What They Say:
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.
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this series is straightforward as we get just the original Japanese language track in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that has a good mix of dialogue and action to it, though more dialogue than action, and it plays out across the forward soundstage well. There’s not a lot of stretching going on with the dialogue as it’s often just one person at a time and mostly coming from the center of the stage, but there are some better moments amid the action that gives it a little more to work with. The action itself hits some nice impact moments towards the final five or so episodes with more serious moves being employed, but the quieter pieces earlier on are handled pretty well along the way. Combined with a solid score that builds the atmosphere, we didn’t have any problems with this track during playback in terms of dropouts, distortions, or other issues.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episode series is spread across two discs in a nine/four format that, combined with the single language track, gives it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Gonzo, the show has a pretty good visual design about it and it comes through well throughout the run with its color design that has some good and appropriate pop while also working the darker and earth tones well. This all comes together without any noise or breakup, allowing it to flow well during both the quieter scenes and the busier action pieces. There’s a decent bit of detail in general to both backgrounds and designs and with some more fluid sequences in the final couple of episodes it all has a smooth and clean look that’s a big positive for its overall presentation.
The packaging design for this release is kept to a standard sized single Blu-ray case that holds both discs against their interior walls. The front cover works with the familiar imagery of alka in the center and some of the various female characters that populate her journey around her. It’s given a darker tone in the background with the shades of red and black while breaking it up just right with some blue from the flowers. Combine that with Alka’s design and copious amount of skin and it’s a very appealing cover. The back cover is a bit busy with its layout as we get a cluster of shots from the show along the upper right while the lower left has a good character visual with weapons out. Mixed between them is the breakdown of the premise itself, which is white text against blues and reds that works better than one might think it would. The episode and disc count is laid out clearly as are the extras included in the set. The remainder is the standard production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works well as the first disc takes the cover artwork but lightens up the background while also adding more light to the visual itself, resulting in an appealing looking piece that’s simply more colorful and eye-catching in its own way. The second disc works a different piece of artwork of some of the female characters from later in the run while tying them a bit more to the darker reds and blacks from the front cover. The navigation strip is kept to the right and it works a kind of blade aspect to it with a rough design that captures the feel of the show well, working with black, yellow and darker colors to give it a distinctive look against the artwork and as the pop-up menu as well. Navigation is simple, though the first disc has nothing but the episodes while the second has the final four plus a submenu for the extras and trailers. It’s a little barebones yet the design of the navigation keeps it from feeling like it’s cheap or shoveled out.
The only extras included with this set are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the game of the same name from NCsoft that came out in 2012 and had several different releases since then, Blade & Soul is a thirteen episode series that aired in the spring 2014 anime season. The show was directed by Hiroshi Takeuchi and hiroshi Hamasaki at Gonzo and it’s seen solid release in simulcast form and multiple licensors picking it up for home video around the world. With a fairly popular brand of game out there, it makes a whole lot of sense to do this – though the show didn’t do well enough to warrant an English language dub. Which is unfortunate since that’s what really provides the crossover appeal, though more and more we’re seeing people without that problem that have gotten into Japanese games and the original language side.
The series is one that has a decent idea and overall concept to work with yet is also the kind that after watching it over the course of a day reinforces that the weekly/spread out fashion is best for it. The show revolves around Alka, an assassin for the Clan of the Sword who has now found herself without quite the same purpose in life. With the destruction of her clan and having lost her master, she’s intent on revenge towards Jin Varrel of the Param Empire whom she holds responsible for it. This gives Alka a straightforward plot point to work with and while it is the familiar Hero’s Journey archetype, it’s one that can certainly provide for some good exploration.
Alka, as we know her in the first episode, is just now starting to shake off some of the type of assassin she was for her clan. Not in terms of her skills, but rather with personality. Having had to be cold and emotionless for so long, she’s now able to free that up just a touch, albeit in a very guarded fashion. This has her still coming across as quite aloof to everyone else, but there are touches of humanity that spread to her over the course of it where nearly every episode is a different story involving different characters. Outside of a couple of others that play at attacking her and lightly befriending her, Alka is on a journey and that means new villages and new people to meet on a regular basis. That’s where the show feels like it’s best in being spread out because as soon as you get to like the guest star, well, off they go as Alka wanders on to her next destination.
Within this kind of fantasy-ish era where there’s a few handguns and other weapons of that nature, Alka goes through her travels and interacts with all types of people, though predominantly women and the situations that they’re in. It’s like a hero story of the week, taking me back to my old Incredible Hulk days with Bill Bixby wandering along except that he’s wearing a leather one-piece swimsuit with lots of exposed cleavage. There’s not a lot that really registered with me long term when it comes to the stories and the characters she interacts with, though the cute ones with big fluffy ears certainly stand out, and this comes from the nature of it with it being so episodic and the stories having little impact from one to the next. It’s more about Alka’s journey as she becomes more human and finds her purpose in pursuit of Jin while also discovering other things along the way. It works well enough and I can easily imagine those that are fans of the game becoming more invested in it than I was able to.
That said, the final three or so episodes of the series are definitely a visual treat. With Alka closing in on Jin while dealing with a few others, we get the expected fight and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d want out of it. It brings all the power and design to it that it needs to give it maximum impact to bring that storyline to a close while making it exciting to watch. The visuals are spot on and it does a really good job in putting the money on the screen when you get down to it. I wasn’t invested in Jin as an opponent since she was just a name for so long, and Alka didn’t really connect for me, but the end result is one that works really well and I thoroughly enjoyed the final action arc. Sadly, there’s a bonus episode/epilogue piece that kind of kills that feeling as it goes for various hot springs gags and falls very short of being entertaining, but these kinds of episodes are hit or miss to begin with so I wasn’t surprised, especially since this series didn’t really play heavily to the fanservice – though it certainly has it.
Blade & Soul is a fairly straightforward story of the week series based on a fight video game, making it clear that it knows what it wants to be and executes it well. On the technical side, the show does a very good job throughout and I enjoyed the visuals, the layouts, and the overall design of it. The story is one where it’s simply too familiar to really dig into and the main character still largely feels like a cipher at the end of it. But it is well put together and hits all the right beats and notes that I have to give it credit for doing it all right. It simply didn’t speak to me or connect with me in any way. Sentai’s release is solid throughout and while I would have like to have seen it dubbed to potentially reach a bigger audience, I totally get why it isn’t. I’m glad we got a solid high definition release of it, however, as that lets the designs shine through well.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 27th, 2015
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.