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Qwaser of Stigmata Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

16 min read

Qwaser Blu-ray CoverTrue power comes from a special place.

What They Say:
When Mafuyu Oribe and her adopted sister Tomo rescue a strange wounded man, they have no idea what they’re getting involved with or what the consequences will be. Alexander Nikolaevith Hell is an Iron Qwaser, one of many opposing factions of super-warriors who can each draw upon the power of an element and wield it as an almost unstoppable array of weapons. Unfortunately for Mafuyu, Qwasers require a special liquid diet to manifest their powers, one provided by their Maria, a woman chosen to serve as the Qwaser’s partner. That means that the nursing Mafuyu’s already given Alexander isn’t the only kind of nursing he needs!

Contains episodes 1-24 of season one, episodes 1-12 of season two, and the OVA.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this series is presented in its original Japanese language only, which continues to be unfortunate but not unexpected, and in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series works a good blend of action and dialogue – and moaning – in order to tell its tale and all three areas are well handled. The action uses the left and right channels pretty solidly as events unfold across the screen and there’s a decent bit of impact to all of it as well. Dialogue is straightforward as it runs from the lows to the highs as characters yell from place to place and there’s some good directionality and placement to it, though depth is less of an issue here. There’s not a huge increase in quality overall, but everything has a louder and fuller feeling in general compared to the heavily compressed DVD track. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010 and 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080i for the first season and 1080p for the second season using the AVC codec. The show is spread across three discs with twelve episodes plus the OVA on the first, another twelve on the second and the final twelve of the second season on the third disc. With animation by Hoods Entertainment, the show has a really good bright and vivid look about it with plenty of detail where it counts. In its high definition form, there’s a better sense of color definition throughout and a lot more solidity in the backgrounds as well as key colors like the reds that often breakup a bit in DVD. The show has a glossy nature to how certain aspects of anatomy are conveyed and it gives it a vividness that really shines through. There’s a lot of variety to what’s going on here with character designs and powers as well as school uniforms and the like and it all looks quite good. There’s a lot to like in colors and fluidity here in high definition as it just takes the fun of the show up a few notches.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds two of the discs on a hinge and the third against the back wall. The front cover is definitely stylish without being anywhere near as blunt as it could be as we get four of the main women, three along the back in larger form, while Alexander gets a serious spot along the bottom to give it a bit of weight alongside the heavy red and black logo. The front clearly lists what’s involved in how many episodes there are, which is good to see as there’s a good bit of content to this release. The back cover gives us some of that nudity and sexuality to it both in some amusing character artwork but also with some of the shots from the show. The premise is decently covered considering how much there is here and it manages to do a tagline that’s nowhere near as awful as it could be. The bottom half of the cover has a huge amount of production credit information for the two seasons and the OVA as well as the English language material. The rest is made up of the technical specs grid, which lists it all clearly and cleanly.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is decent overall as it works with a standard template across all three discs but changes out the artwork. With a cross and symbol heavy background done in shades of red and purple against a black background, it definitely has an ominous feeling about it. The left side has a decent breakdown of the episodles by number and title with red text on black that inverts to red and white when selected while the right side has various pieces of character artwork which wasn’t used for the cover, something that I always appreciate. The layout is straightforward and easy to work with since there’s not much here beyond the show and now language options either, making selections minimal and easy to make. The pop-up menu also looks decent during playback when it comes up as well.

Extras:
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name by Hiroyuki Yoshino and Kenetsu Sato, Qwaser of Stigmata is a twenty-four episode series for its first season that certainly pushes some boundaries. The manga itself was picked up for a bit by TOKYOPOP before they went under and the Japanese broadcast of the series is one that must have been so heavily censored to the point of being useless. The show did have a webcast release though in its native country which was uncensored and certainly was the better way to see the show. Coming into this show, I had heard nothing but derision for it for a variety of reasons, mostly citing it as a massive trainwreck. I’m sure some of the reasons also stemmed from the heavy amount of sexuality to it that really runs the gamut of types out there.

At its most basic, Qwaser of Stigmata is a show that has some powerful people looking for a powerful item. The item in question is an Icon known as the Theotokos of Tsarytsin that we never really get all that much detail about other than it’s being sought after by just about everyone. The world essentially has three factions at this point. Your normals that know nothing of what’s going and are oblivious to it all. You have the Qwasers who are seeking it that are called Adepts and are the powered individuals, each with a different type of element that they use. Some manipulate copper, some oxygen, some elements that are essentially useless. And you also have an organization that’s working against them to stop them from getting the Icon which is known as Athos. This group has Qwaser’s in it as well since you have to fight power with power and the Qwaser’s in general seem to be pretty unstable, cruel and evil types.

The show basically spends its time showing us the fight between the two sides while normal people are caught up in the middle. The first twelve episodes we get here doesn’t really stray from this concept, but it builds up events a bit along the way to give a good tease towards the end about some of those who are really working to gain the Icon. It’s easy to go through the first half and just enjoy the battles as they’re used to explore the Qwaser abilities and how they work, can be manipulated and what’s needed to really power them. And the way different power sources can impact how effective they are. Taken from this context, Qwaser of Stigmata is a pretty straightforward concept show that you can easily plug in any number of other shonen type shows.

What sets it apart is the blunt sexuality. The Athos Qwaser we get as the main male lead is Alexander Hell, a young Russian kid who prefers to be called Sasha. At the school where Athos is searching for the Icon, believing it to be there under the previous director, he ends up saving a pair of girls named Mafuyu and Tomo. They’re related to the director in different ways (a ward and a daughter) and they’re still at the school out of a bit of pity in a way due to his not being there. Sasha’s saving of them draws them into the battle and they take to the situation easily, finding bond with Sasha though there’s naturally an adversarial aspect to it between him and Mafuyu while Tomo is just the bouncy one that feels just a little lighter in the mental processes. With Sasha spending time at the school, an array of Adept’s show up as well as other Athos members and more people that are aware of what’s going on as more and more believe that the Icon must be there.

The kicker with the sexuality though is that it really is blatant in a way that some people, such as myself, always wonder why it never is explored more. It’s pretty much skating just over the line into the world of hentai with what it does. For the Qwaser’s to power up, they need “soma,” which is a life energy that they can get from other people. Each flavor of soma is different in taste, but also the emotions behind its generation can change the level of power. When drained from a person, if they’re afraid or ashamed it provides some good nutrients and power. But true love can trump all the other emotions, which is why it’s the hardest. How to retrieve the soma? The Qwasers suck it from the nipples of people. Well, in this show it’s just women that get sucked off.

And therein is where the trouble starts since the show animates it so… beautifully. There’s lavish attention paid to it and it really is the money shot. The show provides numerous ways and characters to have it occur and that means there’s a heavy focus on skin being shown. They don’t play coy here, it’s full on display. Sometimes it’s rough, sometimes it’s tender, but it happens. And that also means that sexual humor, hands on moments and innuendo are rampant as well. One of the other Athos members, Katje, takes it in a pretty distinct direction as she has a superiority complex even as a “good guy” and takes on girl, Hana, for her own as a slave. And she’s brutal to her in what she does, truly treating her as a slave, but there’s an affection there as well. And Hana really, really takes to it as a submissive and that’s something that people can really struggle with understanding. If you’ve watched a lot of hentai though, the various sexual configurations that come up here really don’t surprise you that much. And if you have a varied real life understanding of sexuality, you won’t be surprised either. For those that aren’t, the show can be pretty shocking, surprising and even unsettling.

With the second half of the series, things work in a rather difficult way overall at the start before it gets back on track. The fun of having Sasha without any real sense of memory or self for a couple of episodes allows everyone to mess with him in different ways, including a lot of playing him up as a girl and bathing with him and the like. There’s a lot to enjoy in that realm since you want to be him with the way they all cuddle with him and he gets to be that close, but it’s also something that you know won’t last long. They play it up for about two episodes before the third one starts fixing things and through a bit of violence we get the Sasha we’re supposed to have back, with a vengeance at that. But at the same time, you kind of miss the sweet side of where we saw how Tomo and Mafuyu would read him books (nakedly) and they had a cute quasi-family thing going on.

While we do get a side story involving Miyuri as well, which involves her saving a girlish Sasha from a group of bad young men, the show does get itself back on track as the various forces working towards the prophecy side of things comes into play more. The two main sides operating here gets a little more complicated, though I loved the arrival of Mutsumi into the show since she’s just so commandeering with Sasha, and we see how the Adept’s and the older order work against each other only to end up in a kind of alliance as it progresses. With the search for the Tsarystin as the main focus, and Sasha and Mafuyu figuring out how to access it, the larger evil of the series takes a more forceful approach as the Qwaser of Gold that Sasha has had such a history with takes over Tomo and uses her, which of course motivates Sasha to get things figured out.

The series does go for a fairly big approach as it gets into the final run of episodes and there’s a whole lot of action to be had amongst all the fighters that are brought into the show, old and new, that have a lengthy history with many of the characters. It gets a little big and confusing at times since you’re not quite sure where some of the alliances are standing at any given time, but the show does work to really use the main characters in a fun way. Mafuyu’s been a key character from the start and we see that her growth bring her to becoming the Sword of Maria along the way, a neat little visual addition to her body. But when she’s captured and used as a way to access what the Gold really wants, we see how her power – and herself as a container – are very different from what’s understood. Essentially stealing slight bits of soma from women all over the world, she becomes a figurative fountain of soma that gushes out and really takes down some of those that were holding her in a big way. Too much of a good thing to be sure.

Thankfully, the series does give us an epilogue episode where a lot of the minor fallout is dealt with and we see how everyone is recovering and some of the minor changes in a few of the characters. The main thrust, which isn’t a surprise is to see how the dynamic between Sasha and Mafuyu is now that it’s been made clearer that they do have a connection to each other. Her dreams are quite amusing to watch since she’s so enraptured by him, even if some of it may be from the excessive soma she had before. The two are definitely a cute couple overall, even if they never do any real date kinds of things, as the banter has been what’s worked and the way that Tomo has always tried to make them comfortable with each other through her. Between the time spent with them and the looks at other characters, such as Katja’s time with her minion and others brings it all to conclusion well, while obviously leaving plenty of things open since there’s another season that came out a year later

With the second season, it does shift things around a bit for the first half of it as it takes Sasha and has him on a new mission at some other school where he’s on the hunt for the Magdalene of Thunder, a key and important piece of the larger puzzle that’s going on in the larger framework that comes from the original manga, which is still ongoing as of this writing with fourteen volumes so far. Sasha’s enrollment in this new school is comical as it’s an all girls school, so he’s dressing the part and getting help from Hana, who has been assigned as his Maria for this mission while Katja is off on some other mission that’s keeping her busy. Hana’s not terribly pleased by it, but it’s the kind of thing that will raise her stature overall when it comes to Katja and she has high hopes her suffering under Sasha will draw her closer to her one true love.

Unfortunately, Sasha has it even rougher since he’s playing the part of a girl here, working through the clothes he has to wear and dealing with Hana’s high handed manner at times that provides some tension between them, tension he can at least soften by sucking the soma out of her. What makes his mission really difficult here as it goes on is that there’s a real clique of girls he has to deal with and part of it involves going through a virtual reality series of tests and engagements with them where the losers have to do what the winner says. There’s some fun and sexy action with all of this, but what’s amusing is that as Sasha takes on the virtual female role and feels everything as a woman would, he finds that his handling of women previously was rougher than it needed to be now that he understands them a little bit more. He’s still manhandling them in a lot of ways, but there’s at least some dialogue about it as he gets back on track.

The first half does have a good bit of fun about it as he goes on with his investigation and we get a variety of new characters to deal with, especially as the villain of it makes himself known with trying to acquire the Magdalene of Thunder. There’s a lot of sexual torture that comes into it and it’s fun to see how this group of young women are manipulated or do the manipulating themselves. The downside is that other than Sasha and Hana, it’s pretty much nobody else from the first season for awhile. I like the new girls well enough, but I never felt invested in them. Thankfully, as it does progress, they do start to surface here more and more, first with Kajta coming in to help and then the arrival of Mafuyu, as she’s been spending her time in heavy training to become a Maria herself. But there’s some curveballs in her future with her role as she has some strong abilities of her own that have become bonded to her which has some real potential.

Where this season is a little unusual is in that while we have a main storyline, it’s largely completed in the first half. The second half has a small storyline that runs through it as well that involves an ex-Qwaser that has started up an organization to help young women enhance the size of their chests using a variety of rather creepy and disturbing pieces of equipment. It’s kind of sprinkled throughout and provides some of the impetus for how the relationship between Mafuyu and Sasha changes towards the end, which should launch a third season that I’d love to have. But where does this leave the rest of this season? Upping the ante on the whole breast fetishism. They’re mostly standalone stories that deal with some school stuff like festivals, there’s a beach episode of sorts and an OVA that really goes over the top with the way it abuses some of the girls and gets even more sexual than the first season did. I liked the overt nature of the first season, but the OVA here, which is episode 10.5 within the first season (which was originally included in the second season DVD), just went in an unwanted direction. It’s hard to say the series became more crass, but it just turned in a direction that was less appealing.

In Summary:
Qwaser of Stigmata is a controversial series for many simply because it takes the sexuality that’s burning below the surface of so many series and just rips open its tops (and bottoms) for all to see. And I love it. The story itself is fairly traditional and without much in the way of surprises, but it executes it in a big and fun way while not holding back from sucking down lots of breasts, exposing plenty of soma and showing plenty of naked characters. While many fans are fine with the teasing elements other shows bring in, being blunt tends to not go over well for a lot of reasons. But this show basically takes a regular series, gives it some near-hentai aspects to it and just runs with it while having fun. And I had a lot of fun with this show even if the overall storyline was weak. I like the characters, their interactions and the copious amounts of nudity. And I hope thing ramp up even more for the next season, which I can’t wait to see.

While I liked the first season a lot, the second season carries that premise forward another step but it ends up becoming too much and loses some of what made it fun to watch as it turned more cruel and unusual. It also didn’t help that there was a distinct lack of main characters outside of Sasha and Hana for the first half as a lot of what made the first series for me was the characters of Mafuyu, Tomo and Katja. Hana and Sasha definitely provide for a great pairing overall, and I like the new girls, but it just didn’t connect as well. And with the second half feeling more random, it loses that unifying storyline that kept you following it more closely in the first season. That said, I’m still very game for a third season and will hope for more of this fun show.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animations, Clean Closing Animations

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 6th, 2015
MSRP: $99.98
Running Time: 925 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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