Warning... there may be a few minor spoilers in my review, if I just can't help myself. But I won't spoil anything substantial. I'm also going to assume that people have at least read the plot synopsis and are familiar with the gist of the series.
Witchblade was one of the first anime series that I watched in full, and it was one of the reasons that I have since become more involved in anime as a hobby. Witchblade has its flaws, and I know that a lot of people seem to dislike the studio (Gonzo) and disdain anything to do with fanservice, but as a noobie I'm completely oblivious to that stuff. There is some fanservice, although no outright nudity, so if that bothers you, then this probably isn't the series for you.
STORY - 8/10
Witchblade has some fairly major plot holes. And it leaves a lot of questions unanswered - mostly to do with the history of the Witchblade, and the two major organizations that are fighting over its control. There is literally a scene where one of the characters states that he won't bore Masane with the history of the Witchblade, but as a viewer I very much wanted to be bored with that history. There are also a number of battle scenes that often seem more like filler than anything else. And there is, of course, an obligatory "Let's go to the beach" episode so that we can see Masane in a bikini (not that it's any more revealing than her Witchblade transformation), but that doesn't really further the story much. And, lastly, there's a lot of weird stuff going on with the NSWF organization that seems very forced - as though it only exists to try and give Masane and Doji Corporation an enemy. That plot just feels detached and like it doesn't really belong.
But all of that aside, Witchblade essentially boils down to being the story of a mother and her daughter. The core of the show is that relationship, and everything else is peripheral and serves only to influence that core relationship. And from that sense, Witchblade does a fantastic job. They really hammer home the love that is shared between Masane and her daugher, Rihoko. And because that relationship is so well-executed, I can forgive some of those previously-mentioned flaws. The relationship just feels so naturally genuine, that I was emotionally moved when the series took a turn for the serious over the last 3-4 episodes. Coming into Witchblade, I was just expecting a fun action romp, and instead I felt a real connection to the two main characters.
ANIMATION - 7.5/10
I've come to expect a high level of quality presentation-wise from anything that is put out in English by Funimation. I know that some people might question the content of their publishing choices, but I don't think anyone can deny that their series always look very polished. That said, the series is about 7 years old, and a lot of the newer Funimation series look a bit better. But I think I can definitely say that Witchblade is a visually attractive series.
My only big qualm was that the battle scenes seemed a little lacking in their animation. They were often short, which I know is partly to emphasise the power of the participants (be it Masane as the Witchblade, or one of the neo-genes with their Clone Blades). A few fancy moves during the fight scenes would have upped this score a point or so.
SOUND - 9.5/10
Continuing the notion that Funimation goes all out presentation-wise, I was greatly impressed by the voice acting in the series (I have yet to see a Funimation series that doesn't have excellent voice acting). I know that some people don't like dubbing, but I just can't figure that out. It's not the 1980's anymore, where dubbing was generally horrible. Voice acting is a big business these days in industries like video games and anime. If you don't understand Japanese, and you're just reading words off the bottom of the screen, then I think that you're missing out on a huge aspect of a show - being able to hear the tones and inflections of the characers goes a long way to adding depth to those characters that can't be conveyed in any other way. I don't think that I would have found the characters nearly as compelling without the strong voice acting.
Jamie Marchi was a perfect choice for Masane, and her voice just complements the character's personality so well - it added a whole other layer to the character. Most of the other voices weren't quite as perfect, but all were good.
The score was solid, though not amazing. It was touching in the emotional portions, and it pumped me up in the action sequences, but I won't be rushing out to buy the soundtrack or anything.
CHARACTERS - 8/10
To me, Masane and Rihoko were extremely well done. And as they are the centre of the show, that accounts for the high score. Masane is forced into many difficult choices, and proves to be a strong, resilient woman. She has her character flaws, which gives her added depth, and every choice that she makes is weighed heavily on how it will impact Rihoko. In the first episode alone, she is forced through a series of difficult emotional choices, trying to balance what she wants against what is best for her daughter.
I'm often annoyed by child actors on many shows. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found Rihoko to be a charming, likeable young girl. The writers might be stretching believability a little with all of the things that Rihoko is able to do, and the emotional choices that she herself is able to make, at the age of six years old. But they build up the character well enough that it works.
Of the secondary characters, I felt that only Takayama and Tozawa were fleshed out sufficiently. Most of the others ended up just falling into cliche archetypes. I have no problem with cliche if it's well-executed, but there were just too many minor characters who didn't receive enough time to be anything but bland. I think that this is a result of the writers being overly ambitious, rather than simply lazy - they just wrote in so many minor characters that it would be impossible to give them all substantial attention without taking away from the main plot and relationships.
OVERALL - 8/10
I readily admit that I may be bumping this rating up a small bit because of the nostalgic impact that it has for me. But I genuinely feel that this is an example of a show that has a very strong core, and a far less strong periphery. The primary flaw I see is that they just tried to cram too much into their 24 episodes. For example, once the Reina arc played out, I just didn't see why they had to keep pushing the NSWF storyline - Father was a boring character, and Maria (who essentially replaced Reina as the face of NSWF in the series) was even worse. The ending to that storyline felt forced and rushed.
But overall, if you enjoy strong character relationships, lots of action, and a fair bit of humour, then I would recommend this series. And I would definitely recommend watching the English dub.
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