"When I saw the pictures and the explanation of the story, I thought it was a coarser, scarier and darker anime. But once we started, I realized it had less violence and more heart." - Mie Sonozaki
Before anything else, you need to understand the following: Witchblade is, first and foremost, a character-driven drama, rather than an action series. It has some fighting, yes, but the vast majority of the episodes are spent focusing on character development. Everything else comes a distant second. At first the suggestion is that it's going to be a The Devil Lady, 'monster of the week' type, but that isn't the case.
Whoever decided to market Witchblade as a violent, fan-service heavy title wasn't too bright. Likewise, the person who came up with the idea of taking the title of a popular American comic and then creating an entirely different story, with an all-new cast, didn't make the wisest of moves. By attempting to pass-off a slow-paced, heartfelt and very human drama as a generic action title with added boobs, all Gonzo achieved was getting the wrong type of viewers; pushing away the types who would appreciate a family drama about a mother loving her daughter with all her heart and being willing to do anything for her.
Judging the series based on the revealing Witchblade forms and boob sizes, it's hard not to expect an utterly tasteless anime. But you know what? Sex only occurs ONCE during the entire series, and NOTHING gets shown--the two involved kiss and then it's the morning after. That pretty much sums Witchblade up: there's a lot of cleavage but, that aside, Witchblade is surprisingly tasteful. In truth, there isn't even a huge amount of action once series gets past the introduction period.
:: Story :: 6/10
Six years prior to the start of Witchblade, Tokyo had been left devastated by a catastrophic earthquake. Two people were found alive at the ground zero of the quake: a 17-year-old woman (later named Masane; her having lost all of her pre-disaster memories) and a baby (Rihoko). Only the maternity diary held by the woman pointed towards them being related...
Once the series gets going, the two are heading back to Tokyo on the run; desperate to stay together and not be separated by the child welfare organization (created after the quake, to 'help' children). As jobless Masane struggles to keep Rihoko, she encounters the 'monster' responsible for a string of nasty murders, and that's when what had been sleeping within her for six years awakens--the power of the 'Witchblade'; something that has existed since the beginning of time, selecting its (female) hosts and forcing its hosts to give into their lust and destructive urges. Masane then gets caught between two organizations who seek the Witchblade, ending up working for one (Douji: a major weapons supplier) to support her life with Rihoko and hunted by the other (NSWF: in charge of the child welfare organization and with links to genetic research).
I'll be honest here: the story of Witchblade is full of anime silliness, ranging from fat men disguised as killer microwaves, genetic experiments, and women who use 'Cloneblades'--lesser, copied versions of the ever mysterious Witchblade. It's never explained why the weapons Masane hunts target random females, or why the Witchblade only selects women as 'hosts'... or what the Witchblade actually is. And I couldn't help but see most of the twists coming in advance; the writers actually intentionally spelling out how the series would end in order to impact on the viewers' feelings progressively rather than shock them.
While it does have a B-movie sort of entertainment factor in its favour, if I were to score Witchblade based only on its story, it wouldn't be very flattering... But this is where the negative ends because, like I've already pointed out at the start, the characters are where it's at. The story is no more than a means to an end; the backdrop for lots of excellent drama.
:: Characterization :: 9.5/10
Masane (nicknamed 'Melonie' because of her boob size!), the lead of the story, has nothing going for her apart from her six-year-old daughter, Rihoko. She isn't incredibly sharp, has no skills of note and, really, only has her love for her daughter. The child welfare organization try to separate them; Masane's ability to transform into a scantily-clad, sexulized version of herself (thanks to the mysterious Witchblade attached to her wrist) puts her in danger and powerful corporations involve her in their troubles, but, no matter what stands in her way, she fights to protect and give a better life to the one she loves the most.
Loud, simple-minded, direct type of characters tend to be hard to like and easy to hate, but Masane is very endearing. There are many simple things that made her into a likable character, such as when she went into a blind panic after learning that her daughter had been hurt; Masane ending up running out of her apartment barefoot. She's often called a primate by her 'boss', Takayama, because of how she acts without thinking and says what's on her mind, but that's what's so lovable about her: her honesty, maternal instincts and selflessness. It's little surprise that she eventually wins over even Takayama with her natural personality as the series progresses - she's just impossible to not like and respect.
The supporting cast backing up Masane aren't too shabby, either. Rihoko basically 'mothers' her own mother by shopping, cooking and caring for the more absent-minded Masane, and her being so mature at such a young age makes her have instant likability. Takayama plays the role of Masane's stern and somewhat awkward middle-aged boss, giving her orders to hunt down rogue 'weapons' for money, and it's his banter with her that provides much of the comic relief--the two later also becoming much closer; the writers doing a wonderful job of humanizing him and showing his softer, caring side as the series progresses. The rest of the cast are less developed and involved than the main three but all play important roles; the residents where Masane and Rihoko live, though never getting much time individually, are responsible for the 'family atmosphere' always being in the air during the more relaxing periods, for example.
:: Art / Animation + Sound:: 8.5/10
The first thing that made me think, 'Wow, Witchblade might not be so horrible, despite the title and fan-service!' was its opening. I watched/listened to the opening by chance, and as soon as I heard the fast-paced, exciting beat and saw the visuals that accompanied the music, which included a close-up of Masane's eye and a tear coming out of it, I just knew I had to watch it. The first opening is THAT good--even the 'GIVE ME YOUR XTC!!!' lyrics going with the show itself. Gonzo went on to regret changing it halfway through since they replaced the far less impressive second opening with the first for the final episode.
In terms of the overall art and animation, the best word to use when describing it is consistent. Why? Because Gonzo are known for running out of budget and forgetting to animate towards the end. That wasn't the case with Witchblade, though, since the final episode featured fluid animation; Gonzo not being reduced to showing movement through lines on the screen and actually showing the characters running. Aside from a few instances of laziness where there wasn't animation and a few stills were linked, it was great to watch. Even Japan's obsession with breast jiggling got attention throughout! And, though I can't say Masane's HUGE, could-suffocate-with-ease breasts appealed to me personally, overall the art did look pleasing.
As for the soundtrack, I have to say: it's excellent. One track that stands out is one used for action quite frequently; a track with an eerie edge and... a woman breathing in an 'erotic' manner in the background - the track having an action-oriented beat. I was ALWAYS pumped for the action - my attention focused - simply because of the music. Towards the end, I recall drums starting beating after what had been a nice 'family life' sort of episode, and I just knew some sweet action would be coming my way. If a soundtrack is good enough, it can make something great into something even greater, and that's the case with Witchblade.
:: Overall :: 9/10
Witchblade has its flaws: the story isn't anything special, Gonzo appeared to run out of ideas at the death and just ended it, and the near enough naked girl-on-girl battles might be off-putting for some. However, the good by far outweighs the bad, and the characterization is at such a level that, if you're anything like me, you won't give a toss. Once the introduction was over and time had been given for attachment to the characters to form, I was too engrossed in their struggles to concern myself with negative thoughts about a robotic monster with the head of a bug and the like.
To sum it all up: If you go into Witchblade expecting nothing, you might just get everything in return. It's always rewarding to find a gem, and in my eyes Witchblade is a gem that deserves to have more people look at it. Do yourself a favour and watch it!