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Broken Blade Complete Series Anime DVD Review

11 min read

Notice to all makers of mech anime has been served: The animation bar has now been raised for all mech endeavors going forward.

What They Say:
In Cruzon, children are born with the ability to control quartz. This power allows them to levitate simple objects – or control enormous and complex mobile battle suits called Golems. But when an ancient Golem is discovered during the height of a brutal war, a young king and his beautiful queen turn to Rygart Arrow. Though an “un-sorcerer,” Rygart can miraculously pilot this ancient and powerful weapon. But in war, school friends can turn into bitter enemies and allies have suspicious motives.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio for this release shows the series theatrical origins as the audio has a 5.1 presentation for both the English and Japanese language tracks. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was selected and it was found to be a well balanced one that compliments the series visual aspects very well as it provides a nice balance and sense of depth when required to help sell the action taking place on the screen. The series mixes the action sounds, dialogue and music very well with no one element drowning out the others in an unnecessary or detrimental way while the dialogue comes across well with no drop outs or distortions being noted.

Video:
Originally having played as a series of individual features in Japanese theaters between May 2010 and March 2011, Broken Blade hits the DVD format and brings its high powered action and detailed designs with it mostly unmarred. Being a theatrical series the producers decided to opt to keep the budget high throughout the presentation so there isn’t the noticeable quality drop-off that some other shows have when going from action to dramatic points and the series sure doesn’t skimp on the action moments. The transfer itself brings with it a few issues including noise, dot crawl, minor interlacing, ghosting, blocking, light banding, and some bright red color bleed but for the most part these are subtle enough that those not sensitive to it or really looking for it will probably find it negligible to unnoticeable.

Packaging:
The release comes packaged in an eco DVD case that includes a middle flipper page to hold one disc while the other is held on the back side of the case. The front cover features a layered image of series lead Rygart Arrow facing left with the series title mech facing to the right behind in. This layered image look is place over a red tinged canyon space that is populated by enemy mech in the upper part and it is also bordered by a red tinged sky which is very effective in giving both a sense of danger as well as providing a bit of sense of anxiety from the image set up and red used.

The spine features an image of a forward shot of the title mech while the back features two more of the series’ characters in the lower right while a red mech is handling the title mech right above them. To the left of that is the series copy, six still from the feature while the bottom of the cover has the various technical and copyright info listed in a standard but easy to read manner. The series is presented on two discs with the first disc using an image of Rygart on the left and his mech to the right of the hub while the second disc features an image of the military unit Rygart is later assigned to with the characters present to the upper right of the hub while the lower part of the disc features a lineup of the team’s mechs.

The chance for damage to the cover artwork is an annoying enough downside to deal with in regards to eco-cases normally- and in fact seems to have been borne out in this case as there is a major crimp on the spine that looks like it buckled when the front and back sides where compressed- but given the release includes a plastic flipper component it seems it would have been more “environmentally friendly” to just use the standard DVD case with hubs on either side than use an eco case and then a flipper. This leaves the package with a sense that it contains all of the fun of weakening a case and possibly damaging the art work with none of the environmental upside, which is not really a win in my book.

Menu:
The Main Menu on the first disc uses a static image of the four former friends who are central to the theme of the series with the royal couple being present on the left and Rygart and Zess are on the right. An image of a crouching Broken Blade is present in the center of the screen though a bit in the background to not upstage the characters too much. The Menu Choices appear in a block below the image with each episode/feature getting its own individual block and the Language and Special Features being to the right as the menu gives off a bit of a futuristic control panel look. The Language and Special Feature menus also continue the theme with the selectable options retaining the panel look though the location and set up of the look changes a little from menu to menu.

The second disc menu uses images recycled elsewhere for the most part as the Main Menu uses the group image from the disc’s label while the Language Menu uses the fighting mech image from the back cover, though it includes an image of the two unit’s pilots rather than Zess and his subordinate. The menus themselves use a slightly different way of showing the currently highlighted item but they are all rather prominent so there isn’t any confusion as to the current selection highlighted. The menus themselves are quick to respond to changes in selection and to implement selections when they are chosen with a minimum of lag.

Extras:
The only extra present on the release are the series clean opening and closing animations.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Yunosuke Yoshinaga Broken Blade is a series of six (roughly) 50 minute movies centered on a 25 year old named Rygart Arrow and the war he is dragged into as he the only person the Kingdom of Krisna has found who can pilot the ancient mech dubbed “Break Blade.” This is a bit of a turnaround from the usual story elements in that the reason that Rygart alone (or at least is one of a very few) can pilot the mech is because he is a bit of an evolutionary outcast of the non powered variety.

In the world which Broken Blade takes place almost the entire population has an ability they call “magic” which allows them to manipulate to one degree or another the element quartz which is a basic staple of society. Rygart however is a one-in-a-million individual who completely lacks this ability which gets him labeled an “un-sorcerer.” If societies stigma wasn’t bad enough the reality of his life is worse as his complete inability to operate any machinery that uses quartz makes for a much rougher life as he can’t even uses the simplest of machines as the whole of technology is also built upon this quartz material. His life is perhaps a bit harder than even that fact would necessitate as his father did everything he could and jumped at every slim hope to allow his son to have a normal life and when he passed away he left Rygart and his younger brother a good deal of debt that accumulated due to his efforts.

One of the areas where Rygart’s father racked up debt was by sending Rygart to the Assam Military Academy in an attempt to provide his son with as normal a life as possible (and possibly also in the vain hope that the Academy could help Rygart where all else had failed). While Rygart had to leave for financial reasons before completing his time there he still managed to make three very good friends in the persons of Hodr, Sigyn Erster and Zess and the four together were acknowledged as the Academies’ problem children for their antics.

The series opens as Rygart has been summoned to the capital by the king of Krisna, his old friend Hodr. That Rygart actually answers is a bit of a surprise as he had previously failed to attend Hodr and Sigyn’s wedding but despite the difficulty he will have traveling and the effect the farm will suffer with him not around he answers the request as the message includes a piece of info he can’t resist. It turns out that the kingdom has discovered an ancient bipedal weapon similar to the ones that the current nations use (and are dubbed golems) and the countries chief technological scientist, Sigyn, has been unable to make heads or tails of the machine as no one can use it.

The request itself is largely a feint as Hodr desperately wishes to see his old friend as the weight of the crown is growing increasingly heavy with the tensions the state is under. The drums of war are sounding across the entire continent of Cruzon and the continent is in a perilous state as a number of the kingdoms that reside there are at war with each other and the balance of peace is often more fragile than glass. As a result of this ongoing stirring of conflict the kingdom of Assam has fallen and its successor, the Commonwealth of Athens is in the process of setting up strikes against Krisna- and worse Rygart’s old friend Zess is leading the assault.

While the king is showing off the strange new mech to Rygart that was used as an excuse to lure him to the capital a strike force of Athens’ latest and incredibly advanced mech attacks which places the king and Rygart in danger. Through a fluke of accident Rygart finds himself in the cockpit of the ancient machine which activates for him despite it responding to none of the numerous soldiers that the kingdom has sent in previously to try to operate it. Thanks to more than a little luck and a suit that is far superior to anything that current science can even believe he survives his first skirmish and finds that he has become drafted into his countries war thanks to his abilities.

Unfortunately for Rygart he is the type of person who wishes to solve conflict through words rather than fighting and the requirements of being a soldier at war will push him to his limits. He probably would even have left altogether but the when Hodr reveals what Athens’ condition for the countries surrender are he can’t back down as it would require the death of his friend- as well as the woman Rygart still loves, Sigyn. With these unacceptable conditions in place Rygart will throw himself into war even if it means giving up his peace loving nature and fighting with one of his dearest friends. Unfortunately though the tide of war washes over all equally and as the losses mount a monster will be unleashed on Krisna which even the Broken Blade may not be able to oppose.

While the basics of Broken Blade include many of the things that have become staples in mech action shows over the decades it is the skill with which they are assembled as well as some of the pieces that are placed in the background that help the series really standout. First and foremost are the outstanding visual elements that the series brings to bear as the movie format allows for a rather sizeable budget for the animation, a good deal of which is clear to see as the gigantic weapons fight with a breathtaking fluidity of motion and along with that a sense of weight of the various machines is conveyed.

Where the series runs into a bit of a snag though is when it comes to the more human side of the equation. While the unique world and its rules come across as a treat with the various political aspects being a rather nice topping to the setting, the interactions between some of the characters seems to fall flat. Perhaps it is because of the incomplete nature of the story as the manga is still running or the decision by the producers to focus on certain elements like the battles but the full scope of the character personalities and interactions never seems to quite reach the potential that looks to be in potential from the series set up.

Chief among this area of flaws is found to be centered on the second half of the series where some of the previously key characters are placed into the background as a new threat is introduced along with other characters being introduced or used in new areas that just don’t seem to gain the screen time they need to develop. In some way the series is practically crying at times from a need for more time to expand on some ideas as some of the characters’ development seems to be sacrificed for more mech action. I really hope that at some point in the future more of this story is made or the manga gets a new release in America as there is a wealth of potential here which the pieces that currently exist just don’t quite seem to do full justice.

In Summary:
Broken Blade is a tour-de-force in style, action and animation that stand with its head high and which can hold its ground with practically anything available on the market in America today. The series isn’t entirely about the action however as it does create some rather special characters along with giving them issues of their own to handle but for whatever reason- be it the format, time constraint or just a lack of focus in the source material- the people of Broken Blade shine far greater in potential than in actuality. Still, anyone looking for one hell of a mech ride will find plenty of action and enough story to keep them engrossed, though there is a real possibility that they may leave with an even stronger craving for more of this series than they had when they came in.

Features:
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 21st, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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