Blade and Soul Review

This is review number three hundred and six. This anime is part of the Spring 2014 lineup. It’s called Blade and Soul. It’s a thirteen episode anime about a girl trying to kill someone. It’s a Gonzo anime. You’ve been warned. Let’s read on.

Story

Alka is an assassin and she travels the land trying to look for her master’s killer. Framed of the crime, the last member of the Clan of the Sword must fulfill her code and take revenge. As she travels, she meets a bunch of interesting people with their own stories full of tragedy and revenge. Alka has her hands full though because it turns out that her master’s killer is one formidable foe.

Taking the Pants Off

Oh gawd, a Gonzo anime. Everybody stand back, this is going to get rough. I mean seriously, Gonzo should stop making anime. Nothing kills your motivation faster than watching a show produced by this magnificent studio. Gonzo used to be a big animation studio during the early 2000s giving us solid hits like Gantz, Samurai 7, Gankutsuou and Welcome to the NHK. It then filed for bankruptcy back in 2008 or something. Anyways, this was like a massive heart attack that left the studio basically crippled. Absorbed by its parent company, Gonzo is now a sad shell of itself. They didn’t stop trying and they still push out some anime from time to time. The quality of their work has dropped though and, compared to other more dominant studios, they don’t put up quite a fight. They are being silently phased out as the industry keeps on moving forward. It’s a sad thing because I did grow up with like Gonzo. Animax Asia featured a lot of their works that TPAB watched growing up. After InuScissors and the vile Zettai Bouei Leviathan, you just know Gonzo needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery though. I do not enjoy shows that this studio produces and they’re often more disappointing than entertaining. That should be their slogan, damn it. Anyways, Blade and Soul is an MMORPG and it’s your standard slash every monster game where players take up quests given out by NPCs. It’s your standard MMORPG by the looks of it. I don’t think it has a story though so I kind of feared for my life when I realized Gonzo would be making up a story for a hack and slash MMORPG. If this was any other studio, I would welcome the idea but c’mon, it’s Gonzo. As an impartial reviewer, I truly believe (and I have yet to find a reason not to believe) that Gonzo sucks. It’s just one of those things.

The show follows the adventure of this assassin girl named Alka. She wants to avenge her master that was killed by the Flower Monks of the Palam Empire. She was setup as killing her master and the Flower Monks even put up a bounty on her head to rub salt in the wound. The Flower Monks needed to kill the Clan of the Sword for their plans and Alka is the last remaining member of this clan. Alka travels the land meeting up with people who also hate the Palam Empire and the anime actually follows the blood soaked journey of our hero. The initial premise is basically about an emotionless girl, trained to be a cold blooded assassin, and is thrust into the world full of misery and death. She only has one goal in mind: to kill the woman who killed her master. Unaffected by everything around her, Alka soon realizes that revenge is something not to be taken lightly. The anime actually started pretty straight forward. Alka is asked to help a small village from the Palam Empire that is trying to take their home. The leader doesn’t want to sell but they know Palam won’t take no for an answer. At first I thought that Alka would soon settle into the village. Every episode would focus on Palam trying to take the land but to no avail while Alka tries to have some growth being around simple people. It’s a fairly easy plot to follow and you can still incorporate a few things from the game as the show progresses. Unfortunately, the first episode ends with the village massacred and the land, that Alka was supposed to protect, burned to the ground. Ok, so this anime isn’t going to do things straight forwardly which is bad news for anyone who knows how Gonzo operate. They disappoint more than entertain and this anime will promptly prove that statement. I’m not trying to be an idiot with a grudge here. While I do understand I shouldn’t judge an anime based on a studio’s success, I will argue that we should make an exception for Gonzo because c’mon, it’s Gonzo. I mean really, it’s Gonzo.

Anyways, this anime has three plot points. The story progression is a bit dull and directionless so it’s hard to really appreciate the content. It is clear that these three plot points are being developed by the show though as it progresses. The first one is about Alka’s journey finding her target. At the start of the show, the only thing stable is the initial premise of a woman trying to kill another woman. The first few episodes are actually standalone often focusing on its own individual story. They involve Alka though often being targeted by bounty hunters or taking up a job from someone. The episode would often be about the one shot characters, with Alka playing supporting character, as she witness the events of the episode. Each episode is really different. There is one where Alka defends a village or another episode where a kid learns how to kill so he can eat some decent food. While these standalone episodes might all have different stories, there are a lot of things common about them. First of all, someone dies. A recurring theme for the first plot point is “tragedy” where people are caught up in the ugliness of the world. So this episode where Alka protects a village ends with everyone dead and the place burned to the ground. The episode where the boy learns how to kill would end with the boy killed himself. It tries to paint a picture of how ugly this world is. It’s not properly explained though if the Palam Empire is behind this. The only thing clear is that this world is really ugly. It goes on survival of the fittest rules displayed by a man collapsing to the ground only to be pickpocketed by both town’s people and guards alike. It is plagued by poverty and death. These two things often come hand in hand to setup the story for a standalone episode. Life is rough and the characters try to get by but then, somehow, they die and it’s sad. The theme of tragedy is implemented even further by making sure each death is elaborately played out. A woman gets accidentally shot by her husband, a woman stabbed by a man claiming what he’s doing is right or an entire village putting their trust on someone else to save them only to be massacred all has this stinging feeling to it. The theme of tragedy is so nicely presented that you would feel sorry for the characters.

Oh woah. Did you think I was just about to like something Gonzo made? No. Despite the theme nicely laid out and the characters dying in a sad manner, the story is still pretty dull. The progression is slow and there is very little to interest you. This is because most of these episodes lack context and you were hoping Alka would do something more meaningful other than stand around like a bland main character. The theme of tragedy also doesn’t really become clear until you reach the later parts of the show. This is because you feel a bit confused with the direction of the story. Most standalone episodes would often paint a picture of the status quo, the layout of the story and establishing the initial premise. I’ve seen it done before in Hell Girl where the main story didn’t appear after she sent a bunch of people to hell first. For Blade and Soul, the standalone episodes don’t connect with the initial premise. While Alka has a goal, she’s going about it completely blind. She doesn’t know the name of her target and how she can hunt her down. Her enemy just randomly appears often killing people but this stopped as well during certain episodes so you don’t really understand what the show is trying to setup. I’ve seen revenge stories before and it’s not as dull as the one in this anime. The stories literally lack excitement and this comes off even worse because of the awful animation and the retarded dialogue. I remember this one scene where a leader told Alka that a member’s brother was killed or something. For no big reason other than his brother being killed, the man began crying like a stupid person. This anime felt like the director just animated the storyboard and didn’t add anything in between. The interaction, animation and story progression all looks awkward. The individual episodes also didn’t connect with the main story until very later in the show so it’s a bit hard to get yourself motivated to watch something so off putting. I’ve learned for a long time though that I think I might be a masochist so I was able to plow through the rest of the episodes. I think it’s mainly because I want payoff from this dull story progression. Rest assured though that clarity comes later after the individual episodes have established what it wants to establish.

The goal of the first plot point is to basically establish that Alka has witnessed all this ugly things. In fact, she may have had a hand in some of these deaths. This is important later on because Alka stands unaffected by these deaths and the show later explains why. The individual episodes also give us recurring characters that are vital for the second plot point. For some reason, a few survivors from the individual stories of the first plot point are taken in by a proprietress named Karen. Everyone that experienced tragedy soon gathers in one place and they all know who Alka is. Karen also often looks out for Alka and has people tracking her every move. The characters eventually become a solid base for the main story while Alka is still caught up in certain individual episodes that have a lot of people dying in it. The second plot point is playing around with a new theme though often mixed in with the first one. The theme of tragedy is now accompanied by revenge for the second plot point. This one is not as direct as the first theme because the directionless story still looks iffy. I often don’t understand why there is a big focus on the recurring characters while Alka doesn’t do much but draw her sword. It soon becomes clear though that a lot of these characters are seeking revenge. Whether directed at Alka or the Flower Monk, these characters are trying to pick the pieces up while they plan their next attack. Karen often says though that revenge is a silly thing. It doesn’t do any good and it won’t help fix anything. Sometimes, being blinded by revenge doesn’t do anyone good. The same goes for Alka who is trying to kill the woman who killed her master. The second plot point is a slow transition for the show as it sets up its third plot point.

The third plot point is basically a fleshing out of our main character, Alka. She is an emotionless woman who was trained to become an assassin. While she does not understand herself why she goes about killing, she does know that she must kill the person who killed her master. Through various flashbacks, we slowly understand the relationship of Alka and her master. We also see a bunch of things completely off with Alka. The dialogue is honestly a bit dull but she is often asked to take in all the emotions of the world but be unaffected by it. Her master has also pointed out that only dead people feel nothing and such. All this buildup eventually leads to the whole goal of the second plot point where revenge basically does nothing. Once all of this is established, Alka would then have her big confrontation with the woman that killed her master. Keep in mind that idea about being emotionally attached but unaffected and that theme of revenge because things eventually got a bit more interesting once the show hits its big climax. I don’t want to spoil it though but the payoff soon comes rushing forward once we enter the resolution phase of the show. Everything becomes clear. Those individual episodes where death and tragedy is a common theme comes into play once Alka is thoroughly fleshed out. The recurring characters also started becoming more relevant once they started acting on their revenge and Alka’s cold blooded personality is also given a big payoff during the resolution phase. The big picture finally makes sense once we understand what direction the show is going. I think it’s on episode eight where the payoff becomes clear so good luck if you are able to hang on that long. Despite the show delivering this interesting story of revenge and tragedy, there are still a couple of screw ups regarding the story.

First of all, the entire thing looks disjointed. I can imagine the story actually looking better if it was more polished. First of all, there is no background story. I don’t really understand the status quo of the show because it was never provided. I think it’s just a desolate country but the show mentioned tension between the civilians and the Palam Empire. So, I think, the show was set in the Palam Empire but I’m not sure. They never really have any presence. I think the show wanted to capture the open world appeal of the game but this doesn’t work that well because we need a setting for the story. All I picked up from the show is that it is set in a large desert with a lot of ruins and caves and some slum ridden towns with a lot of depressed people in it. The Palam Empire has a noticeable strong force but they never really acted like a repressive regime. Some of the people have beef with the Empire though but I don’t really understand why. I guess the anime just acted on default. This evil looking Empire is hated by ordinary people for causing their lives misery or something indirect like that. Without a proper status quo though, a lot of the things established in the show doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Why did the Palam Empire burn down a village and then bought other villages? Is it for making those blue roses? If so, then why do they need to harvest so many blue roses? Are they going to invade the neighboring country? What is the Flower Monks rank in this Empire? Palam Empire has an army of its own with the Flower Monk acting as a different unit so why are they doing all the raiding and invading? The lack of a proper status quo also made the initial premise a bit odd. Why did the Flower Monks kill the Clan of the Sword tribe? I guess you can fill in some gaps but it still doesn’t make sense. The Clan of the Sword acted as the ninja of Palam Empire so why did they need to be dealt with? Is it purely a nefarious act by the Flower Monks or did the Clan of Sword did something to have this done to them? I ask you this then, how did Alka survive the massacre of the tribe? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Someone thought up an idea and didn’t properly develop it.

The undeveloped story is all the more clear when you try to understand the relationship between Alka and Jin Varell. There is this undeveloped potential with this angle the anime didn’t properly establish. Alka, a cold hearted assassin, is trying to chase down the flower monk who looks as empty as her. The main reason is because the flower monk killed her master. This then creates a paradox, why does a cold hearted assassin care so much over a dead person? She tells people it’s for the code or the rules of the sword which sets off the third plot point. Things become a bit more complicated though when the flower monk would have flashbacks and night terrors regarding herself that seems to indicate a deeper relationship with Alka. I think the show is trying to suggest that the flower monk and Alka are one and the same but never really got far enough to explain how. This lack of explanation made their confrontations barren though and devoid of emotion, just like them. Normally, I’d be giddy with excitement when a super cool looking woman that kills people using dark magic confronts a girl with a knife. Unfortunately, there was this nagging unexplained angle between them though that really puts you off. You can’t enjoy their meeting because you aren’t really invested in their showdown. The anime had a much better time telling the tragedy stories or those unrelated tales of revenge. The initial premise itself though was left undeveloped and disappointing.

If there is one thing this anime ultimately messed up, it’d be its ties with the MMORPG. Looking at the dull story and the awful animation, I’d never really expect this to come out of an MMORPG. The game has four warrior classes that are deeply rooted to this Korean martial arts thing and the players are transported in this big open world full of monsters to beat up using that martial arts. The players take up quests and they have cool showdowns with bosses and things hiding in dungeons. Of course, being MMORPG also means that there is a collection of characters in the game both players and NPC. The rich and immense world of the game is never captured by the anime. There is very little nod to the game and lack of effort on pretty much everything makes it seems like the game is one boring piece of MMORPG trash. Between the inconsistent animation and the undeveloped yet disjointed story, I think you can tell this anime was doomed to fail. In a word, this anime is disappointing. The potential is there but the lack of effort really bothers me. I’m a big fan of story and I like the potential in this one. Damn it Gonzo, stop making me feel hopeful.

The characters are all one dimensional messes. They also suffer from role confusion and terrible dullness. Most one dimensional characters would still be entertainingly clichéd to a small degree. In this anime, the characters don’t really have a personality and no cliché to fall back on. People who are b*tching about cliché should see the horrible effects of characters not having one. They look lost and confused. Alka is a character I can’t seem to like. While I do agree that she looks cool as a silent protagonist, I don’t understand how she can wake up one morning, decide to kill someone, and then wander the desert with no real plan. She didn’t know her target’s name and she is soon being upstaged by other characters with more meaningful roles in the show. She was supposed to have a transformation during the later parts but the delivery is awkward. One character just said “you’ve changed” and that’s how we understand her transformation. She was still the deer in headlights character with no real role in the show but that pathetic attempt to flesh her out is so annoying and laughable that it hurts. If the plan was for her to grow emotions then they should’ve been more direct about it. This caused some problems though because her initial goal of killing someone is soon shoved to the side. I think it was properly dropped by the anime around the fourth episode so Alka just flailed out pointless until the premise was mentioned again very late in the show.

A character with a much more important role than Alka would have to be Karen, the owner of a pub, which somehow feels intrigued by Alka so she has her goons tail her. Despite having a role in the show, she still suffered from the lack of direction. She acted as this woman interested with Alka for some unknown reason. She would help Alka when she’s in a bind and she’s often the reason why Alka is still alive. She also shows compassion by taking in people who are casualties of the standalone episodes and their tragic content. I think she was supposed to be this beacon of hope since she always helped people who were struck down by tragedy. She’s not direct about it but I think she represented the light of tomorrow that tells people to pick themselves up and keep moving forward. Adding depth to her character though, she also has some shady dealings with the Palam Empire and she would support evil to provide help for people. She’s very deep in that aspect but I think the show screwed her up badly. The lack of character development made her look dull and pointless. She could be quacking like a duck and it wouldn’t matter. Except it should. Being a vital player in the story, her association with everybody is supposed to help improve the story some more. Instead, she lacked direction. This was evident when she acted out her plan of revenge. It was a sweet revenge plan that represented her hypocrisy and undying hatred but she couldn’t develop any deeper. Since the story seriously lacked effort, this compelling character eventually ended up like the rest: a sorry one dimensional mess of a cast member.

There is also a lot of interesting side characters. While they might not provide something meaningful to the story, they are decent in their own terms. There is Hazuki Jin who is this bounty hunter that is good with a gun. She also had one decent confrontation with Alka. She’s trying to claim Alka’s bounty put out by the Palam Empire but she eventually found herself in some deep balls when she realized Alka is insane and the flower monk is scary as f*ck. She fills the role of that annoying loudmouth with an energetic vibe for the show and it basically ends there. It would’ve been sweet to see her have some decent shoot out with other characters but having no meaningful role really just relegated her to a pointless sidekick role. Another wasted character is Roana Dan. She is the leader of this “pleasure gang” wiped out in one episode. She was taken in by Karen and eventually started plotting her revenge of the people that killed her gang. She wanted to take revenge and she does have some spots for the second plot point but, much like Hazuki, her role would be more meaningful if she had some decent confrontations with others. She’s good with a sword so she could’ve been more useful being caught up in some misadventures while trying to rebuild her gang and take her revenge. She has two bumbling idiots trailing alongside her so I think there is a missed chance of making her relevant by not giving her a side story of her own. Lastly, there is Ron. He is this cat person that trades information and peddles some goods. He has a very minimal role in the show but he does play it well. He tells bounty hunters where Alka is for a price. He does this a lot and he plays on both sides. He tips mercenaries and also Palam Soldiers trying to take down Alka. He often causes trouble but I love how he just walks away making money in the whole ordeal. This is all the more sweeter when you realize how this sly bastard ended up after the anime finished. The one shot characters had decent roles as well but the dull story wasn’t able to properly give life to the characters. The tragedy would mean a lot more if the death was backed up by some solid backstory about the characters. It requires little effort on the scripters’ side so I really don’t like how half-baked this anime is.

Jin Varrel is also a horribly put together character. For a villain, she was pretty pointless. She didn’t felt menacing and you spent more time figuring her out than admiring how badass she is. At some point, all her blank stares become worrying. What exactly is her deal? What the f*ck is wrong with her? The whole Flower Monks didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Since the show didn’t establish anything, we were left to figure things out on our own. I think there this awesomeness to Jin the show wasn’t able to bring out. She looks like an awesome final boss and she was able to fulfill that role but the lack of background story made her look hollow. Her connection with Alka should’ve been more emphasized and her role as an actual villain should be more pronounced. I don’t play a lot of games but I think Jin is like a cool looking Sephiroth that just needed a scene where she needed to turn evil. She lacked an Aeris death scene moment to truly make the audience turn against her and I personally think the show had all the ingredients for that. They just weren’t able to make it happen. I think they didn’t even try and that sucks the most.

I am a firm believer that Gonzo is a bad studio and this anime just proved my point further. While I try to be impartial, Gonzo anime is often the shows turning my heart black. There is no way you can support a studio this bad. They should really just stop at this point. They’ve done enough and they have nothing more to prove. Just stop, please. The series composition of this anime is handled by Atsuhiro Tomioka. He worked with a lot of other Gonzo shows and basically gave us Samurai 7. The dude has talent. However, this anime is basically like an original screenplay and I know that even solid veterans suck at producing original anime. This anime is so dull that I think it surpasses anything bad Atsuhiro has ever produced and this includes that gawd awful boring Trinity Blood anime. I feel asleep watching that anime but Blade and Soul was so bad that it won’t even let me sleep. The lack of effort from the writing irks me so much I was never bored but more pissed. This show has two directors and I don’t really know how that works. Do they collaborate and work as a unit? I think they do and even so, this anime was still bad. I’ll give some points for Hiroshi Takeuchi. His career as a key animator did not let him down. The high quality scenes of this anime had decent pacing thanks to the directorial style. If you’ve had a hand working at Magi and Inuyasha then you’re bound to make something right in this subpar anime. Hiroshi Hamasaki directed Steins Gate. This guy is so out of place in this whole affair. His style of fleshing out characters clearly did not work for this anime. He certainly didn’t give any effort for this one. Did he figure out Gonzo’s M.O. as well? Nah, he just sucked. It’s such a shame because I kind of like this director. Damn. Blade and Soul sounded like a good idea but putting thoughts into paper ultimately did not work. This show missed its potential in a lot of areas. The characters, the story, the animation and everything else were lacking and this made for a very disappointing anime experience.

Sight and Sound

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Hyung-Tae Kim basically designed the characters for the MMORPG. I’ll be critiquing his work since it served as basis for the character design in the anime. His style is definitely MMORPG level. He has this amazing style of having long legged characters show off their length and their curves while they are accentuated by the incredible detail work of their outfits. There are slutty dresses and then there are simple tight fitted ones that still show off the characters bodies. Hyung’s design is certainly not modest. I think that’s a standard for MMORPG. Keep characters on the fan service side to make players happy. I love the detail work on the outfits though. The gauntlets, the frills on the dresses, the ruffles of the tight fitted clothes and the weapons all have great detail work that matches the high quality design of the characters. Hyung’s design is quite unique because of the varying skin color he utilizes. In anime, you don’t see a lot of brown skinned characters. I believe pale skinned girls are the standard but the brown skin is crucial because the muscle tones also add more depth to the design. MMOPRG characters needs to look badass and Hyung’s design certainly meets the criteria. It’s a design that just pops and grabs attention whether for the detail work or the slutty appeal. For male characters, Hyung also employs accentuating their hot body and their great features. The anime didn’t showcase a lot of them though. I think Hyung’s female designs are the only thing the anime was able to adapt from the game. The badass looking guys with their own form of fan service wasn’t featured in the show. That’s alright though because the anime really did a nice hit job on Hyung’s great design. Gonzo utilized dull colors for his design and the inconsistent animation just ruined everything. The face that looks all seductive for Alka and Jin was intact but everything else is iffy.

Animation is inconsistent. Early episodes have decent to great animation but Gonzo really sucks at this element of an anime. Simple scenes like characters blinking, walking or even standing looks awful. When characters drink, cry or simply laugh then they’ll look awkward. The placement of the mouth, the movement of the face and the body posture would look awkward. It often ruins the show for me. Never mind the bland fight scenes, something as simple as a walk cycle looks awful in this anime. There re sakuga scenes though that employs cool camera angles and crisp animation with stunning effects but this only proved poison for the anime. It makes the inconsistent animation that much more noticeable and it’s often hard to watch something so awful. Even the faces of the characters get distorted during certain scenes and while Hyuga’s design is stunning, the inconsistent animation ruins that as well. If the story wasn’t bad for you then I’m sure the animation will kill your motivation for watching this show. It just doesn’t look good.

The anime’s OP is “Sayonara Usotsuki” by MimimemeMIMI. One thing I learned when reviewing bad anime is that they always have amazing soundtrack. This was the same for this anime. The OP song is pretty awesome. The singer’s voice is pretty decent as she sings the verse but then reaches a wonderful pitch for the chorus that is very fun to listen to. The lyrics are also pretty deep as it talks about some kind of existential crisis that nicely relates to Alka’s entire journey. The OP sequence is pretty awesome. It features all the characters in some awesome animation completely different from the anime’s inconsistent style. This is pretty misleading but it does capture the supposed energy the show would’ve had if it wasn’t such a dull anime. It also nicely summarizes the show so it does help to understand the montage.

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The anime’s ED is “RAINBOW” by LEGO BIG MORL. This is my favorite part of the anime. The music has a nice rhythm to it and I love the catchy chorus repeatedly sung throughout the sequence. The singer’s voice and the steady instrumentals are very wonderful to listen to but the verses are pretty dull. It’s OK because the chorus is pretty awesome. The song is a cute love song about loving someone despite the distance. Something out of place for this anime but something I still appreciate since I have something to look forward to every time I watch a dull episode. The ED sequence features Karen, in full CG, dancing with her fan. The animation is awkward and I remember this was employed in the anime as well. They try to short cut animation by using stiff CG. It does not look good and Karen looks like a robot. I hate it but I still love the song.

Overall Score

3/10 “It had decent themes of tragedy and revenge but the show lacked focus, an actual storytelling and character development. It’s both a bland and an awful experience only Gonzo can deliver.”

I still liked the potential hidden in the show. It’s a shame it was never met because of the tremendous lack of f*cks for the story and the animation. The MMORPG didn’t deserve such a subpar anime. It has some decent fight scenes but it’s not really enough pay off to sit through thirteen episodes of this boring anime. If you need a good example of why Gonzo is a bad studio then this show is a wonderful example of that statement. I do not recommend this.

One thought on “Blade and Soul Review

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