Blade & Soul is an anime adaptation of the Korean fantasy martial-arts MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) developed by NCsoft. The game is heavily inspired by martial arts and Qinggong (a Chinese martial art technique). The game will be receiving a release in the US and EU on January 19 2016. The anime adaptation was handled by Studio Gonzo and directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki (Steins;Gate) and Hiroshi Takeuchi (Tiger & Bunny). Animatsu Entertainment brings this title to the UK and it is available now on both Blu-ray and DVD.
“Trained since birth as the Clan of the Sword’s ultimate assassin, Alka has lived her entire life as a nearly emotionless human killing machine. Now, however, her Clan has been destroyed, her master murdered, and the Code she lives by leaves Alka just one final mission: to seek out those responsible and exterminate them. If that means taking on the impossible might of the Param Empire, and the demonic powers of their battle leader Jin Varrel, then so be it. But while Alka may be the hunter, she has also become the hunted. With a price on her head, she must evade or kill the bounty hunters intent on collecting her skin, and in the bloody shadow-world of assassins, that means there’s no one she can trust.” – Animatsu Entertainment
Appearances can be deceiving and going by Blade & Soul’s cover art alone, you’d expect a series that focuses heavily on the female casts’ ample assets. However, the series is not weighed down by them; they are never the centre of attention or focus. The majority of the series focuses on the story and action rather than its many buxom females that populate the world. That is until the final episode which brings nothing of value to the series and is solely a fan service episode that does not shy away from making up for lost time.
Blade & Soul is quite fast-paced; the story never settles in one place for too long. However, this does mean that the story suffers somewhat as it jumps around with very loose connections between storylines. While the story is coherent the episodes are so fragmented that it’s hard to invest in the overall story. Adapting a game can come with some downsides especially in an MMO that doesn’t focus heavily on pure storytelling and adopts more of an episodic style.
Visually the series is very strong; with a studio like Gonzo behind an adaptation you’d expect no less. Characters look great and really embody their in-game counterparts, though it’s very clear that the female cast received a lot more attention when it comes to character designs and the characters’ overall animation quality. Action scenes are animated perfectly and martial arts really come alive; that said it would have been nice to see a little more action throughout the series. Being based upon a game, especially an MMO, it would have been interesting to see some game features make their way into the series. As such a popular format is used with series such as Sword Art Online and Log Horizon it’s a shame they didn’t explore this route.
There’s certainly an art when it comes to opening and ending animations within anime. Blade & Soul neither succeeds nor fails in this aspect. The opening animation is as you would expect from an anime such as this and is full of the usual tropes and clichés but overall not a bad effort. The ending animation, while not amazing by any means, is intriguing if nothing else. The use of CGI in combination with the characters dance holds your attention in a bemused wonder.
This release includes Japanese audio language only accompanied by English subtitles. The opening song, “Sayonara Usotsuki” by MimimemeMIMI, works well with the visuals but also hammers home the tropes and clichéd points. The ending song, “RAINBOW” by LEGO BIG MORL, is interesting but largely forgettable as the visuals are more intriguing.
Extras can be found on disc one and feature, as standard, clean opening and ending animations. There is also a selection of trailers for other Sentai Filmworks titles including Knights of Sidonia, Vampire Hunter D, Hamatora the Animation and Brynhildr in the Darkness.
Blade & Soul starts out very strong both visually and in terms of story, the story however quickly becomes episodic and fragmented. Although the story stays coherent throughout its easy to disengage from what’s going on and losing any connection to the characters. The series does have its moment’s particularly in the great visuals and action scenes but adapting from an MMO clearly has its drawbacks. If you into your fantasy adventures with a sprinkling of martial arts then give Blade & Soul a go but be warned that story can feel fragmented.