Created by Mark Silvestri and Michael Turner, the comic book Witchblade tells the story of Sara Pezzini, a comely police detective who becomes the latest in an ancient line of women-only warriors to wield the titular, mystical super-weapon. Popular among comic fans for wearing little besides skimpy cyber-lingerie, yet strongly written enough to be hailed as a feminist role model, the sexy superheroine graced a lacklustre live-action television show starring a miscast Yancy Butler and is set to become a more ambitious movie. Sanctioned by the original creators, this anime adaptation made by otaku favourites Studio Gonzo follows the basic concept but with all-new characters tailored for a Japanese audience.
In 22nd century Japan, single mom Masane Amaha and her precocious, little daughter Rihoko try to start a new life in, now partially submerged, Tokyo. A survivor of near cataclysmic earthquake six years ago, Masane has no memory of her past but bears the Witchblade that periodically transforms her into a sultry, battle-bikini clad superbabe able to slay demons with energy tendrils and liquid blades. Stern, but handsome scientist Reiji Takayama recruits Masane into the shadowy Douji Corporation, whereupon she battles X-Cons, strange bio-mechanical monsters killing innocent people across the city, and Neo-Gens, a group of super-amazons out to claim the Witchblade for their outwardly benevolent patriarch, “Father”.
Curious as to why the Witchblade chose Masane, “Father” despatches several Neo-Gens to test her limits: Reina “Lady” Soho, an old flame of Takayama’s with an interest in young Rihoko; Shiori, an impulsive youngster driven insane by her own Cloneblade; Norma, an icy blonde warrior who almost kills Masane; and psychotic cheerleader Maria, who dresses like Christina Aguilera in her “Dirty” video and behaves like a less rational Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987). Meanwhile, Rihoko looks after her boozy, wayward mom and wins over their new neighbours with her gourmet cooking, including elderly hipster Chou who is fixated with Masane’s big breasts, sullen Naomi a fortune-telling goth girl, Mariko the frumpy, foul-tempered (frankly irritating) landlady, and nosy reporter Tozawa. Tozawa eventually learns the truth about Masane and the pair discover the X-Cons are really gene-altered human beings, tortured by past memories and remorse. The most recent instalment concludes with a shock revelation (although guessable) about Rihoko’s parentage.
The mother-daughter dynamic and psychosexual undercurrents to the Witchblade persona make for a curious fusion, as the show switches between wholesome drama and erotic horror. It’s as if someone spliced bits of David Cronenberg and H.R. Geiger into an episode of Gilmore Girls. Nonetheless, these remain the most compelling elements in an anime hampered by its haphazard pace and a plot that takes several episodes to get going. Gutsy, strong-willed Masane is a worthy heir to the Witchblade mantle, prone to alcoholic binges but a caring, vulnerable soul whose relationship with wise beyond her years Rihoko is warmly drawn. Characterisation is something this series does very well (highlighted in a scene where Masane and Tozawa bond over their experiences during the earthquake), although this sometimes results in bizarre non-sequitors (Naomi in a bunny suit; prolonged drinking sessions) that constrict the plot flow. The action, when it comes, is slick but often abrupt as Masane repeatedly kills X-Cons with a single blow or is swiped aside by Neo-Gens with worrying frequency. For example, the amply built up battle with Shiori concludes without Masane doing anything particularly heroic. Character designer Makoto Uno renders the Witchblade Masane and Neo-Gens into striking Amazonian creations, but leaves the intriguingly written X-Cons visually uninspiring.
On the flipside to the family drama is the Witchblade, driven by an almost sexual urge to fight monsters, signalled by heavy panting (incorporated into the opening credits), licking her lips and near orgasmic excitement (“It’s coming! Something powerful!”). Masane giggles while under attack and her opponents cry out when struck as if in mid-coitus (“You’re amazing!”). As the pre-credit voiceover declares the Witchblade “brings pleasure and destruction to those women destined to wield it.” The show edges near phallocentric anxieties over a powerful nymphomaniac female, tempered by Masane’s maternal need to protect Rihoko.
So far the series - now on its third DVD - seems to be developing well. With the added threat that the Witchblade slowly destroys its owner and only comes off when they die, its best episodes may be yet to come.