DVD Review: Broken Blade

Broken Blade DVDBroken Blade
Sentai Filmworks
Six films (2 discs)
300 minutes
Rating: 14+

In the land of Krisna, residents are born with the ability to manipulate quartz.  Thus, quartz is used there and in neighboring countries, running everything from vehicles to heavy weaponry.  But when the state becomes entangled in a war with the larger and technically superior Athens Commonwealth, Krisna’s King Hodr and Queen Sigyn turn to Rygart, a young farmer and old friend without magical ability, to help save their nation.

The setup for the Broken Blade isn’t unusual and neither are the characters terribly original.  But the execution is excellent, greatly helped by the realism the series projects.  For instance, while many of the main characters were school friends, the drama in their relationships (especially on the battlefield) isn’t played over the top – the characters are in a war and just don’t have time to dwell much on the past.  Enemies, friends, and acquaintances must all be determined quickly, or deaths will (and do) persue.

The war itself also feels real.  Part of this realism is achieved through the excellent choreography in the battles.  The mechas aren’t terribly original, but they’re not meant to be – little time is spent glorying in their design.  They are meant to be machines of battle and as such, even the most illustrious mecha are torn to shreds as they engage in combat.  Most important in these battles, though, isn’t necessarily the machines or weaponry – it’s the terrain, which is used as effectively as in any series I’ve seen.  More than pilot talent or gaps in technology, landscapes play the most important role in battle.

The fights also feel dire because they are small in scope.  Generals speak about dozens or hundreds of mecha, not thousands of units; armies traverse countries in a matter of days because of the nations’ small size; and the capital under siege is populated by tens of thousands, not millions.  Because of this, each fight is smaller and easier to keep track of.  We as the audience feel that we’re watching a war in real time.  And when individuals die, we feel the impact, even when the soldier isn’t particularly a leader – they are more than a number, because each number is valuable.

Significant themes are present in the show as well.  Religion may play a small part, though it’s never emphasized.  Religious imagery is present, and the hooded costumes worn by the women, particularly those working with the mecha, makes one wonder about a connection to the state religion.

More heavily emphasizes is possible social commentary.  I found it interesting that King Hodr is dark-skinned, while Rygart, a farmer, is light-skinned, a swapping of traditional roles.  Was this purposeful?  Also of note is some sort of gender equality in the societies, as men and women equally make up the ranks of mecha soldiers and women are the experts in science and technology.  I would proclaim this anime a very strong champion of gender equality, if it wasn’t for Queen Sigyn, the weakest character in the series.  The creators attempt to give her a substantial role, but her existence is obviously mostly for fan service and romantic tension.

Another gem has to do with commentary on history.  A female prisoner, Cleo, is among those that were raised thinking the enemy was the only one who committed atrocities in a previous war, when both sides were actually guilty.  This seems to be a slap in the face to historical revisionists in Japan that portray the country as innocent in World War II (the Nanking Massacre immediately comes to mind).  It’s also pertinent to the U.S., where revisionists are changing the view of history in school textbooks.  As the character Zess states, “What suits those who decide history changes with each generation.”

The animation in the series is very nice, though I”m not a fan of the character designs.  The expense of creating films as compared to a series is evident, particularly in the beautiful backgrounds, which help establish mood during the battles (the beautiful animation of clouds and skies stands out – has Makoto Shinkai had this big of an influence on today’s animators?).

The release by Sentai Filmworks contains all six 50-minute movies.  It’s bare on extras, but does have an English dub which is serviceable and whose screenplay aligns closely to the Japanese translation.  Greg Ayres’ voicing of Rygart, though, feels too young for the role, but that’s perhaps more of a preference than a critique.

As the sixth and final film closes, there’s an air of unfinished business.  An epic and exciting mecha fight has ended the last film, but questions linger.  At first, I felt this was a weakness in the story – why are some plot lines brought up without resolution?  Why is a significant and interesting character missing during the second half of the series?  The answer, however, is clear: the story isn’t over.  Like watching any single movie in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Broken Blade is self-contained and satisfying, but it isn’t whole without the rest of the tale.  Here’s hoping for future Broken Blade movies in the future, because this is one series I want to see through to the end.

Rating: A-

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks.



4 thoughts on “DVD Review: Broken Blade

  1. You should read the manga, if you’re into that. It’s currently ongoing (new chapters get released at a painfully slow pace), but it may answer some of the questions you have. Also, it makes Sigyn a little more interesting as a character, and brings the religious empire of Orlando into play (not a huge amount – they’re more important for their political role at this point). Anyways, you might be interested.

    Nice review.

    1. Thanks for the rec! My manga backload is deep…but if I never hear of additional OVAs or a series, I might just have to move the manga to top of my reading list.

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