Queen's Blade

If you've been watching anime enough, you start learning some rather infamous names. Apocalypse Zero. Ikki Tousen. M.D. Geist. There are some anime so bad that the culture at large outright rejects them, titles that go down in history as examples of the worst the medium has to offer. It's not simply because they're inept, but because of the vile content found within. The writing is atrocious, the animation subpar, and the content is highly sexualized or ridiculously violent to the point of causing complete disgust. Today's subject, Queen's Blade, is one of those most infamous series.

Honestly, I don't think it earns the distinction those titles have. In fact, while it's certainly not good, I'd hesitate to call the entire product bad. I do understand why that reputation exists, though.

Queen's Blade is a series based on some rather perverted tabletop games that share the same name. It follows Leina Vance, the daughter of a powerful noble who wants to be free and explore the land to find her purpose and happiness. The problem is that she's not terribly strong or skilled, especially among the women competing in Queen's Blade. It's a contest held every four years, where warrior women from across the land gather at the continent's capital and duke it out to decide who becomes queen for the next four years. Leina is swept up in the competition by chance, meeting such powerful warriors as the bandit Ritsy, a Hinomoto priestess named Tomoe, her eldest sister Claudette the Thunder General, and many more. The journey to the capital also becomes more complicated by three spirits employed by the mysterious swamp witch, along with Leina's self-defeating complex and her strained relationship with her older sister. An obnoxious angel named Nanael is not helping matters, tricking Leina into the contest and putting her on the path to face her own weakness.

Queen's Blade first episode is rather insane, and it's why so many people put this series on a pedestal as one of the worst of the medium. One of the swamp witch's minions, the slime named Melona, takes the form of a busty girl that shoots acidic slime from her breasts, and it is exactly as ridiculous and disgusting as it sounds. When she finally loses at the end of the episode, it's because Leina lands on her during mid-shoot and the slime backs up, causing her boobs to grow massive and explode. Yes, really. The third episode also has a pretty uncomfortable wrestling scene with a mercenary named Echidna that is about as hard to watch as the first third of Wanna be the Strongest in the World. It ends with Leina getting a poisonous snake bite, because this show is all about class. There are other terribly perverted scenes like this scattered throughout the series, like the nun Melpha's "holy poses" or Echidna covering Leina in a special tree sap for a training session, but the weird thing is that they're not nearly as common as you'd expect. In fact, they're surprisingly rare.

This is an ecchi, as the show is filled with bare boobs and other bits of cheesecake, but the insanely grotesque stuff is spaced out into just a handful of episodes. That first episode does not set the tone for the series completely (thank god), and the result is a surprisingly competent fantasy adventure ...with a ton of boobs and butts. As I watched, I think the reason it doesn't feel as gross (most of the time) as other shows of its ilk is because the series has almost no male characters at all. That really makes all the difference.

The problem with most ecchi is not that they're sexual in nature, but that they get very misogynistic in their content to the point of going from subtext to outright text. Queen's Blade is very much focused on the female characters, up to the point where there are only three male characters of any importance in the story. One is killed in the episode he appears, while yet another has already disappeared by the story start. The only named male character here that makes an appearance and sticks around is Count Vance, and he's more of a presence than a character. He's there to serve as the major cause for the divide between Leina and Claudette, and both of them eventually just ignore him altogether to accomplish their own goals as part of their character arcs. The absence of any sort of viewer surrogate or male villains (outside one) means the show never has to deal with the politics of how men and women treat each other in this society, while hinting that women have the greatest influence overall. This is by no means a feminist anime, but as an old reviewer I knew once said (and I paraphrase), this series is more like a D&D game between some friends that just threw in some tits. Those rare moments where the show goes overboard are the exception, but for about 90% of the series, that description holds. The cast is powerful and fights for their own goals, supporting each other and discussing things related to their goals, hopes, dreams, and grudges. If the more ridiculous sexual elements were toned down, this series could easily work as a solid action fantasy romp.

Well, maybe not solid. The actual story is a very mixed bag. The other fighters have interesting back stories and motivations, especially in the case of Tomoe, but Leina, the main character, is annoying to be around. Her thing is that she wants to be independent, and that means she wants to be stronger, but it takes far too long for her to start figuring out anything. She makes almost no progress for the majority of the series, only actually starting to change once she trains in the final forth of the season run. Claudette isn't much better, as her self-loathing complex feels far too forced in how its explained, mainly the incredibly idiotic sequence with the bird, which couldn't possibly be more cheesy and blunt (in a bad way, sadly). What carries these episodes is that the Vance sisters are rarely the sole focus. The other fighters get episodes dedicated to their stories as well, like hinting at Irna's traitorous goals, Cattleya resolving herself to go find her husband, Nowa and her mentor resolving to fight together, and so forth.

There are also a few big standout characters scattered around that puts some energy in the show otherwise lacking. Shizuka, Tomoe's ninja friend, has a great sense of humor, a blunt reflection of Tomoe's piety and seriousness. Menace, an ancient princess who's trying to restore her desert empire, is so completely uncaring of the events around her and so ditzy in her quest to brainwash people into her service that she becomes likable. She's just so out of place with the rest of the show that she fits in perfectly. However, Nanael ends up becoming the scene stealer whenever she pops up. She's an egotistical failure of an angel that tries to manipulate everyone around her, but can't properly accomplish even the most simple goals, and even heaven gets sick of her. I want a series solely about her. She also gets a healthy amount of screen time, which made the low points of the show bearable for me. Aya Hirano was a perfect fit for Nanael as well, bringing her comedic chops from her time as Haruhi Suzumiya and creating a truly childish, lovingly despicable character. Unfortunately, I can't say that the production value is particularly impressive.

See, the series starts out with okay enough animation, but slowly degrades as the show goes on. The finale is almost laughable, as they portray a big battle scene with armies of undead, but most character on screen barely move or make very simple, repeated motions to represent fighting. It's the part of the show where I actually became bored, which not even the worst moments could accomplish before. With so much focus on action, the inability to make engaging action scenes is a huge problem. It overcomes this problem at points through flashy special moves, magic, and interesting transitions or state-of-mind views, but whenever a prolonged sword fight occurs, it starts falling apart.

It does not help that the flawed understanding of story structure. The series ends right before the Queen's Blade tourney at the capital begins, with a battle with the swamp witch trio to get in. This should be an exciting climax with a good hook at the end, but it's undercut by just how inept these three have been portrayed before. Menace destroyed her own home, Melona was beaten by the weakest character in the series, Airi had to run off because she was pushed away from a victim she was sucking a soul from, and all three were all effortlessly defeated by Nanael of all people. She is powerful, but there's very little tension when you know these three aren't much more powerful than any of the other fighters, and they're all heavily outnumbered (since we all know skeleton soldiers are useless fodder). Leina's character arc is ignored to introduce other characters (all vastly more interesting), which is a huge problem because she's treated as a sort of master in the making that learns from all her rivals. We never get a sense of her growth until her training session, and even then, she only gets a new super technique out of the ordeal, no real sense of greater understanding of others (this is saved for the second half of the second season). She's supposed to be the central character and element that pulls the series together, but it just rings hollow. Her resolution with Claudette is also pretty dumb, going for that old, tired trope of having to fight to understand and blah blah blah.

Queen's Blade comes close to being an enjoyable romp for an ecchi, but production issues and poor writing at points hold it back far too often. it's a shame, because there are elements I really enjoy, especially several of the fighters and their own stories, but it never manages to come together properly. But I can say this with certainty; this is nowhere near one of the worst anime ever made. Though I do think it fails as an ecchi, as I became completely desensitized to boobs by the third episode.


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