Witchblade Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What They Say
An unsteady family painstakingly built will crumble at the whim of unyielding authority, this time leaving Masane alone and frozen by the harsh results of their icy grip. Little Rihoko's become a pawn in an experiment to dissect love. But our walls do not a home make, and shared blood must be weighed against the bonds of real life.

Contains episodes 13-16:

The Review!
It's musical mothers for Rihoko as the reality of her past and heritage comes to light as Masane can do only so much.

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.

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. There are a fair number of these during these 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.

After the less than pleasing slipcover with the previous volume, this one shines quite a bit better as it features several of the Cloneblades together with Rihoko in their clutches as the Witchblade prepares to retrieve her. The designs look good and the color style fits well, though the silver foil of the slipcover causes it to look a bit dull. 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 cute beefcake 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 Reina in her Cloneblade mode which is really interesting to look at considering the way the pinks and purples in her design play out against the white background. The back cover continues 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 Shinya Ogura 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.

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.

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 seventeen 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 actress for Reina. 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)
As Witchblade moves into its second half of the series, it continues to really surprise me with how little violence there is in it all told. The X-cons have essentially dropped out of the picture in favor of the Cloneblades, but they're used sparingly at the moment. The show is far more focused on family and relationship issues and unearthing things from the past in order to give it all context. This isn't a criticism, though I would like to see a few more intense fights to be sure, but just an observation on how very differently the Japanese have interpreted this franchise.

When it comes to family, which is really at the core of this storyline, it undergoes a radical change right from the start here as the NSWF has informed Masane that Rihoko is definitely not her daughter according to the tests. They've also found the mother as she had seen Rihoko at one point and had a feeling that it was here and began the investigation into it. Rihoko certainly doesn't want to go and there is a predictable attempt at hiding out from everyone, but circumstances don't allow this to go forward in any meaningful way. Masane does the tough thing and makes the break with Rihoko and insists that she goes with her real mother. It's melodramatic and drawn out, but it's not unexpected in how it affects everyone.

It's at this point that I have my only real issue with the series in how it present the entire mother and daughter relationship. There is simply a lot of bad dialogue about who is a mother, parent and so forth that the words lose all meaning. Masane has for all intents and purposes been a mother to Rihoko for the six years she's been with her. Reina, who it turns out is her biological mother, is simply a parent at this point since she hasn't performed the role of an emotional mother. The differences between biological and emotional are important here and the characters simply don't handle it well. Even worse, the entire thing is done in a way that it's a clean break between Masane and Rihoko, something that's cruel beyond words and just shouldn't be allowed to happen. The NSWF continues to be an evil organization for many reasons.

These moments take up a good chunk of time early on and it begins to lightly shift the focus onto Reina, an interesting participant in the Cloneblade program who has gone off on her own for research. Her transformations are becoming more problematic and she's basically eating herself in terms of her power, which will lead to something that we discover will happen to all Cloneblades and probably the Witchblade as well. Reina, in her role as Lady, finds herself in a difficult situation as she's just trying to continue on her research and to see how having Rihoko in her life will change her. They're small changes but they serve to bring her into closer contact with Masane which in turn helps to move everything forward again as Maria is going to be the real obstacle.

Not unlike a lot of past episodes, a lot of what makes up Witchblade are the small moments where events are building. Tozawa and Chou continue their research into what the Witchblade and Cloneblades are about while Takayama continues to deal with the way the Douji corporation works and how a particular division is still trying to usurp his position. The Cloneblade program is explored in a bit more detail but it tends to focus around Maria and the way she's so completely coddled by everyone so that they can get what they want out of her. These are all good moments that help to enhance the show and slowly give it its direction, but there still isn't a really big turning point yet where you can see exactly how it's all going to go. There's enough predictability, but the sign posts aren't brightly lit just yet.

In Summary:
I would be derelict in my duties if I did not point out that this volume of Witchblade continues a beach episode. A pleasant diversion is taken when Tozawa has a gig to do and his attractive female editor brings along a few friends in the company to go to the beach with Masane and the other residents of the apartments. It's a big episode of pure fanservice in many ways as everyone wears skimpy outfits and flaunts it like there's no tomorrow. It's certainly not a surprise to see it in the show and it didn’t overly detract from the storyline as they used it to help solidify some of the relationships. But like much of the show, it just didn't have that big impact to it that you'd expect from such a property. Witchblade, when not providing copious amounts of fanservice and skin shots, is surprisingly thoughtful and relaxed in its approach as it hopefully builds up towards something intense and truly satisfying.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,The Witchblade Forged Part 2, Japanese Cast Interview: Voice of Reina Sohou, 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: TV MA
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