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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Sacred Blacksmith
The Complete Series


Starring (voice): Ayumi Fujimura, Nobuhiko Okamoto and Aki Toyosaki
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: 15
Available 19 September 2011

Cecily¹s a blushing knight in shining armor. Unfortunately, it seems most battles end with her as the damsel in distress. Her lack of skill and distaste for violence make her an unlikely heroine - until the brooding blacksmith Luke comes to her aid, using his powerful magic to forge blades of supernatural strength. Cecily wields this sacred steel and charges forth to face a dangerous new threat; a cloaked fiend is unleashing demons upon the land, and though he lurks in shadows, the villain is much closer than Cecily can imagine...

A twelve-episode 2009 series based on the manga by Isao Miura, Sacred Blacksmith has some good credentials: produced by animation studio Manglobe who scored critical and commercial hits in the last decade with Samurai Champloo and Ergo Proxy, it also has a voice cast top-heavy with fan-friendly voice talent (lead performers Fujimura, Okamoto and Toyosaki have all become popular with anime fans via roles in hits such as K-On! and To Aru Majutsu no Index). It's a shame then that Sacred Blacksmith fails to live up to its pedigree to such an extent.

The biggest problem is the pacing - a sadly typical issue with many anime series today. While the traditional 24-plus episode runs of TV anime series are rarer nowadays, as studios reduce the risk involved in a long-running property by sticking to single-season lengths of twelve or thirteen episodes, Sacred Blacksmith can't even seem to sustain its story over this distance. Having set out its medieval-fantasy stall and introduced the plot and central characters - none of whom are especially memorable - it's only a few episodes before a guest cast consisting mostly of cute weapon-toting girls is wheeled on to pad out the run and provide some surplus eye candy, bringing with them a secondary storyline that has no real bearing on the main plot; with their departure they're barely so much as mentioned again before the series conclusion, having almost no resonance or lasting effect on the main characters.

This leads me to the second commonplace problem: fanservice taking the place of plot or character. The female cast, almost without exception are there in order to provide otaku-friendly fantasy fuel: maid outfits, communal bathing and revealing battle clothing ('armour' is overdoing it) are all present and correct. Indeed, whereas most TV anime today are paradoxically coy about their titillatory content for fear of censorship, Sacred Blacksmith features a surprising amount of nudity, accounting for the otherwise unwarranted '15' rating. Main character Cecily spends a lot of time getting her impractically designed knight's outfit torn up after the briefest of skirmishes with her enemies, providing the cue for sorceror/swordsmith Luke - one of the most charmless and humourless male leads I've seen in anime in some time, as an aside - to step in and finish the fight. Even by anime standards, Sacred Blacksmith does seem to go out of its way to make Cecily dependent on and even subservient to Luke throughout.

As the series comes to an unexciting conclusion, it's tempting to hold up Sacred Blacksmith as a fine example of the lack of creativity in contemporary anime, but series of its quality have been part of the schedules for many years and show no signs of going away any time soon. Instead I'll wonder why Manglobe, having produced the effervescent and adventurous road-movie series Michiko & Hatchin only the year before, have had to fall back on this kind of uncreative fodder to stay in the business - and, more pertinently, why Sacred Blacksmith and not Michiko & Hatchin has been licensed for Western release when the latter has the kind of quality and even popular appeal rarely seen in the anime export market. Do yourself a favour and give Sacred Blacksmith a pass: even by fanservice anime standards it's lacklustre and there are so many better shows worth your attention.


Richard Hunt

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