You know a series has been more than worth the time when you come to a volume that’s almost entirely character development — almost no action worth speaking of — and at the same time you’re not the slightest bit bored. That’s the latest surprise Witchblade has had to offer up on its fifth disc: there’s very little knock-down-drag-out-style eye candy, but because the writing and characterization have been so strong throughout this series, it’s episodes like these that feel more like a return to true form.
Disc 5 pushes several key plot elements forward, the first and most important being Masane and Rihoko, mother and daughter, now closer than ever but at the same time also that much more troubled about each other. Rihoko’s spent so much time being a mother-of-sorts to Masane that when it comes time for her to be a daughter, she hardly knows how. To that end she does what she can to make things feel halfway normal — mainly, playing Cupid between Masane and Doji Group director Takayama.
There’s been hints of something between Takayama and Masane for a long time now, and after Takayama resigns from the company in disgrace when its weapons programs are made public, he and Masane end up with each other after all. Maybe that’s a strange way to describe it, but that’s more or less how it’s played out, and it works: what else short of a fairly major disaster would throw them together? It’s keeping them together that’s the tough part, and that’s where Rihoko steps in to suss out Takayama’s qualities as a father. Under the aloof and detached exterior there is indeed a daddy waiting to be born, but it takes some fumbling about (like a scene in a restaurant between the two of them that’s both funny and uncomfortable at the same time).
The other major plot thread on this disc is the goings-on with “Father” and the NSWF. Here, the full extent of Father’s plan is laid bare: he wants nothing less than a kind of immortality — or, failing that, immortality for real — and his plans for same have included Maria as well. Too bad for him that Maria has finally achieved a measure of maturity, since maturity for Maria does not mean deference and wisdom. As we find out, it simply means she’s now all the more cold-blooded and cunning about getting what she wants. In probably the most shocking scene in the whole series so far, she stages a (literally) bloody coup to take over the NSWF and appoints one of her sisters second-in-command. There’s a nice recapitulation here of her own relationship with Reina, come to think of it: she’s now applying all the lessons she learned as a girl.
The disc does conclude with one bit of fisticuffs, but it’s not just thrown in there to reward the fans for sticking it out through the disc — it sets up everything we need for the last volume in the series. Here, Masane transforms into an even more advanced version of her Witchblade form — one which also pushes her that much closer towards an early death, and one where Rihoko finally sees firsthand what it is her mother is really like. Rather than scare her off, though, it only convinces her all the more that they need each other: you only have one mother, no matter what she looks like.
With only one volume left to go,Witchblade has shaped up to be a surprise in the best way: not just an okay show, but a genuinely good one that keeps its characters firmly at the center of things. At the heart of it all lies an embodiment of the old adage that the most dangerous place in the world to go unbidden is between a mother and her children — something most any of us can relate to.