There’s often a difference between an ending you like on a show, and the ending a show deserves. I’m not sure I like the way Witchblade has chosen to conclude—it’s rushed, it skips over things that could have been expanded across previous episodes or paced better throughout the show, and more than almost anything else it is a heartbreaker to watch. I suspect that last one was on purpose.
Nowhere along the way did I really believe that Masane and Hiroko, the mother and daughter who form the emotional center for this story, would find a truly happy ending. It just wasn’t in the cards for them, and there have been constant foreshadowings of this all along. The most ominous was the fates of the other Blades: all of them have died, so it only stands to reason that Masane herself is doomed, too. But that doesn’t mean she can’t find some measure of happiness for herself, and a future for her daughter that doesn’t include the curse of the Witchblade.
The sixth disc brings all of this to a head very quickly—so much so that, as I mentioned, I wished some of the material explored here had been pushed back to previous episodes so its implications could have been more completely examined. Maria, the second-gen Neogene who has risen to the top of the NSWF by being even more ruthless than her creators, gains a couple of Neogene XOs—the naïve Aoi and the blowsy, indifferent Asagi. They don’t get much screen time, and what’s frustrating is how a potentially fascinating series of dynamics could have unfolded between them. It’s still interesting to watch how Maria goes from a hotheaded kid to a cold-blooded beast, something I truly didn’t expect to see.
What is given plenty of time, and rightfully so, is Masane and Rihoko—especially Masane’s struggle to find a way to tell Rihoko they may not have very much time together anymore. The whole way this is done is note-perfect: it’s not any one big moment, but a collection of painful little ones, as when Masane picks up a children’s book that explains life and death but discovers that Rihoko is already wise in her own way. Ther are also the scenes with the whole Greek chorus of characters in the restaurant/bar/rooming-house, who serve as one of Masane’s last lifelines to anything resembling normality. And then there’s Takayama, growing that much closer to his daughter, and feeling his way (clumsily) towards acting like a real father to her. He will need to assume that role as quickly as possible, once Masane ends up in a to-the-death duel with the remaining Neogenes.
The emphasis in these last four episodes is on character and emotion, not combat, and so the majority of the action is crammed in—shilling for shoehorned, really—right at the end. But, again, the show’s revolved less around the pyrotechnics and more around the consequences, emotional and otherwise, of the violence Masane is able to unleash. It gets her high, and the problem with coming down from this high is that eventually the crash will kill you. With nowhere to go but forward, Masane does what she can to make the inevitable serve the greatest possible good. It’s a fitting conclusion to the series, but again, it happens with such swiftness that there’s almost no time to reflect on it save for a quick post-credits denouement. But they got what they aimed for, and that’s more than I can say for many other shows.
Video: Witchblade’s been mastered in 16:9 widescreen, although since this was created for TV it has not been flagged for progressive playback, so it may not look quite as good as a film-based title on a large-screen TV. The picture also has little or no overscan border, so it’ll fill the frame nicely if you’re using a flat-panel or widescreen display.
Audio: Most anime DVD titles sport English 5.1 and 2.0 audio with the Japanese tracks as 2.0, which is the case here. The volume levels between the various tracks are not too dramatic, so don’t worry about being knocked off the couch if you switch languages in mid-playback.
Menus: Funimation doesn’t tend to go for complicated menu designs, which makes navigating through the disc relatively straightforward. The FBI warning can be bypassed by pressing the Menu button, too, so you can get right to the action. One minor irritation: the menus are 4:3, but the show itself is 16:9, which creates a jarring aspect-ratio switch when you start the show proper.
Extras: A title with this interesting a genesis had better have a good selection of bonuses to round it out, and Witchblade did not disappoint in that regard. The goodies come right before you even open the box: my edition of Volume 6 arrived in a metallic-foil paperboard slipcase, with a Western-style cover design by Top Cow artist and founder Marc Silvestri. Flip open the front, or slide the disc out of its slipcase, and you’ll see art that shows off better examples of the show’s visual style.
The booklet included with the disc also has a limited but intriguing selection of supplements—this time around, the main text is a staff interview with sound designer Jin Aketagawa (“There’s a lot of action in this show, but the highlight is the drama of the downfall of people”), along with designs for the Neogenes.
As before, the extras on the disc tally up nicely, too. This time around an interview with the voice actress for Maria, Japanese TV sports, textless opening and closing songs, and trailers for other Funimation titles.
Dialogue: For this show not to get an English dub would be a huge mistake, and the dub we get is a pretty solid job. Jamie Marchi does a very impressive turn as Amaha, and while Carrie Savage as Rihoko grates more than a little on the ears that’s more or less just a reflection of the original Japanese audio, from the sound of it.
The Bottom Line: I entered Witchblade expecting something fairly cheesy, and found one of the better shows I’ve been exposed to lately. It does the one thing I actually thought it might not even bother to do: it builds a strong emotional connection with its audience, and echoes that in the ways the characters connect with (and do not connect with) each other. The fact that it’s about women in H.R. Giger-like outfits clobbering the snot out of each other is just a nice bonus.
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