Three volumes in, and Witchblade is shaping up to be one of the better shows that’s come our way recently. At least some of that is due to the surprise factor, I think: I wasn’t expecting anythingfrom this Gonzo-produced adaptation of the American comic series, and what we’re getting is not just watchable but downright absorbing. This could have ended up being a throwaway product, but they took the time to make it a cut above, and I’m pleased they did.
Volume 3 pushes the story forward through several different realms at once, all stuff that’s been set up in the first two discs but now getting aggressively expanded on. Most central is the mystery of the X-Cons, the bizarre hybrid man-machine-monster things that Masane, wielder of the Witchblade, has been recruited to terminate with extreme prejudice. When one of them (an ex-cop, no less) comes a little too close to her daughter Rihoko, she goes to weapons-maker Doji Group leader Takayama — the man holding her leash — and demands answers. She gets them, all right, and doesn’t like at all what she hears. The X-Cons are an army of leftovers, defective experiments conducted with the dead bodies of humans. Masane now finds herself in the unenviable position of being a janitor of death, and when she registers her disgust about the whole thing, she gets back a chilling answer: “Isn’t it an army’s duty to protect the living?”
An unexpected side effect of this revelation is that Masane winds up spending a good deal more time with Takayama than she might normally choose to. Takayama is normally closed-off and difficult — not just with her, but with everyone — and when he “hires” her as his companion for an important corporate award ceremony, she makes an utter mess of things. Not that he’s much better: he’s roped into an impromptu drinking contest with a former college buddy, gets terminally sloshed, and ends up crashed out on Masane’s couch for most of the next day. The raucous life within the rooming-house where Masane makes her home is about as radical a contrast with the sterile corridors of Takayama’s offices as you can get. Some of that seems to rub off on him; perhaps he’s realizing what he’s missed out on all the time. (I hope to whatever god of narrative structure is listening that Masane and Takayama don’t end up “together.” Friendly respect is one thing, but love-outta-nowhere is another.)
Other, far more unsavory things are taking place within the confines of the NSWF, the Doji Group’s “opposition,” who also seek to master their own iteration of the Witchblade’s technology for their own ends. Rising in their ranks is a prospective fifteen-year-old Clonebade-wearer, Maria, a spoiled brat whose taste for stuffed animals far outstrips any morality, tact or restraint that might also be present within her. (In what I can only classify as a bit of visual irony, the designers have given her a spit-curl that hovers over her head in the manner of a halo.) Reina, the master Cloneblade (who has shaped up to be one of Masane’s main nemeses), keeps Maria on a tight leash — but maybe not quite tight enough. The Maria / Reina relationship feels like it’s being set up as a contrast to Masane and Rihoko — the latter at least halfway healthy, if at odds with the world; the former deeply unhealthy from the beginning.
Those relationships — including Masane’s relationship to the photographer Tozawa, the closest thing she has to a boyfriend — all get tested when the NSWF sticks their collective necks way out and kidnaps Masane. Their mission: to separate the Witchblade from its current wearer and make it their own. Never mind that one of the cardinal rules of the Witchblade is that the only way to get it off its current owner is to kill her. And if that isn’t plot twist enough for you, how about the possibility that Rihoko might not even be her daughter? That should keep us all guessing until Volume 4 drops.
I was and remain impressed. Given that it would have been so easy for them to create something that had no life and no soul to it, the fact that they came up with something that has both of those things is worth drawing attention to. I’m in for the rest of the ride.