A narrative prologue that plays before the opening theme in each episode does a pretty good job of summarising the essential story of Witchblade; an ancient weapon sought for all time, but capable only of being wielded by the women it afflicts, now falls upon a new bearer, and in so doing, forces her to dance between ecstasy and ruin.
That woman is Masane, a relatively carefree woman trying to create a free and happy life for herself and daughter Rihoko. They are troubled only by the Japanese government’s Child Welfare Department, who insist on a more structured environment for growing children than their current, homeless lifestyle. It soon becomes apparent that the Child Welfare Department is more prominent than in most modern societies however, and this owes to a massive earthquake six years ago during which many children died, making them an inescapably valuable commodity in safeguarding the nations future.
Masane, found cradling her daughter Rihoko at the epicentre of the quake, suffering from amnesia and identifiable only through a maternity diary she kept, was allowed to remain Rihoko’s carer only because it identified her as Masane’s daughter. But when they are dragged to the Child Welfare Department Masane is reminded by an official named Sakurai that she had no feelings for Rihoko, no longer seems to be able to care for her suitably, and ought to do what is best for her daughter. Alone and troubled, Masane agrees to reprise care of the so far cute and spunky little girl.
That lasts all of ten seconds though, and Masane quickly races after Rihoko, unable to stand her crying as she is carried out of the building. A failed attempt to dash after them leads to the distraught mother stealing a police car previously watching over Rihoko, crashing during the pursuit, and being taken to prison. Masane laments the loss of her daughter, but it isn’t long until a prisoner appears to go insane, transforms into a mechanical monster, breaks out of his cell and attacks Masane, deriving almost sexual pleasure from her presence and the prospect of killing her. But the creature is met with a glowing red stone on Masane’s wrist, like the blue stone that glowed prior to his own transformation, as the Witchblade takes over, and before long Masane has become a confident and beautiful monster, quickly dispatching her opponent. Taking the opportunity, the newly empowered Masane leaves the prison, whilst on her way out she is scouted by a man dressed in a suit with an obviously conspiratorial air, and Rihoko similarly escapes the clutches of the Child Welfare Department.
But this doesn’t quite set a precedent for the story as a whole. Masane continues in her struggle, as she tries to procure what she can for Rihoko and fight the temptations of the Witchblade, but another and slightly more original dynamic is added. When Masane collapses after her escape from prison she awakes in a high-rise building unaware of her surroundings, until the suited man enters again. He’s confident and obviously well-informed, but he doesn’t have the air to be orchestrating these events, and sure enough, he introduces himself as Sagawa, assistant to the director of the Douji Industries Group. Masane is soon brought to the director and he makes his deal after a while – that Masane can use the money and influence of the Douji Group, so long as she accepts that the Witchblade, and so long as it is in her possession, she herself, are the property of the company, and to be kept secret. Like most people (myself included), but opposite to the majority of anime characters in similar situations, Masane is fairly quick to accept the deal, putting behind the problems of poverty, homelessness and the Child Welfare Department, but having to fight for research and benefit on the behalf of the Douji Industries Group.
It isn’t a straightforward relationship, but this affords the series a little more space and air to breath, with Masane and Rihoko free to use the money and spare time for their own ends (even if they’re not very lavish or decadent), while Sagawa accompanies and protects them, offering his services whenever he can. Ultimately this does the series a lot of good, helping Masane to quickly reunite with Rihoko and allowing leeway for a more comedic tone to lighten the mood.
There’s quite a lot worthy of praise in this first entry into the series as well, from its successful introduction of main characters Masane and Rihoko and their convincing maternal relationship, to the varied cast (most with their own sidestories, no doubt waiting to be developed in later volumes) and the unique way in which Rihoko places an extra-personal strain on Masane’s struggle with the Witchblade. The dub is also consistently good, remaining faithful to the Japanese script and offering a more than fitting cast to fill the shoes of their respective characters. The animation is of a largely consistent quality, and the action gives the impression of being more frequent than it actually is, held together by solid pacing and the drama throughout.
The only major problems I can foresee are the story becoming potentially more character focused – and grinding almost to a halt in other areas during later volumes – or, perhaps for the same reason, a failure to demonstrate its originality outside of the maternal relationship between Masane and Rihoko. But this has to be borne out first, and if nothing else, the series has started on a positive note, with relatively good prospects for its future, and a working introduction to the story.
Dramatic and of a consistent quality, Witchblade hasn’t made many missteps so far, and is recommendable on the whole, reducible only for its possible lack of creativity and the design of the Witchblade possessed Masane (viewers can decide individually what this adds to the series).