Witchblade Vol. #6 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Monday, January 19, 2009
Release Date: Monday, December 15, 2008

End of the line for Witchblade, and possibly for Masane as well, as the device draws ever more powerfully on her life-force.  With opponents queueing up to get hold of the Witchblade for themselves, and Riko a possible future host, Masane has some tough decisions to make – and not just about her own future…

What They Say
The emotional strain is nothing when compared to the physical strain of the Witchblade, and it looks like Masane is fast approaching the end. Rapidly deteriorating, the force of normal life continues as all plot and plan around her. Forces begin to gather by the thousands. The good news: Wado's been unseated and Takayama's taken charge. The bad news: this time the lives of everyone in Tokyo are at stake!

Episodes Comprise
21 - Vow
22 - Inform
23 - Chaos
24 - Light

The Review!
Audio:
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Sound is clan and clear, with some good use of direction and a decent amount of oomph in the action scenes. There were no apparent problems.

Video:
Video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, and as you'd expect from most things GONZO a lot of effort seems to have been spent on making it look good - from character designs to backgrounds, the look & feel of the show is just right. Fortunately, the transfer does justice to that effort, with very little in the way of visible encoding problems.
 
Packaging:
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menu:
The main screen features an image of Masane, in full Witchblade mode, with the various options on a banner running across them and a series of clips from the show playing in the background (although they're so heavily obscured by the menu art you'll have a hard time making them out). Options are provided for Play All, Episodes, Setup & Extras. There are no transition animations, so it's all quick and easy enough to use.

Extras:
Along with the usual creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences, there's a final VA interview, this time featuring Nana Muziki, who provides the Japanese voice for Maria.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Word from the doctos after Masane's latest battle isn't good - while they don't know how she got to be in the condition she's in (and no-one's going to admit to her using the Witchblade), odds are that she doesn't have long to live - there's just too much strain being placed on her body, thanks to her using the full power of the Witchblade.  This isn't news to Masane, either, and now she just wants to go home and spend time with her family: Riko and Takayama.  Wadou, meanwhile, is furious that Masane's still alive and steps up the pressure on his underlings to deal with her, while Yusuke tails Takayama back to a top-secret Douji Group lab, looking for the truth about what's happening to Masane.  What he learns isn't good news.  Later, an attack on Tokyo by thousands of rogue I-Weapon units leaves Masane with little choice other than to fight, even though it may mean her death…

You knew right from the beginning of the series that Masane's tale wasn't going to be a happy one – it's never been any secret that possession of the Witchblade only leads to death – but there was always the hope that, left to her own devices and allowed to live in peace and quiet, Masane would never need to make use of the device.  No need to use it, no need to place the strain of using it on her body, no need to die an early death.  It would have been the happy ending that I wanted from the series, but of course that was never going to happen.

Instead, Takayama's control of her has placed her in harm's way multiple times, and now both Wadou and Maria are also forcing her to use the Witchblade's power – with each battle, the forces sent against her grow stronger, the amount of power she has to draw from the Witchblade grows larger, and her own remaining lifespan grows shorter.  Towards the end it's even the Witchblade itself that seems to be forcing the pace, as it's shown to be the one in charge of the rogue I-Weapon units that eventually attack Tokyo, leaving no way out for our heroine.

With the tone of the volume being generally so negative, there's less of a focus on the actual fighting and more on the outcomes and effects of the battles instead.  In some ways, that's fully understandable, but it does mean that some subplots don’t get made full use of.  Maria, for example, has been set up as a major threat for most of the series, but her final confrontation lasts just a few minutes – and it's not even Masane that finishes the job.  For the most part, her role in events is left seeming almost pointless, other than a moral contribution on the importance of family.  She certainly never lived up to the hype of her earlier, violent appearances.

Likewise, Wadou's involvement falls apart in the final episodes, as events around him simply render him irrelevant.  When you think how much time in the series was devoted to these two characters, only for them to end up as mere bitplayers in the larger story, you do begin to wonder why they bothered.

But while the action and scheming disappoint, the overall emotional impact of the ending doesn't.  It's a trainwreck, where you can see the coming disaster and know that it can't be avoided but still can't avoiding watching it happen.  Masane takes it with stoic resignation, even doing her best to prepare Riko for the end.  When it comes, it's extremely well done, being completely understated and conveying events in a way that leaves a lot unspoken but that still makes sure that you know exactly what has happened.  It's touching, moving, saddening, but also completely <em>right</em> in the way that it feels and is presented, showing just a ray of hope for the future.  As bittersweet endings go, it's one of the best, and rounds the series out just about perfectly.

In summary:
The latest in a growing list of shows that on the surface didn't interest me but turned out to be very enjoyable to watch, Witchblade signs off with a volume that plays down its trademark violence a bit in place of something more thoughtful – and produces a very good ending in the process.  Not happy by any means, but worthwhile and moving viewing.  It you've enjoyed the rest of the series as much as I have, this volume certainly won't disappoint.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, The Japanese Cast Interviews �" Voice of Maria, Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 and Up
Region: 2 - Europe/Japan
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £15.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Witchblade