Shocked I was, to discover that the anime adaptation of Top Cow’s Witchblade was not junk at all (I was fearing the worst, honestly) — in fact, it was quite good. And I was pleased to see the second DVD of the series following up nicely in all the veins set up by the first one. It’s not just a bunch of super-powered chick-fights — it’s, at core, a compelling story about a woman who’ll do most anything to ensure that her daughter has a better life. The super-powered chick-fights are just a nice bonus on top of the character and drama. Usually it’s the other way around.
The second volume expands on the existing plot threads that were set up the first time around: Masane Amaha, a single mother who’s the host for the unspeakably powerful Witchblade, finds herself caught between two forces who are vying to control or understand her powers. The first is the Doji Group, the mysterious organization that has become her employer. Its director, Reiji Takayama, gives out frustratingly few clues as to what’s really happening to her (or her world), but slowly begins to reveal crucial details — both about Masane’s powers and the creatures she’s fighting — although only after he essentially has no choice.
The other group is the NSWF, a philanthropic agency that allegedly helps orphaned children. It’s all a front, however: their real purpose is to screen the children and find out which ones are suitable candidates for a sinister genetics project. This involves the creation of “Cloneblades,” their own iterations of the Witchblade — one of whom, Shiori, goes battle-crazy and seeks out Masane as a combat partner in some sick bid for personal fulfillment. The not-so-subtle hint there is that eventually Masane will snap in the same way, and that it is only a matter of time before she too ends up dead.
Under the Doji Group’s sanction and guidance, Masane seeks out and destroys the “X-Cons” — inhuman creatures that disguise themselves as human and prey on the unsuspecting. All the while, during the day, she’s trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life with her daughter Rihoko and not arousing the suspicions of the motley of folks in the rooming-house where she resides. This part of the story is used as an excuse to generate some broad comedy, but unlike some other shows it doesn’t get terminally annoying and they even find ways to occasionally make this material serve the story’s larger emotional needs.
Things get that much harder for Masane when Yusuke Tozawa, a seedy freelance photographer, snaps a whole slew of pictures featuring Masane in full Witchbade form. He’s convinced he’s onto something huge (well, he is), but Masane staunchly pleads ignorance until she’s forced to transform in front of him and save both of their necks. He’s not a bad sort, just entirely too curious for his own good, and nursing more than a few wounds of his own — the earthquake that devastated part of Tokyo also killed his family, and left him with no one to come back home to after he’d spend years honing his skill as a photographer. His one great photo, a Shisei Kuwabara-esque snap of the devastated city right after the earthquake, hangs over the bar in the restaurant downstairs from his apartment, but he hasn’t captured anything remotely as good since. Not until Masane comes into his life, that is.
By the end of the second disc, Masane and Tozawa have tentatively decided to pool their efforts, and they’re each going to need all the help they can get. For one, it’s become all too clear that anyone who wears the Witchblade has a limited lifeline: if they aren’t killed by someone else, the Witchblade itself eventually consumes them. Worse, the only way to divest yourself of the Witchblade, once it’s chosen you, is to die — which implies that Masane is going to have to make some unspeakably hard choices in the episodes to come. That’s something I want to see play out properly.
One of the real joys of this job is to get handed something you have no expectations about — or something you think is going to be an obvious target for derision — and come away from it pleasantly surprised. I’m happy to report that the second volume of Witchblade continues in the same spirit as the first. Here’s hoping the whole show stays on this level.