Alka, of purple eyes and silver hair, is marked out by an off-pink butterfly on her arm, and as the last surviving member of the assassin group, the Clan of the Sword. She wanders the earth, her heart a void, desperately searching for the one who offed her master and to exact her revenge. It’s an arena usually reserved for men, but Blade and Soul is a tapestry of women struggling to satisfy their vengeance and the folly and horror they encounter along the way.
Based on the Korean MMORPG of the same name, the anime adaption penned by Atsuhiro Tomioka – who’s scripted episodes of Berserk and Fairy Tail, among others – ditches the lore for a political footnote, and blows up the rich environments to magnificent heights. The character designs are drawn straight from the game, with both the good and the bad aspects in balance. Characters’ faces are beautifully crafted, with elven features in the upturned eyes and the soft light playing off every dainty nose. The animation style is a patchwork of the bright blue and greens of rich fantasy, and the dark and umber tones of the genre’s bloodier tendencies, with grimdark flecks throughout. No character is truly safe, and this in itself is shocking when we’re so used to seeing characters take a beating and keep on going. But with the series’ many shortcomings, even the promising points are overshadowed.
While the women and their vengeance make the up the strata of Blade and Soul, it’s below the neckline where the prospects of the setup are well and truly ousted. Most possess preposterously proportioned bosoms and the kind of clothing that only a lad of fourteen could think was fair game for an assassin or warrior to wear. If it seems trite, it’s only because of the source material it was drawn from, and condensing a whole MMORPG into a four and a half hour series makes it feel congested at best. That is, until it opens out into desert with every bit of the vastness of Lawrence of Arabia. This attention to setting, along with the orchestral score, adds to the sense that this is a world in motion, even when the viewer isn’t watching.
Within Alka’s journey are nested tales of revenge, some fuelled by great pain, with others stale and reminiscent of storytelling methods tried, tested and found wanting. When the plot stops following the omnipresent MMO structure of loot this, kill that and repeat to focus on a character with tragic intrigue, you get a glimpse of the poignant story that could have been.
Special Features: Clean opening and closing / Also available
BLADE AND SOUL: COMPLETE SEASON COLLECTION / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: HIROSHI TAKEUCHI, HIROSHI HAMASAKI / SCREENPLAY: ATSUHIRO TOMIOKA / STARRING: YUKI TAKAO, AYAHI TAKAGAKI, SAYAKA OHARA, AOI YUUKI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW