In a genre that is probably a bit too overrepresented at the moment, that of a boy with powers going to a special high school for power users that is filled to the brim with beautiful girls, this one at least brings to the table competent execution, though little else to stand out from a much too crowded field.
What They Say:
To enroll at Areisha Spirit Academy, where young priestesses learn how to form contracts with Spirits, the ideal prospective student has always been pure, chaste, and of a superior lineage. And female, of course, since only one man has ever made a Spirit contract and HE was the Demon King.
So when Kamito Kazehaya arrives at the Headmistress’ request, the entire Academy is understandably thrown into chaos and confusion. Because not only is Kamito very obviously a guy, but he also managed to form a Spirit contract in the short time it took him to walk through the woods surrounding the Academy! How is this even possible?
And what other secrets might the new enrollee have hidden? The unexpected intrusion of something male is certain to work the female student body into a tizzy as the answers are revealed in Blade Dance of the Elementalers!
The only audio track available is a Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0ch 48 kHz 224 kbps mix. It does its job perfectly well as there are no significant distortions or moments where either the dialogue or the background (music and effects) overpowered the complete experience. As this show has a lot of talking, most of the work was done by the center speaker, though the final episode does involve an extended action sequence that makes much more use of the surround sound capabilities that can be encoded into a stereo mix, moving sound through the rear and left/right speakers well in combination with the visuals.
Originally airing in 2014, the video is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. What we have here are the usual results of standard definition video upscaled: some fuzziness, mosquito noise, dot crawl and other compression artifacts which are most visible during heavy movement on screen. Panning shots, as always, provide the worst examples. If you are not very sensitive to compression artifacts, you will not really notice them that much during playback, but even on what is probably considered a lower-end setup these days (which is what I have), they are visible. The video is divided up thus: Disc 1: Ep 1-4; Disc 2: Ep 5-8; Disc 3: Ep 9-12.
Packaging, Presentation and Menus: B
The three discs are packaged in a standard-sized DVD keepcase, the first two discs held on a flippy-hinge holder while the final disc’s hub is attached to the back wall of the case. The current standard for these complete DVD collections from Sentai Filmworks. The front cover art features a picture of the main cast holding their usual weapons of choice while in their school uniforms, with the two main antagonists of this series in the background somewhat shaded. The back cover features the catalog copy centered between two columns of scenes from the show, with two fanservice shots aimed at a specific target audience featured prominently. The discs themselves have standard promotion artwork of three of the female leads (Claire, Est, and Fianna).
In addition to the usual array of textless opening and ending animation and trailers on the first disc (there are no supplements on the second disc), the third disc has the Japanese commercial spots and what is the best extra included, the series of special mini OVAs that were part of the individual volume releases in Japan. The mini OVAs are actually pretty interesting. Most of them are the regular set of funny asides and fanservice-laden dessert thrown in to watch on the side. But the first one, on the other hand, provides some significant backstory information about events before the series proper starts. It was slightly surprising that the first one was generally serious, to be followed by the much fluffier follow ups.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
You just know that something is going to be spectacularly…something…when we open with a boy peeping on a naked girl bathing in a forest glen. Yes, we’re already starting with fanservice and cliched situations. The question is: will this get better or worse as things move along?
Based upon the light novel series by Yuu Shimizu published by MF Bunko J (from Media Factory, a division of Kadokawa), Blade Dance of the Elementalers is the story of a group of high-school aged students who are attempting to enter the Blade Dance, a competition between Spirit Users whose winners can ask for a wish to be granted. Usually, only girls are able to enter the competition for only they, especially pure maidens from distinguished lineages, can form contracts with spirits, using their powers for combat. There was only one male who ever mastered the use of spirits and he was the Demon King, who was defeated ages ago. But now, Kamito Kazehaya, a male Spirit User, has been summoned to Areisha Academy, one of many places which train young women to fight in the Blade Dance, by its headmistress, Grayworth Shellmice. It seems that Grayworth knows all about the secret Kamito is hiding…which is that he once fought in a Blade Dance three years previously in drag under the name Ren Ashbell, the winner of the Blade Dance and the strongest Blade Dancer out there. While he does not really like being manipulated by Grayworth, Kamito has his own reasons for agreeing to enter the Blade Dance: his previous wish from when he won three years before backfired and so he wants a new one in order to set things right, especially with regard to his former contracted spirit, Restia.
This being a light novel series involving a teen boy with special powers transferring into an all-girls school…yes, you know immediately where this is headed. Actually, you don’t even have to get to the school yet before we are greeted with our first sight of fanservice: on his trip there, he comes across a small, underdeveloped girl bathing in a spring in the forest. She, understandably, is upset by his intrusion and uses her own powers as a fire user to try to incinerate him, though Kamito manages to evade a fiery death. Thus we are introduced to Claire Rouge, who will be our fire-haired, fire using tsundere loli foil to nice guy Kamito. If this is already making you feel an aversion to what’s to come, this is probably your hint to search for entertainment elsewhere.
Suffice it to say, Claire and all the other girls we are going to be introduced to will fit within nice, expected, niches from the usual roster of fetishes favored by anime/manga/light novel fans. About the only thing in common all the girls have is that they are all varieties of ojou-sama, as this is an academy for elite females only. But we get quite the range of them with varied personalities (in order of increasing bust size) from the loli tsundere (Claire), to the classic version (Rinslet Laurenfrost), to the heroic knight (Ellis Fahrengart), to the Slutty Princess (Fianna Ray Ordesia). The author and character designer (the original light novels were illustrated by Hanpen Sakura; the anime designs are by Maki Fujii) covers all body-type bases when you include many of the supporting and side characters, including Rinslet’s maid Carol and school headmistress Grayworth (extra busty) down to the anthropomorphic spirit that Kamito makes a new contract with in order to fight again, Terminus Est (the extra small loli). You may wonder why I would pay such close attention to the details of the females’ body types, but for anyone watching the show it comes as no surprise: to simply display them for the male gaze was perhaps one of the central points of the anime. The deliberately chosen camera angles and slow upward pans easily makes one think the anime was saying at times “The Blade Dance, the battles…eh…show us girls!”
For all of its shallowness and vapidity, the author at least made some attempt to provide the girls with working personalities as well as significant backstories that explain why they all want to take part in the Blade Dance themselves (only Rinslet’s backstory is not delved into in this series). The most compelling perhaps being Claire’s, fitting as she is to a certain degree the “lead” girl: her elder sister was apparently chosen to be a Spirit Princess, a great honor and important responsibility (for keeping the Spirit Kings happy), but it all went badly when she caused a major destruction incident, being given the name “Calamity Queen” by everyone afterward. Claire, obviously, was harshly affected by the downfall of her once-prominent family and wants to use her wish to discover what went wrong with her elder sister.
But mostly, this show is about fights between Spirit Users and copious amounts of fanservice. It’s utter fluff, but it’s well-executed fluff. The characters, heroes and villains, do not have deep personalities, but at least they are not as shallow as a puddle after a brief rainstorm as is the case with a great many light novels. The plot is straightforward and does not get too deeply enmeshed in esoteric gobbledegook unlike so many other light novels (sure, there is some jargon and crap, but it’s not about to set off a Hatoko Rant in response). If there is one significant drawback to this show, it is that the series ends at what is only a relatively acceptable ending point: the formation of the team that will fight in the real competition, the Blade Dance. Were this the first season of a two or more season franchise (there are 15 volumes currently in the light novel series), it would be one thing. Ending rather abruptly as it does with little sign of any follow up, what we have here is what so many anime wind up being: a 6-hour infomercial for a light novel series that is not even available in North America…but then I doubt Media Factory cares much, since there market is in Japan.
Coming from the same director as High School DxD, Tetsuya Yanagisawa, those familiar with that earlier work should pretty much know what Blade Dance will have to offer: ecchi and action carried out with just a tiny bit more forethought and planning than so many of these types of shows manage to achieve. This is not high art of any kind, but it’s a solid B-grade work that will make its target audience happy. If you’re not part of that target audience, this review will have saved you at least 25 minutes of your time, which might otherwise have been spent watching the first episode online.
Kamito Kazehaya is a rarity in a world where pure young princesses can form contracts with elemental spirits: he is the one male who can do it too. Not only that, but in the past, he became a champion spirit user in the Blade Dance, the formal competitions held every so often between Spirit Users (he was in drag for that one, obviously). Now he is called to fight in the contests again, though this time as himself and with a goal: to use the wish granted to the winner of the Blade Dance to set right what went wrong with the wish he made three years previously. Unlike the previous time, however, this new contest will involve teams of five, so Kamito joins forces with several girls including Clair Rouge, a scion of a disgraced family who is looking for her own redemption in winning the contest. Who am I kidding? Kamito goes to an all-girls school and forms a harem. Copious fanservice and not terribly impressive battles between Spirit User ensue. If you like this kind of setup, all-too-common to light novel-adapted works, this one is at least competently executed and features characters that are not extremely shallow or superficial by the standards of this genre. If none of that sounds interesting, move along.
Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, English subtitles, Sentai trailers, Japanese Promos, Blade Dance Special Mini OVAs, Clean Opening and Closing Animations.
Content Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 2nd, 2016
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL-32S5100 32-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony Bravia DAV-HDX589W 5.1-Channel Theater System connected via digital optical cable.