While science fiction is where I really cut my teeth as a kid when it came to genre entertainment, I also spent a whole lot of time in the realm of fantasy. Growing up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, having the original packet bag of Dungeons & Dragons and then the red box, I spent a lot of time playing through that particular kind of world, which lead me to reading things like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, lots of Weis & Hickman books, and far too many others over the years that I’ve forgotten simply because of the sheer volume of it. When I ended up getting into anime in the late ‘80s, the only real fantasy exposure I had early on was with Record of Lodoss War and that set a pretty high bar for me. I found a lot of other shows over the years and like anything else anime, it covers a range of styles and approaches.
So, in 2009, when Hobby Japan starts to bring their visual books for Queen’s Blade to life in anime form after getting some manga and light novels out there, I wasn’t surprised. Hobby Japan definitely puts together some great books and great kits, and even though it’s utterly ridiculous when it comes to some of the design elements, there’s a kind of primal old school love of the chainmail bikinis and how they make no sense but we just keep going on with it, similar to the whole Clark Kent/Superman thing. You just kind of accept it and run with the idea or it breaks down completely and becomes unwatchable. Of course, if you don’t like fanservice and sexuality at all in your anime, well, this is not the series for you. But I like to see a range of things within a genre so I crave the darkly serious fantasy work just as much as I do the over the top sexual ones like this that really feels like it wants to lean just a bit harder into being a hentai work.
The most amusing part of Queen’s Blade to me, however, is that it’s based on a gaming world called lost Worlds which came out in the US back in 1983. I even remember looking at that piece of cover artwork for it when I used to spend far too much time in hobby shops buying up miniatures, RPG games, dice and more. This series has been described as awful, terrible, trashy and just plain wrong. After watching the first four episodes of the first season that runs for twelve episodes, I’ll pretty much agree on the trashy part. But I’ll note that trashy does not equal bad and it can be a whole lot of fun actually.
Queen’s Blade takes place in your typical swords fantasy world where there’s at least a lick of magic about as we see an angel floating about and a woman who over utilizes a snake in a non-natural manner. The overall idea of the show, at least in its larger sense, is that the world is made up of several nations or kingdoms and there’s an event that happens over time where various women compete in matches across the lands for the Queen’s Blade, the title that will allow them to become the big wig in the world and right the wrongs they see or just create a lot more wrongs. The matches get shown through magic orbs that appear via the angels the oversee the matches so everyone can see what’s happening. During these episodes, there’s only one angle that we get to see trying to set up the matches and only one official match that gets underway in the last episode.
The show focuses on a number of small story arcs as nearly every episode introduces more characters, but it’s those introduced early on that define the larger narrative. The first is the focus on the Vance noble family in which one of the daughters, Leina, has left in an attempt to acquire the Queen’s Blade as she wants that power. Her life has been set by her father, the only male of note in the series so far and the only one with spoken lines as well, as she’s to be married and build from there within their nation. Her elder sister is a powerful general but because she’s considered a bastard child, she’s not in line for power. Her younger sister isn’t set either because of what their father wants. For Leina though, everything changes when she comes across Risty, a somewhat famous Robin Hood-esque bandit from the countryside who is looking to fix some failures she sees within the world, namely with orphaned children such as she was.
For Leina, her life is one where until she met Risty, she was never fully exposed to the way life is in her own country and how bad people really have it because of her father’s policies. These early episodes are about her figuring out these things and getting on the move by partnering up with Risty a bit in order to get past the Great Wall and away from her family’s reach. This doesn’t go too well as they end up losing a lot of their money along the way and we see Leina trying to earn some gold coins by basically engaging in a series of mud wrestling matches with other women. Risty is sort of amused by all of this as she’s really just letting Leina get a feel for life outside of the walls she’s lived within for so long and to realize that there are many people that are going to take advantage of her.
The other arc that comes into play is a young woman from the country of Hinomoto (i.e. Japan) who is now being set up by ninjas who want to take her down. With the help of one who gives her a heads-up as to what’s going to happen and the encouragement of others, she decides to head to the continent in order to acquire the power of the Queen’s Blade so she can fix what ills her country. With Shizuka at her side, the pair head off and deal with some culture shock while traveling and getting a feel for the world. There’s a good moment where they witness the first match of the Queen’s Blade tournament and start to understand what they’re up against, which is more amusing as they actually crossed paths with Leina at one time before that. These two have a fair bit of setup going on but their story seems much weaker at first than Leina’s.
Throughout the series, Leina’s journey through the world with Nanael watching over her and getting her into a few fights continues to tie things together as she meets so many people. Of course, Nanael wasn’t supposed to get her into the matches since she kind of tricked and forced her into it and her entire way of looking at everything feels off. In fact, Nanael eventually gets called up to Heaven where she’s told that she’s ready to be sent down to Hell because of all the things she’s done in a very un-angelic way, which naturally panics the hell out of her. It’s amusing watching her trying to figure out what to do, but she gets one last chance where she has to go to the swamp to investigate what the Swamp Witch is up to since she’s orchestrating some of the moves being made that have the bad girls getting involved in the competition.
The arcs progress and expand from there as the cast grows and we see a lot of different things at play as it all comes together, with a better sense of finality about it than one might expect – especially considering all the works that followed from it. There’s a lot of simplicity to the characters and their arcs but it figures into that kind of old-style fantasy design with straightforward quests, a single-minded focus, and clear cut goals that you could understand and get behind. But it’s also done in such a way that every shot seems like it’s done to maximize the characters’ sexuality when it comes to the action scenes because it’s taking those straightforward stories and applying a trashy set of trappings about it. And there’s an appeal in that just as much as having the serious side as they both speak of this kind of fantasy material in different ways with different things to explore. I still can’t call this a quality series in a lot of ways but it’s the kind of series that weirdly enough holds up well a decade later because it hit the formula right and exploits it properly. It’s fun, it’s silly, it has enough emotion imbued in it to connect even with all the sexytimes, and it mostly leaves you smiling – if you’re just a little bit skewed like me. It’s not a property for everyone and it’s not one I recommend without knowing the person, but it continues to be a favorite of mine.