Based on a MMORPG by NCsoft, Blade and Soul follows Alka, an assassin from the Clan of the Sword, as she travels the land looking to kill a woman named Jin Varrel. Jin Varrel is a swordswoman who can use a corrupting form of dark magic called Impurity and is the person who killed Alka's master Hon. To make things difficult Alka is made a wanted person by Palam, the evil empire Jin Varrel works for. Along the way Alka comes across several faces, but the most prominent of them are a mysterious and beautiful innkeeper named Karen, a drunkard bounty hunter named Hazuki, and the leader of an anti-Palam gang named Loana. A few weeks ago Richard Eisenbeis named it one of the Five Anime of Spring 2014 You Should Be Watching. Is Blade and Soul really one of the best of the season, or is it just another soulless video game-based anime?
The Consequences of Actions
During the second half of the series, Alka starts to grow as not only a character, but as a person after finally understanding the true meaning behind the teachings she received from Hon. At the same time, though, she begins having to face the realities of what she has done over the course of her life as an assassin. The years she spent leaving a river of blood in her wake catch up to her in a massive way and it shakes Alka to the core. This was honestly rather surprising to see after how the first half of the show unfolded and is rather refreshing to see.
Stunning Use of CGI
The end credits for Blade and Soul are absolutely beautiful and feature what is easily some of the best CGI animation to ever grace anime.
Predictable and Repetitive Pattern
I honestly thought this show would be a shallow, but entertaining action series thanks to the series shooting out of the gate with a surprisingly brutal, but somewhat fun, first episode. But the majority of the series unfortunately falls into a repeating pattern that makes large swaths of the show just boring to watch. This pattern is made up of two different smaller patterns that I'll go into further details below.
This is the first of the sub-patterns that make up the overall main pattern the show follows for most of its episodes. In Blade and Soul nearly every named character not in the main cast dies the episode they are the focus in. It got so bad that after a few episodes whenever a new character was introduced I instantly knew they would be in a pool of their own blood by the end of the episode. This made it insanely hard to care about said side characters, because I knew they would not be around long enough for me to care about them. On top of that, for many of them, they barely even get any screen time in their focus episode so they barely have any characterization as well. For all intents and purposes they are just walking, talking bags of blood.
Damn It Alka, SPEAK!!!
The second sub-pattern is that Alka has an uneven distribution of lines. In nearly every single episode she spends the first half almost one hundred percent silent, at best uttering a few "lines", which more times than not were just one big sentence that she would break up into small phrases resulting in a William Shatner-like delivery. Then in the second half, well she still wouldn't be much of a chatterbox, but she at least spoke more than in the first half. Because of Alka's aversion to talking, there are multi-minute long chunks of some episodes that are just flat out dull when it is just Alka and none of the other characters are there to talk to her. This ultimately makes any non-action scene without another character doing the talking just a chore to watch.
Animation Quality Runs Off A Cliff
I.....just look at that picture above guys. That is just cheap as hell background animation. And this isn't like normal in-between animation which I think we all know is bad. That particular image was a static background to a scene where Alka freaking walks through that alley. Want to see what it looked like when they changed the camera angle to one following Alka from behind during this same scene?
Maybe I should point out that the environment in neither picture is how Blade and Soul's environment normally looks. And these are just two examples of how piss poor the animation gets in the second half of the show. In the first half, the animation is rather good. It made the action scenes very fun to watch and as a result made them the only real highlights of the first 7 episodes.
Then for some reason, most likely budget reasons, everything turns to visual shit. There are countless errors in every episode from episode 8 through episode 13. Speaking of episode 8......that particular episode was pound for pound one of the worst made episodes I have ever seen from a modern anime series. Terrible transitions, confusing action scenes that looked like slideshows, all in all the episode seemed like just a collection of scenes, really. And it just snowballs from there. It gets so bad that one episode had a montage of Alka walking around the land and in one part of the montage, the screen is panning and there is just this random schmuck walking around carrying a sack on his shoulder. Why am I bringing up this random guy? Because he was walking in place. What I mean is he was doing a walking animation, but he wasn't moving anywhere. On top of this is things like odd looking character faces, some of the worst flames I've seen in a long ass time in anime, and well, just poor ass animation all around, really.
Pointless Last Episode
What I mean by this is, the story ends in the twelfth episode. But there are 13 episodes in all. So what does the episode that is technically the finale of the show but not really give us? Well it is a comedy and fanservice-filled episode that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, mainly because the plot already wrapped up. This was a filler episode and more like what you would expect from an OVA episode included with in the home release or something. It serves no real purpose and shouldn't have been included in the show's main run. Mainly because it prolongs the suffering of anyone crazy enough to watch the entire show.
So to answer the question, is Blade and Soul one of the best shows of the season that everyone should be watching? HELL NO! Of the 33 shows I have watched this season it is easily the worst one. I will admit that the story, particularly Alka's part of it, does get better in the second half of the show, but the trade off is the animation quality plummets. And the animation just gets so damn bad that it is very distracting at times and while the story gets better, it still isn't world class material. It certainly isn't like to the level of say Wake Up, Girls were I could overlook its poor animation because of a really strong story and characters. Even at its best Blade and Soul's story is above average, and an above average story can't override shitty animation. And what truly sucks is that this show had some potential to be a possibly good show, but it just never hits the right balance it needed to to reach that goal. As such the only real value I can find in Blade and Soul is it makes me truly appreciate the holy hell out of the shows better than it. And that's the only way I'd recommend this show, to let people appreciate the best of the best by seeing one of the worst of the worst.