The show also gets kind of topical about a flower that's basically used as narcotics, amongst other things, so needless to say, this show is not for the young 'uns.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Blade & Soul © 2014 Gonzo, TBS
 
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