Witchblade Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, December 13, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, December 04, 2007



What They Say
Shocking revelations threaten to undo Masane and every soul that surrounds her in this desperate age of fear and lust. The horrible X-Cons prove unthinkable abominations, and even Reina begins to question the blind passions of the past. Masane's own relationship with Rihoko grows shakier with each gasp of air into her new warrior lungs.

Mother and daughter sleep separated tonight, alone and disoriented in the frenzy surrounding their new lives. Amidst the threats to sanity and life and limb, friendship will prove a rare and valuable thing. As men move through the shadows to shape the world, an unquiet moon reflects the face of a mother lost.

The Review!
The mysteries of the X-cons becomes clearer while Tozawa finds himself becoming much more involved in the overall storyline.

Audio:
FUNimation has provided for some good audio mixes here as three different tracks exist. The original Japanese track is done in a solid stereo mix at 256 kbps as is that English 2.0 mix. Each of these comes across well during playback with forward soundstage directionality and clarity. There is a bit of depth to be found there but the show doesn't call for much of that just yet. The third track is an English 5.1 mix done at 448 kbps which adds a fair bit more bass to things and overall punches it up a good bit. What's surprising is that the English 5.1 mix is not only the third mix on the disc but it falls behind the stereo English mix. When a player starts, it'll select that one before the 5.1 mix and some folks won't even know. In listening to the Japanese mix, we didn't have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Witchblade is a very vibrant series during a lot of the scenes as it features some very fluid animation as the lead character flits about and engages in wonderful violence. The source material for this appears to be in solid shape as there aren't any blemishes or problems with it. The encoding for it has suffered in a few areas but does show some improvement in general over other recent FUNimation releases. The background noise continues to be a problem but generally only in the darker scenes or the red filtered pieces. There are a fair number of these during the first four episodes but they're contrasted with the rather clean looking and solid daytime sequences. The noise during the night sequences tends to vary in how bad it is, some scenes feel very light and almost intentional while others are far too noisy for their own good. The red filtered scenes at the beginning of the opening sequence in particular stand out as being rather bad.

Packaging:
While I've enjoyed the first two volumes in their slipcover form, this one with Masane and Nora are going at it in their transformed modes, really doesn't click well. It's far more western in design than the first two and really doesn't feel like it fits with the show all that well. The back cover has some animation artwork of Masane in her Witchblade form where the Witchblade is lit up. The slipcover has a twist in that the front panel pops open to reveal some wonderful cheesecake and the usual information we find on the back covers of releases. What's not done too well is that there's a dab of glue to hold it all together instead of one of those Velcro tabs which means it'll wear off over time and the front flap will, well, flap freely.

The keepcase is done in a rather minimal mode as the front cover has a shot of Nora in her Cloneblade mode that isn't quite as revealing as some previous covers. The back cover continues to the white from the front and has a sideways design to it wherein it's mostly empty outside of a few lines about the shows premise overall. This really feels like a number of recent Japanese imports I've seen in its layout and design which I have to admit, while minimal on the details, is very striking. The reverse side of the keepcase has some purple and white artwork to it that isn't terribly distinct. The included booklet kicks off with the artwork from the back of the slipcover and then delves into a two page interview with the character design and executive animation director before providing a couple of pages of character designs. The back page is actually a full ad for the original comics as well as the manga which isn't a surprise at all.

Menu:
The menu design for the series is surprisingly restrained as it's an all white background that has a strip along the top area wherein clips from the series play. The series logo is just above it while the simple navigation is below. A bit of instrumental music is set to it as well and overall it feels very classic in its design and very minimal in how it's playing up the fanservice elements. I really expected that to be strong here. The layout is standard for FUNimation and access times are solid when moving about the submenus. As is usual, the player presets are basically ignored and impossible to use due to angle issues as well.

Extras:
The included extras again provide a good mix between US and Japan that gives a larger view of the franchise. The first extra is a fifteen minute piece done in association with Top Cow that goes into the origins of the series in comic book form and how it transitioned to animation form. The other big extra gives some quality time to the Japanese voice actors who again get to go over their roles, characters and thoughts on the series in general. This time it's an eight minute piece that talks with the voice actor for Takayama. Also included is the standard and always welcome clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Witchblade moves up to the halfway point in the series and a few things are getting a bit clearer due to that. Though the show doesn't have a standard "big moment" at this point that helps to cement what the second half will be like, it does spend a good bit of time solidifying up things in terms of characters and settings. The background gets fleshed out a touch more and some basic character traits are given some good notice, particularly when it comes to Masane.

Masane's manner is something that sometimes does serve her well, and the recent revelation that the X-cons may be something more than the cold machine killers she thought they were has her questioning things. The recent serial killer that turns out to be an X-con comes under scrutiny by Masane, mostly helped by the investigating that Tozawa is performing. His recent "hiring" of her has certainly helped them both as he tends to get into situations that are out of his realm but squarely in hers. Of course, his involvement with her doesn't go unnoticed by the always watchful eyes of the Douji Corporation but they have an amusingly dismissive view of him overall. It's something that you have to wonder how it'll turn around to bite them in the rear in the future.

What proves to be the most fun about the series is the way it throws the characters into such amusing situations. Masane's attempts at garnering information from Takayama is something that gets her thrust into a different world. One of Takayama's competitors in the corporation, a man that's actually pretty scummy in his own way, is doing his best to unseat Takayama and will go to unseemly means to do so. But he's also not above something as basic as not inviting him to a party that he's throwing, which is amusingly enough for himself. Takayama takes advantage of this by crashing it with Masane in tow but not until he gets her all gussied up in some really fine clothes and a proper makeover. The interactions between the two are very amusing, to the point where they're such an odd couple that you really want to see them get together.

All of it is just a prelude to the NSWF getting their act together and deciding that their best bet is to simply kidnap Masane and do their discoveries that way. Nishida continues to be interested in getting the Witchblade back to where he feels it belongs but also to prove that they can outdo it with their Cloneblades. The use of Nora to bring Masane in makes sense but it's provided in contrast to events within the NWSF as we see Maria rising in the ranks as her training continues. A prime example of what the NWSF wants out of its Cloneblade program, Maria is less human that most and even goes to the point of killing her training partners. How anyone would want to partner with her after the first time is beyond me, never mind the sixth time.

The kidnapping of Masane actually leads to some of the better action moments of the series as she fights against Nora for a bit and then finds herself deep within the bowels of the NWSF. Tozawa's role gets a bit bigger as he does his best to infiltrate it and his relationship with Masane makes it all the more fun. Moving him from a basic tabloid photog to someone who is onto the really big story has worked well for the character and his interactions with Masane allow them to play well together. In its own way, if you look at every show as a "will they or won't they" kind of thing, it's a real toss up between wanting to see Masane hook up with Tozawa or Takayama.

In Summary:
Witchblade continues to have something of a slower approach to telling its story than I would have suspected. While it's certainly overt with its sexuality at times, it's actually fairly restrained when it comes to the action. It's far more interested in telling some character tales and building up the small world that it's exposing us to. Witchblade is a series that screams for a lot of action and it does have several payoffs for it throughout the first half so far, but it really does come across as very restrained in a lot of ways. That's actually quite appealing, and it continues to prove amusing to see the various moments where it simply panders to the audience with its fanservice. I'm still fairly ambivalent about the show as a whole but I admit to enjoying it in the small doses I'm getting it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Origins of Witchblade,Japanese Voice Actor Interview,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
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.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Witchblade