Six years after the Great Earthquake, the cause of it all is back in town and corporate clones of it are about to make it all worse.
What They Say
The destiny of the Witchblade continues – in stunning high definition!
Sought by the greed of Men since the dawn of Humankind, but only bestowed upon the woman whose fate it forever scars – The Witchblade. Is it the Righteous Sword of God, of the Hand of the Devil Himself? Now a new bearer has been chosen and she must discover the answers for herself. As she stands on the brink of destiny, she is forced to seek the balance between ecstasy and ruin…
Masane Amaha is a woman on the fringe of society, bouncing rootless from town to town with her daughter, Rihoko. She struggles to build a life for her family, with no memory of the past and no clue as to what the future holds. But upon their arrival back in Tokyo forces conspire to separate parent from child, unleashing the fury of the Witchblade. The young mother will find herself conscripted into the service of the Doji Group and hunted down by the emissaries of the NSWF, all while seeking to balance the weight of this forced duality.
FUNimation’s bilingual presentation on this release is certainly going to be controversial, though one must start off with the simple fact that it’s good to have a bilingual presentation at all considering that it could be crippled easily because of licensing issues. The English language mix is done here with Dolby TrueHD in 5.1 with a good lossless variable bitrate that provides for a good sounding series that is for all intents and purposes a strong forward soundstage mix. The Japanese language mix is presented in its original stereo form using Dolby Digital encoded at 640kbps, which is more than the lowly 192kbps the DVD release had. Dolby Digital is not high definition audio however which is where the problem lies. What is worth noting is that there really feels like very little difference between the two mixes since the English mix is a reworking of the original stereo stems and not something that was created by the Japanese mixers. It’s certainly a good mix and on the DVD there was a more noticeable difference in volume levels, but here when taken in total across twenty-four episodes with various spot checks, I’m hard pressed to find a lot of difference in the two. Even saying that though, I want high definition audio with my languages and we should at minimum for a stereo mix be getting a PCM uncompressed mix if they don’t feel like justifying putting it through the Dolby TrueHD royalty machine. This is more of a marketing issue and a concern for the hardcore fans and I’m fully behind the hardcore fans, but I will also say that by and large most people will not note any serious differences in these two mixes.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is in 1080p using the AVC code. The series is twenty-four episodes spread across three discs, with two dual layered discs having ten episodes each while the third disc is single layered that holds the final four episodes and all the extras. Witchblade appears to be an upscaled release from the original source to 1080p and one that is certainly leaps and bounds above the DVD release, which had some significant break-up and noise issues in the opening sequences that was quite problematic. This release is unusual in that other shows from Gonzo during this time period were being done in high definition and being a co-production you would think FUNimation would have full HD masters of it. That said, the visual presentation of it during normal playback is really quite good as it has very vibrant colors and no visible blocking and only a minor layer of noise during a few particular scenes in the backgrounds. Motion is smooth and problem free and it avoids general issues such as cross coloration and line noise. With four hours of video on the first two discs and ninety minutes on the third plus extras, the show has a good look to it with a lot of the big scenes featuring a high bitrate to give it room to breathe.
When the series originally came out, a big draw for people was that the individual volumes all had artwork done on the front side by Top Cow artists. I haven’t been a fan of the Top Cow style since it first started for the most part so it wasn’t a draw for me, but the lack of it here (even as an extra) is disappointing. That said, what we do get is solid with a slipcover that holds the two standard sized Blu-ray cases. The box is done in white much as the singles were where the front of it features Masane in Witchblade mode with a sense of power about her as well as a clear shot of her buxom twins. It’s a very simple cover but there’s a lot of appeal there with the focus on the single character with the white backdrop. The back of the slipcover has the same white approach which is extremely appealing here as it lets Masane stand out along the top and provides a good contrast to the Blu-ray logo above her. The summary is very clean and easy to read and the breakdown of all the extras along the right helps make it very readable and easy to peruse. The discs technical spec grid gets everything across clearly and I like that they list the individual runtimes for the main feature and the extras.
Inside the slipcover we get the two standard sized Blu-ray cases which follow the character artwork with a white background. The artwork feels like its reversed as the first volume has the super powered up Witchblade while the second volume has Masane and Rihoko together smiling and looking all happy. The back covers feature the abstract streaking that I believe was on the original DVD releases as well and they break down each disc with its episode numbers and titles while the second volume also includes all the extras that are on it. The release also features reverse side artwork on each of them with both covers pairing the original Witchblade and Lady together but in different positions and with different expressions for each volume. These are decent looking releases overall but it’s the slipcover that steals the show which is something of a rarity with a lot of releases.
Witchblade has a simple menu design but one that works nicely as the bulk of it is action and flashy sequences from the series itself playing over the whole screen. There are a lot of nice shots that set the mood along with the music so it works well. The actual menu system itself is small with a bar along the lower left that has some of the purple cracked artwork from the back cover to tie it all together. The same menu is used as the pop-up menu during playback and it is pretty responsive and easy to navigate. Episode selection builds out well with numbers and titles for each selection and other submenus access just as quickly, though as is the norm our players’ language presets are not read.
The extras for this release appear to have everything that made it onto the original DVD releases and are presented in 480i. The usual suspects are here in the clean openings and closings, some TV commercials and the original promotional video made to get the word out before it aired. The big stuff comes in both the Japanese and English created interview pieces. The is the section that covers all the Japanese cast interviews which is pretty extensive with all the principle characters dealt with over the course of the ten minutes on average that each interview runs. The extras that I was looking forward to the most are the English original ones, such as the “Witchblade Forged” which deals with the US production side and the three pieces here run between sixteen and twenty minutes. But they take it even further with an “Inside Top Cow” section that has lots of US based videos, such as a tour of the studio with Marc Silvestri, how to create a comic, outtakes, coloring, info on Image and more. It’s a good fleshing out of the studio and they all came across as very eager and excited to participate in something like this, something I wish there was more of.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the US comic property from Top Cow Productions that began back in the 1990's, Witchblade is a twenty-four episode TV series by Gonzo that takes the concept and runs with it in its own way. It's been an age since I read the original comic, and only the first dozen or so issues at that when Image Comics was all the rage, and I liked it but it came at a time I was starting to fall out of that particular hobby. Witchblade is an ideal property to adapt into anime since it's built around multiple wearers throughout time and that keeps it pretty open for interpretation.
We reviewed the series as it was released in individual volumes so for a more detailed breakdown, do check out those reviews. This is the first time I watched it in marathon form though and it certainly has a different feel and there are different areas that are worth talking about. Witchblade takes place in a relative near future in Japan where it's six years since the Great Earthquake occurred which essentially leveled much of Tokyo. There's been a lot of progress since then and a good deal of the city is back in shape, but there are continual areas of rebuilding going on and a lot of it is still underwater, such as where we see Tokyo Tower leaning to the side on a small piece of land that hasn't quite submerged yet. The Tokyo of Witchblade is one that has both the past and the future within it.
The main theme of Witchblade is that of family and it revolves centrally around the relationship of Masane and her daughter Rihoko. Masane lost her memory during the Great Earthquake as she was found at the epicenter of it along with Rihoko and a maternity book with that information in it, though Masane couldn't even remember who she was. The pair stayed out of Tokyo for quite some time but have returned even though Child Welfare is after them because Masane doesn't exactly qualify as a proper parent because of her lack of a job and being a single mother. The two of them are very tight though and have worked hard to stay together and the love between them is easily visible.
In order to support Rihoko, Masane lands herself a special job with Douji Industries. That job involves doing clean-up work for them in eliminating special weapons that the company created that have gone rogue in the last few years. How can Masane do this? When she woke up after the 'quake, she had a piece of elaborate jewelry attached to her right arm, which she's informed is called the Witchblade. The devices origins aren't exactly clear but Douji's been researching it for some time before it disappeared during the 'quake and now they want it back. It's not an ideal situation but Masane finds herself well paid and it provides the security she needs for Rihoko.
Their situation, their relationship, is explored often throughout the series as they're pulled apart at times and Masane tries to deal with the kind of work she has to do through transforming into the buxom deadly creature that shakes both her upper and lower money makers. With Masane's past a mystery and the uncertainty about the true relationship between her and Rihoko, there's a lot to explore as the real family members start to slide into the picture. A good secondary cast is built up around the pair in the small apartment building they move into as Masane meets a photographer who aspires to be more and sees her as a path towards it when he captures one of her transformation moments. While there are moments where you want to roll your eyes in disbelief, especially towards the end when six year old Rihoko seems even older than she already does and runs into a war filled city in order to find her mother, the bond between the two is one of the best things about the series and a real defining element of it.
To provide the conflict in the show beyond the various specialized weapons that Douji makes, there’s another corporation thrown into the mix with the National Scientific Welfare Foundation. The NSWF is run by a mysterious man who likes to be called Father because he’s basically built a genetic series of female clones in order to create a true self for himself someday. These clones, which are then cross bred with each other as well, are the ones that wear the cloned versions of the Witchblade as well which they call Cloneblades. There’s some interesting material here as you have the various girls working for him and trying to please him, but there are rogue elements as well. The NSWF doesn’t feel fully formed at times though because of Father’s plan not being really revealed for some time. There’s a lack of urgency in what they do and the competition between the two companies doesn’t come across well. There is more fun in watching the two main executives at Douji trying to outmaneuver each other.
What really surprised me with Witchblade is that it manages to avoid a monster of the week scenario, something that you would think it’d do a lot more of based on the opening of the series. The introduction of the X-cons weapons that went rogue and the other I-weapons that are introduced gives you the idea that that is where it’ll focus. But as it progresses past the first few episodes, it’s the Cloneblades of various generations that become the real problem and they tend to play more for keeps so it’s not a “oh, you beat me, I’ll get you next time!” kind of moment. There are a lot of fun fight scenes to be had here among the various ‘blade wearers and that works well, but not going the cheap way out with the monster of the week concept helps this show a lot.
Witchblade really surprised me at times as to how much I liked it. I went in when I first saw it with very low expectations since it’s a Japanese adaptation of a Western comic book. It is one that you can work easily with because of the concept and they did an interesting take on it. The only downside is that I don’t think the visual representation of the outfits works well and they overemphasized the cleavage in doing so. There’s a good way to do the skin factor and a bad way and this one felt bad. At the core of it all though is a story about relationships, that of a mother and daughter and of many others who are in various kinds of relationships. Masane’s story with Rihoko and those close to her is what made this show fun and one that I thought played out much better in marathon form than it did in single disc form, never mind weekly episodic showings. It’s not a show I can really recommend easily and not without some caveats, but it’s one that I’ve enjoyed because of what it does well, not what it does poorly.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Cast Interviews: Masane Amaha, Rihoko Amaha, Yusuke Tozawa, Reiji Takayama, Reina Sohou, Hiroki Segawa, Tatsuoki Furumizu & Maria, Promotional Video, Japanese TV Spots, Tour of Top Cow Studios with Marc Silvestri, How to Create a Comic Book the Top Cow Way, The Witchblade Forged, Studio Tour Outtakes, Coloring a Comic Book Page, The Early Days of Image Comics, Top Cow Staff Talks about Comics, Experiences in Japan, Crossing into Other Media, Textless Songs
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.