Blade and Soul #01.
Source Material: Blade & Soul
Director(s): Hiroshi Hamasaki (浜崎 博嗣) , Hiroshi Takeuchi (竹内 浩志)
Writer(s): Atsuhiro Tomioka (冨岡 淳広)
Character Design: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里), Hyung-Tae Kim (김형태)
Chief Animation Director: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里)
Blade & Soul is a Korean fantasy martial-arts massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by NCSOFT’s Team Bloodlust developer division. Having been in development since 2007 yet still void of many promised services, such as overseas and console (Playstation 3 and XBox 360) releases, the game is considered as currently in development hell. In spite of that, due to recognition of its innovative game mechanics, its artistic and stylistic design, and NCSOFT’s established reputation with previous series (Guild Wars, Lineage, Aion), it has garnered widespread attention as an accomplished entry in the MMORPG industry. While the anime series is to adapt from the source material itself, its release precedes the establishment of the game’s Japanese servers.
Aruka, a skilled assassin of the Tsurugi Clan bearing a scar resembling the shape of a swallowtail butterfly, was the sole witness to the murder of her master by three assailants belonging to the Param Empire. Since the incident, she has made it her personal mission to put an end to the vendetta and exact revenge upon the three assassins she prominently remembers from her vague memory. While bathing in a pond and reflecting upon that fateful evening, she is discovered by a pair of brothers who recruit her as a bodyguard, not after being overwhelmed by her physical prowess. Now serving Mori, the young female successor of a village, Aruka is exposed to the devastating influence of the Param Empire on people other than herself. The imperialism of the Param Empire has turned the village into a target land for the cultivation of “sky spirits,” flowers that grant supernatural powers upon being cultivated, subsequently establishing a common enemy for Aruka and her employer. All throughout, Aruka retains her stoic nature towards both her friends and foes, failing to even bat an eye when the whole village is attacked and countless people are killed before her. Ganza, essentially an unexceptional character of mini-boss-eque nature (filler, even in mini-boss terms) volunteers himself as someone who can defeat Aruka, over-estimating the power of the sky spirit bottle he possesses. Aruka assassinates Ganza with one skillful maneuver with two blades but is ultimately unable to stop the army that accompanied him. As Aruka and Mori watch the destruction of the village from afar, Aruka tells Mori to pursue vengeance. Then, while cutting her own hair, Aruka clarifies that instead of taking revenge, she is merely abiding by law.
First off, I would just like to say that it’s really difficult for me to not compare this anime adaptation to the original game. Of course, while they are two entirely different mediums, that’s not said in the sense that they don’t share many aspects, but rather, in the sense that they should be equally respected as distinctive art forms. So, in consideration to the congruous narratives, reworked character designs, the recycled soundtrack, and other similarities, it’s quite easy to say that this adaptation pales in comparison to the elegant execution of the original game. If anything, I’ll just have to trust myself when I say that I would undoubtedly think the same even if I had never heard of the game prior – and hopefully it’s fair to ask for you too to take my word on that. The thing about Blade & Soul is that for an MMORPG, it has a spectacularly riveting and engaging narrative. And in all honestly, it’s hard to come across one that succeeds in conception and execution of its story, especially when the fine line between game-play and cut-scenes is thickly veiled by the individual preferences of each player. Not perfect, but better than most, Blade & Soul does well in establishing the plot as a cultivated and integral part of the game, wherein the awe-inspiring artistry in design and graphics essentially present the cut-scenes as a worthwhile and standalone picturesque experience. But while it is an exquisitely visual adventure, Blade & Soul also knows how to balance its elements through game mechanics. To that effect, I believe it is very important to know, for example, what to place in cut-scenes and what to place in player-optional NPC talk bubbles. In translating the visual appeal, atmosphere, story and lore of an open-world game, one faces the challenge of depicting these intricacies, such as the gorgeous environments that the player can simply admire while walking their character towards an NPC, into concrete frames of an episode that ultimately subtract from its overall twenty minute run-time. There’s an unavoidable drawback to every scene implemented, so it goes without saying that attempting to emulate every single component of the game would be nearly impossible. Even so, in evaluating this premiere episode in more anime-suitable standards, it’s also hard not to be discontent with Gonzo’s recreation. I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of Studio Gonzo at all (though if it can produce another masterpiece on the level of Gankutsuou, I would consider that one of the greatest comeback of a studio in anime history) and that line of impression continues with the production value of this here adaptation. In regard to Aruka as the main character, a static air accompanies her disposition, so that while she is admittedly of a bad-ass nature, it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she’ll justify the role of protagonist through hard-driving character depth and/or development or whether she’ll remain the archetypal avenger all twelve episodes. Additionally so, aspects that could accentuate the story-telling oh-so-well, animation of action sequences and general art quality are also quite lackluster and flat, a lot of Aruka’s movements being simplified into non-dynamic animations. On the other hand, when action is low-key, it’s still hard to appreciate the beauty of the environments and scenic shots as much as one would in the game. And as always, I’ve it a point to be concerned with how the scheduled episode count will affect the series overall. One cour is usually not enough to present a magnificently compelling series, but it is always enough to make me fretful. Of course, there are those series that can do just the seemingly impossible in twelve or thirteen episodes, some in even less; but the fact remains that at this point, with a series that is missing satisfying core elements as well as the additional oomph factor, there is too much to be desired. If you ask me, the first artistic desecration was when they changed the “&” in the original title to an “and,” and it probably all went downhill from there.