Witchblade Vol. #1 (also w/special edition) - Mania.com

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  • 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: 29.98/44.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Witchblade

Witchblade Vol. #1 (also w/special edition)

By Chris Beveridge     September 27, 2007
Release Date: September 25, 2007

Witchblade Vol. #1 (also w/special edition)
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

What They Say
The Witchblade is an ancient weapon bestowed only upon the women it forever scars. It's part armor, part sentient, and thirsts for battle. Masane Amaha discovers her fate and battles to keep possession of the Witchblade as two opposing forces risk all humanity for control of the ultimate weapon

The Review!
Six years after the Great Quake has destroyed much of Tokyo, amnesiac Masane returns with a fascinating and deadly device attached to her.

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 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.

FUNimation's love of the slipcover reaches a new height with this release as it has a rather good looking silver foil piece which showcases some original artwork of Masane in full Witchblade mode. The back cover has some animation artwork of her in both her normal form and her Witchblade form that shows some good contrast between the two, particularly in how the Witchblade form appears taller. And yes, bustier. 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 Amane in Witchblade form that's a bit… revealing. 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 director before providing a couple of pages of character designs and a few glossary words. 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.

A good selections of extras is included with this opening volume that will appeal to different audiences. For the fans of the Japanese cast, we get a nine minute interview session with the voice actress of Masane as she talks about how she viewed the show upon seeing it for the first time and the premise overall. A brief two minute promotional video for the series is also included here which is fascinating to see. Promotional videos don't always reflect the end result which is why I tend to enjoy them so much, especially since they're designed to really attract an audience and gain attention. The clean versions of the opening and closing songs are also included in this release and they look far better than what's in the show since their average bit rate during fast sequences is in the mid eights instead of low fours.

In a nod to the shows origins, the biggest extra included here is a thirteen minute "Inside Top Cow Productions" piece in which Marc Silvestri takes us through the studio and showcases a good deal of Witchblade material. With this being a US comic first and having a solid following, this is a good way to tie things back for the anime and bring in that audience that may not see Top Cow from this perspective too often, if at all.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Directed by Yoshimitsu Ohashi, Witchblade is a twenty-four episode series based on the original creation by Marc Silvestri of Top Cow Productions. In taking this property, which has already seen an adaptation into live action form in the US, Gonzo opted to use the basic concepts and ideas and create a new original story alongside Top Cow. The end result is something that has some very solid ties to what has come before but has to stand on its own. Having been a fan of the Witchblade comics when they first came out in those heady days of Image Comics, seeing this sort of adaptation of the franchise is extremely fascinating. So few western properties get adapted in this manner and that alone merits some extra attention.

With only a few things really related to the original right now, and mostly just thematic and prop oriented, Witchblade stands alone in a rather interesting way here. The series takes place six years after the Great Quake that occurred in Tokyo. The quake essentially destroyed much of the city but people are rebuilding it once again and a thriving economy is working its way through the changes. A good portion of the city is still in ruins, much of it under water, so it has a rather drab and rundown feel at times. A significant portion of the city is like it once was however as it was unaffected and stands out as a beacon of civilization and technology. It's into this city that Masane has returned along with her daughter Rihoko.

Their return to the city isn't quite all that they had hoped as it turns out that both are on the run. Life in this area since the Great Quake has seen some changes, notably in the now (in)famous Child Welfare department of the government. Since so many children were lost in the devastation or orphaned, children are almost overly protected by this agency. To cross this agency is to put your own prosperity at risk. Masane and Rihoko are actively being sought out by them as Masane has been deemed unfit to take care of Rihoko. As it turns out, the two were found at Naru Point, the apparent epicenter of the Great Quake, and Masane had lost her memory and didn't even realize she was a mother. In the time since then, the two have grown incredibly close but those fears still linger, both within Masane and the Child Welfare agency.

Though optimistic and full of energy the pair run into enough trouble fairly quickly and are separated before they know it. As it turns out, the Child Welfare group aren't the only ones looking for Masane as it seems she has a darker unknown secret to her. The Douji Group, a powerful corporation in the area, has become aware of her now being in the city and what she is actually capable of. Before they can get to her though, something strange that they've built which has gotten loose begins to transform before Masane's eyes and attack her. Events sweep Masane up into a transformation wherein she becomes taller, bustier and wears far less clothing. It also makes her incredibly vicious and bloodthirsty which is backed up by some strong powers and very deadly claws.

In its introductory episodes, Witchblade plays well with its pacing and story development. The expected focus on the action is actually somewhat less than I expected as more emphasis is given to the mother/daughter relationship. The violence is certainly aplenty as the Witchblade gets into the action and deals with the bizarre creations that are running amuck. These X-cons are hard to get a handle on so far as they feel just too far fetched in the scenarios that are being presented. The reasoning behind everything is still vague but as it's being kept mostly to Masane and her need to find a way to stay with Rihoko it isn't getting quite as much play yet. The opening episodes of the series bring about some situations that look to be more involved as we're just getting the initial set dressings and some of the character introductions.

The character designs for the series are rather good overall, though the weakest comes from the title character. Masane herself has something of a slightly ditzy feel to her but she's designed in an obviously attractive manner with sizeable breasts but not to the point where she's actively flaunting it. That's left for the Witchblade incarnation as she's stripped down to nearly nothing and gains a few inches in the appropriate places. While I'm certainly familiar with the original comics and the designs from there, some of the transition here just feels somewhat off in its presentation. It's almost like it's a bit too much but still close enough to not really bother me terribly. I would have far preferred it if the body designs for the two versions of Masane were identical outside of the outfits, hair color changes and other little tweaks.

In Summary:
While Witchblade certainly owes a lot to the original source comics, Yoshimitsu Ohashi has taken the franchise in an interesting direction with these first episodes while still keeping some very familiar elements. The overt sexuality is there, the reflective pacing is present and the fact that something bigger is going on is just as strong. Though it's been years since I read the comics last, the original issues I read back in the early 90's left an impression and seeing some of those elements adapted here has had me smiling. With so many bad faux-anime adaptations of comics in the past, Witchblade is something that I see as a chance to go down a new path. While I'm sure Gonzo has other things that they want to work on, I'd love to see them tackle a few other similar properties. In the end though, Witchblade must stand on its own and these first four episodes have certainly set the stage properly and have me curious to see how far it's going to go. Fans of the original comics will be treated to something familiar yet different while anime fans will get the same but in a different way.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitle,Witchblade Cast Interview, Promotional Video, "The History of The Witchblade" Featurette Part 1 of 4

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.


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