All this time, I was trying to figure out which other show this reminded me of... and I’ve finally got my finger on it.
Have any of you lunatics thought of CLAYMORE while watching this? The similarities aren’t obvious at first glance, but think about it…
Both shows are set in pseudo-historical fantasy landscapes. Both star icy blondes who maintain such emotional detachment from their badass-ery that they seem like Amnesiac Child Assassins from the get-go. Both heroines’ downfalls more-or-less begin once they develop an emotional connection to a largely-useless male sidekick who need rescuing after trying, and failing, to live up to the heroine’s example. Most importantly, both shows sound horrible on paper, and seem crass and exploitative at first glance, but go on to have surprising depth and substance as they impossibly make various tired tropes work.
Of course, CLAYMORE turned out to be a heartbreaking demonstration of the drawbacks of a ‘gecko ending.’ Once the animator ran out of source material from the manga, the quality just took a nosedive. From the start, BLADE & SOUL hasn’t had much of any source material to work off, but I’m concerned that it may turn as frustrating as CLAYMORE by the time it’s done.
So far, the show’s been at its strongest when it’s centered on small conflicts where Alka’s forced to deal with the unpleasant consequences of her warrior lifestyle. And it’s been weakest when it tries to build up the lore of this universe. This episode neatly distills that dichotomy to the two acts. The first half is strong. Alka actually gives up her swords, pawns them, and is suddenly viewed as inconsequential by other warriors. That's pathos, right there. The second half, which gets into the aforementioned mythology-building, is so muddled and disinteresting that I have trouble recalling what even happened.
I suspect that this may be a tug-of-war between the artistic concerns of the studio, and the advertising concerns of the licensor. Obviously, we wouldn’t have this show at all without the latter, but I much prefer these fleeting moments that aren’t concerned with that agenda. If this show’s doomed to spiral into becoming a manual for an MMO over the next half of the season, then maybe it’d have been better off as a short-form mini-series.