Can boobs carry an anime by themselves? This fascinating conundrum appears to have been the question going through the minds of the makers of Queen's Blade: Rurou no Senshi. I'm sure their surprise was as great as mine when the answer turned out to be a definitive "no". I was convinced that it would take a quite cataclysmic failure to screw up a premise such as "women with easily damaged clothing engage in close combat", but Queen's Blade forced me to eat my words, my hat and what little pride I have left in my anime tastes.
To give credit in one of the very few places where it is due, Queen's Blade never masquerades as anything other than over-the-top ecchi and it would be foolish to expect the plot to be much more than a laughable excuse for torn clothing, compromising positions and a bizarre array of characters clad in unusually kinky outfits. As such, any detailed or technical critique of the story would have all the sport of playing tennis against a blind man and even less satisfaction. However, problems begin to arise when the narrative transforms from a few paragraphs outlining the scenario to a drunken, incoherent monster of a storyline which goes so far as to act as a wholly unwelcome distraction from the show's pendulous main attractions.
The tournament's rules are alluded to moreso than explained, and the criteria for victory in the competition remain a complete mystery, even as the series draws to a close. Characters' motivations for competing range from the corny to the non-existent, and the value of the reward for winning the contest has to be extrapolated from a few lines of dialogue and a vague introductory narration. To compound the sketchiness of its premise, the show spends entire episodes trying to make the viewer care about certain characters, relating hackneyed and cliched sob stories with only the occasional burst of nudity serving as a dangling carrot throughout the resolutely uninteresting proceedings.
Perhaps the coup de grace is the final episode, where all attempts at making sense are shoved unceremoniously to one side in order to make way for a gigantic crate of laughable plot twists, inexplicable occurrences and preposterous set-up: in essence, a cornucopia of stupidity. Although I laughed throughout this inanity, it was uncomfortable laughter, tinged with the dismaying realisation that the anime was still taking itself quite seriously and that this was the grand conclusion to proceedings, rather than some kind of epic joke.
I expected nothing from the plot but got even less. It is off-putting, insulting and half-arsed from start to finish. By attempting - even if only on occasion - to deliver a storyline that is more than perfunctory, the anime completely cripples itself. If it were pure parody or pure comedy, Queen's Blade could well have been highly successful, but its token attempts to weave some kind of narrative fabric just end up with it creating an ugly piece of cloth which obscures the wonderful nudity on offer.
Passable to begin with, the animation of Queen's Blade - through lack of budget or lack of effort, I know not which - completely falls apart as the series progresses, with the final episode presenting quite possibly the worst visuals I've seen from a 21st Century anime. Characters, even when topless, look terrible from long range and their hair moves as if they styled it with concrete. In the final episode, such staples as lip-syncing and perspective are found wanting: the former to the point that I attempted in vain to correct the sound delay on my computer, the latter even causing me question my eyesight. Towards the end of the episode, following some special effects reminiscent of Windows Movie Maker, even walking appears to present a problem and a couple of characters apparently decide to slide, or possibly float, as a means of transportation so as not to unnecessarily drain the threadbare animation resources.
Because the show's offering is primarily a visual one, this lack of animation quality should be seen as harmful to its bottom line. Even scenes of heavy rain - which ought to offer a wonderful opportunity for soaked cleavage and glistening curves - are botched, with torrents of water seemingly having no effect on characters, except to leave a few poorly drawn splash marks on darker coloured garments.
One of the things which always amused me about Queen's Blade is the fact that it comprises what could be considered a dream team of voice actors. With Aya Hirano, Rie Kugimiya, Ayako Kawasumi, Rie Tanaka and Yuuko Gotou among others, the seiyuu cast reads like a Who's Who of fanboy favourites. And, to their credit, they do a decent job of it. Even towards the end, with the animators having given up trying and the scriptwriters entrusting their task to a demented monkey, the voicing remains of a high standard, with Hirano's energetic performance as Nanael a surprising highlight.
With the exception of a good ED, whose simple but pleasant melody found it a place on my iPod, the music is standard fare. Faux-Medieval action music for the fighting scenes, a bit of generic chanting to build up important moments and some forgettable sounds for the remainder make for an uninspiring if inoffensive experience.
From Nanael's tendency to spill thick, white "holy milk" over herself to Echidna's questionable decision to wear a live snake instead of panties, the characters of Queen's Blade seem to have most fetishes covered, including some that probably don't even exist. Notable even among this salacious bunch is the bunny-eared Melona. With oversized funbags that actually shoot acid (and later, for no apparent reason, explosions), she seems like something out of a gay man's nightmare.
When it comes to sweater fruit, however, the anime actually demonstrates an astonishing lack of variety. Only a handful of characters have boobs that might conceivably exist in real life, and they find themselves very much on the small side of the spectrum. On the other end, past the F-cupped majority, the weaponsmith, Cattleya, sports a pair of grotesque monstrosities which arouse only feelings of disgust.
With the more or less uniform size, particularly among the main cast, there's very much a sense of "seen one pair of mountainous mammaries, seen them all". Given that it takes the anime less than three minutes to expose the first two sets of shirt potatoes and given that - in spite of the commendable ingenuity involved in the "holy milk" stunt - the series is unable to go much further than this, there's very little to look forward to, even during the first episode. Indeed, all that remains is the vision of the same breasts over an over again, and occasional moments of downright freakiness. Are snake bites erotic? Queen's Blade says "yes!"
Unless you happen to be averse to omnipresent female nudity, the main problem with Queen's Blade is the fact that it has no idea what it wants to do, and ends up falling into a barren no-man's-land, lost between sets of faraway ideals. It's not witty enough to laugh with and - aside from its closing chapter - not ridiculous enough to laugh at. It's not subtle enough to tease, and rarely creative enough to please. The story is distracting but not engaging. The symptoms of this anime's identity crisis go on and on but together they amount to a failure in my eyes.
Queen's Blade finds itself sitting precariously on an uncomfortable fence of ecchi. On the one side of this fence are anime such as Shuffle!, which lose the air of smuttiness, have a good laugh, and make you care about the characters before stripping them semi-naked. On the other side of the fence there are a number of excellent hentai which don't waste time telling a story and are able to deliver a more satisfying experience. Both of these options are - in my opinion - far preferable to the lukewarm boobfest served up by Queen's Blade. I'd be lying if I said that this had no appeal whatsoever, but - whether you're looking for ecchi or H - there are many better titles available.
Every four years, the violent Queen's Blade tournament begins once more. Meant as a test of strength and beauty, girls fight each other in hopes of gaining power over the land, each with her own reason for participating. Reina, Risty and Tomoe, amongst others, are three who seek to win the tournament - but their path won't be easy. In addition to traveling the land, the girls must fight warring ninja, avoid the sting of acid-spitting nipples, and most importantly try to keep clothed when minimally possible - all in hopes of winning Queen's Blade! Who will become the next ruler?
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When it comes to anime, I tend to be a fan of comedy, shoujo, romance or anything else that will put a smile on my face. However, I'll review pretty much anything. Whether you like or dislike my reviews, I'm always glad to receive feedback, and I'm always happy to get into intelligent discussions.