You shouldn’t judge a book (or in this case a DVD case) by its cover. That phrase especially holds true for Blade & Soul – a thirteen episode anime currently available to buy in the UK courtesy of Animatsu Entertainment. Before watching the series I was expecting fan service aplenty, based on the bevy of beauties pictured on the cover art. My expectations were also influenced by the fact that Blade & Soul is based on a Korean MMO. For those of you not familiar with online gaming, let’s just say that South Korean titles have a reputation for starring unrealistically proportioned ladies (do a quick Google search on Scarlet Blade if you don’t believe me.) Surprisingly however Blade & Soul has a meaningful plot and avoids watering down its story with superfluous titillation… although worry not perverts – the comedic final episode does showcase some skin.
Blade & Soul follows the adventures of a former assassin named Alka, whose silver haired locks, lack of emotion and talent with a sword remind me a little of Claymore’s Claire. Alka is on a quest to avenge the death of her master (a wise sage who looks like the by-product of Mr Miyagi and a squirrel.) Unlike your usual revenge caper Alka isn’t fuelled by hatred, but is merely retaliating in line with the code of the sword that she devoutly follows. Alka’s target is a fellow fencer named Jin Varel who, aside from being skilled with a blade, is also able to control a deadly miasma. If you have any doubts on who to root for simply follow the cowboy hat colour code. Alka dresses in white so she is the goody whilst gothic Jin, who is clad in black, is the villain of the piece.
For the most part Blade & Soul is broken up into episodic tales. Viewers witness Alka travel across the land offering her services to anyone who needs them. The first episode for example has Alka protecting a village from the nefarious Palam Empire. Episode five on the other hand sees the heroine serve as bodyguard to a revolutionary who is attempting to sabotage a drug plantation. Anyone expecting stories were Alka waltzes in and saves the day be forewarned that Blade & Souls’ yarns often end in tragedy. The sadistic scriptwriters have no qualms about slaughtering innocents to get a reaction from their audience. Even the leading lady is not immune to the carnage around her. Although portrayed as a silent badass, Alka suffers a mental breakdown later on in the series when the atrocities she committed in the past begin to catch up with her.
Over the course of her journey Alka regularly crosses paths with a predominately female supporting cast. Where ever Alka goes bounty hunter Hazuki Jin follows, eager to claim the price on the protagonist’s head. Hazuki is a gunslinger that loves firearms and a good drink. Her favourite watering hole is an establishment run by Karen El – a refined blonde beauty whose dance moves have the unfortunate side effect of transforming her into an uncanny valley CG model. Last but not least is Loana Dan who leads a group of outcasts known as The Pleasure Gang. If you wish to join their ranks be aware that the gang’s dress code demands that you wear Legion of Doom imitation spikey shoulder pads.
My rating for Blade & Soul is four stars. A tad generous perhaps, but given that watchable video game adaptations are a rarity you’ll have to forgive me for being less critical than usual. The show also gets bonus points, as it finally gives me the opportunity to pen an anime review were the synopsis is free from the words “high school.” I think the series will appeal to fantasy fans and anyone who appreciates high-octane swordfights. Why anyone in the Blade & Soul universe would choose to carry a pistol is beyond me. This is one of those shows were everyone can gracefully evade projectiles from point blank range and bullets can easily be deflected with the mere swipe of a dagger.
I was impressed by how poignant Blade & Soul’s narrative is. Although I am not acquainted with the source material, I doubt the game’s story matches the anime’s quality. Writers seldom put effort into MMO scripts, as your average player would rather slaughter ten rats for a quest rather than read. My only gripe with the story would be how Alka becomes a dejected mess. A battle-hardened warrior turning into a crybaby due to the death of two acquaintances is a bit of a stretch. Similarly the manner in which some of Alka’s rivals switch allegiances on the drop of a dime could have been explained better. Those quibbles aside I really enjoyed Blade & Soul. Even the bonus fan service episode has merit, as it adds some levity to an otherwise sombre show. Now all we need is for someone to make a thought provoking Scarlet Blade anime and my faith in video game cartoons will be restored.