Queen’s Blade’s is an adventure story with the plot of a fighting game, the heart of an X-rated dating sim, and no brain to split between them. It comes straight out of the same chainmail-bikini school of post-feminist storytelling that spawned the live-action Charlie’s Angels movies, where (to borrow a phrase from, I think, David Marsh) the best way for a woman to improve herself is by being flat on her back.
I know, I know—I shouldn’t expect much. The whole thing’s been derived from a series of fantasy RPG game books more notable for showing acres of skin than for their game mechanic. We’re not talking about anything that’s likely to cop a Japan Media Arts Festival award. What’s irritating is how the creators have compromised both the body and the brains of the outfit. The story is decently done and even gets incrementally more interesting as it goes along, but a) the real target audience for the show could clearly care less and b) the flesh parade makes it impossible to take the storytelling as anything but a sop to the Redeeming Social Value crowd. They needed to pick one angle and stick with it, for better or worse.
So, the story. Once every four years, or so we are told, women gather from across the world to battle each other in a tournament, etc. One such competitor is Leina, heiress to a throne she does not want. She takes to the road to find freedom and is promptly captured for ransom (and trussed up half-naked, ho ho) by the Bandit of the Wilderness, Risty. Risty is as muscled and competent as Reina is amateurish and frail, but together the two of them fend off another competitor. This turns out to be the amorphous and annoying Melona, who shoots acid from her breasts and can shapeshift as she pleases, but chooses to look most like a nightclub bunny-girl who fell into a vat of Pepto-Bismol. Risty gradually takes on a big-sister role towards Reina, even stealing a suit of armor for Reina out of the ancestral storehouse. In a show where there is not much to think about in the first place, we are allowed to wonder how Reina is able to wear said armor without chafing herself raw since she's clearly got nothing under it but a thong bottom.
In time Reina functions as a replacement in the big-sister role nominally assumed by Claudette. Claudette is Reina’s long-time mentor and protector, but Reina would rather risk death for the sake of freedom than continue live under Claudette’s wing now that she’s seen the Big City Lights. These relationships are contrasted—pretty well, actually—against a sort of “good sis vs. bad sis” rivalry that we see in Tomoe and Shizuka, warriors from the show’s analog to Japan. The former is a prim shrine maiden; the latter an easygoing apostate female ninja; the two of them end up as comrades in arms when they’re both betrayed by the powers-that-be. I enjoyed watching these characters clash psychologically, not just physically—enough so that seeing every third shot of either of them from the breast or crotch level just got depressing. It’s as if the story has no faith in its own best elements, and so trots out the fanservice every forty-five seconds to keep our interest.
I have heard at least one defense of the show in the name of “female empowerment”. Oh, shame. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has more female empowerment in Major Motoko Kusanagi’s left pinky than the whole of Queen’s Blade has after emptying its collective pockets. Moribito gives us Balsa, who is not just wicked with a spear but wise with her heart, and is confident enough about her as a character that it doesn’t need to show her in anything low-cut to keep us interested. GITS has some cheesecake, but almost never gratuitously so; it’s even used to make important points about Motoko’s body consciousness. And then we have Queen’s Blade, which introduces every character by pointing the camera at them from the floor so we can see their cameltoe, and where we know someone has lost a fight only because their clothes have been ripped off. Classy.
I can think of two other ways to present this material that wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly as annoying. One, they could have presented it as straight soft porn, or even as full-blown porn, period—maybe in the kind of 15-minute episode format used for stuff like Cromartie High, where the whole thing is disposable quickie segments that are more about the characters' clashing personalities than any kind of plot. At least then we wouldn’t feel like we were losing anything. Two, they could have toned down the fetishism to the point where it wasn’t slobbering all over everything, and taken an approach closer to something like Go Nagai’s Cutey Honey as adapted for broadcast TV or live-action. Then maybe the contrasts between what we are told and what we are shown wouldn’t be as jarring.
But then again, maybe any “straight” presentation of this material would have been pointless. The whole reason for creating something with the Queen’s Blade label on it was to cater to the audience’s varied fetishes. Fine. Divorce the presentation from the content if you can—or, heck, watch it as softcore porn and forget there was ever a story. But the show’s all bait-and-switch, not in a fun way either, and in the end I didn’t want something that believed the real reason you put a woman on screen is so you can peer down her neckline.