"Magic" -- the human ability to manipulate quartz with the mind -- powers the giant war machines of Krisna and Athens. But the tide of the war's about to be turned by one young man who doesn't have that power. Instead, he commands a war machine of a kind no one's ever seen before, and may never see again.
What elevates Broken Blade above your average giant-robot slugfest is not just the intriguing and inventive setup, but all-around strong characterizations and good writing. The real stars of this show are the people, not the machines, which is as it should be.
- Above-average script and characterizations make this more than just about machine-on-machine combat.
- Excellent action sequences with hand-drawn, not computer-rendered, imagery.
- Those not interested in mecha shows might not warm up to this at first.
- Director: Tetsuro Amino / Nobuyoshi Habara
- Animation Studio: Production I.G / Xebec
- Released By: The Klockworx Co., Ltd.
- Released Domestically By: Sentai Filmworks
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14V (violence, language, thematic material)
- List Price: $69.98 (Blu-ray Disc), $59.98 (DVD)
- Alternate History
Quartz-powered machines of war in a magic-fueled world
Most every fantasy or SF story revolves around One Big Idea, a concept that sets off what happens in the story from the goings-on in the real world. In Broken Blade, the One Big Idea is magic, but it’s implemented in a clever way: “magic” is the human ability to manipulate quartz with nothing more than the power of the mind. Consequently, much of the technology of Broken Blade’s world revolves around harnessing this power, via everything from simple skiffs to giant suits of mobile combat armor. (There’s scarcely been a technology that wasn’t used for war before being used for anything else.)
The world of Broken Blade is divided into several mutually hostile kingdoms, each squabbling with others over territory and precious veins of quartz. Among them are the Kingdom of Krisna and the Commonwealth of Athens, using their “Golems” (giant quartz-powered war machines) to fight a long and bloody war. But as it turns out, not everyone in this world is capable of using magic—there are a few “un-sorcerers,” people without that power who are seen by their peers as cripples and misfits.
One such un-sorcerer is Rygart Arrow, son of a farmer and former military-academy student. When he was young, he had the good fortune to be friends with the future King and Queen of Krisna, Hodr and Sigyn. Both have since ascended to the throne and face no end of difficulties in running their country, especially now that Athens is making fierce headway into Krisna territory.
One day Rygart is summoned to the capitol of Krisna by his old friends who are now royalty. It’s not just a social call: Hodr has always been dubious about accepting his role as king, and wants Rygart’s advice on some thorny issues. (It’s all the more complicated when we learn that Sigyn is still deeply attracted to Rygart.) Among the things puzzling the royal family is something they found in a quartz mine: a giant artifact that looks like a Golem, but doesn’t seem to work like one.
Maybe the only good soldier is a reluctant one
Observant viewers will be able to connect the dots: This Golem-like device (the “broken blade” of the title, since it’s not in great shape) is in fact a battlesuit from a much earlier civilization—ours. What’s more, Rygart is somehow able to activate it and get it to respond to his commands. It’s rather limited in that only Rygart is able to use it, and that it has no long-range weapons at all—only swords and thrown knives. That would seem to put it at a disadvantage, since Golems on both sides use “press-guns” that fire powerful ammunition.
All those doubts are shelved, hard, when Rygart is able to pilot this mysterious weapon into battle against Athenian Golems. His first flush of success is due more to luck and the bewilderment of the enemy than anything else, and so his comrades quickly realize he’ll have to be trained to make proper use of this thing. Trouble is, Rygart abhors violence: he would rather be back at home, tilling the soil with his dad. He was one of the few people in the world who went out of his way to accept Rygart for what he is, not shape him into something else.
This exotic weapon may be one of the few genuine edges the Krisna army has over its invaders, and so Rygart’s friends set about taming his more unruly side. And as all this unfolds, so do a number of other parallel developments—like a captured Athenian solder, a young woman, who ends up forming a warm relationship with the Queen. Or the way Rygart’s battle mojo gets amped up by one direct test to his peace-loving personality after another, such as when his own home village is razed. It all leads to an incursion against Krisna and a final desperate attempt to protect the royal castle, with Rygart on the front lines against an archenemy of great skill (and annoying personality).
Solid character and spectacular animation
Most mecha shows are cut from the same bolts of cloth: there’s the machines themselves; the world they’re used to defend (or attack); a loner/misfit hero who drives one; a number of teams, ally and enemy alike; and a few other common ingredients. There’s only so much originality you can bring to a formula, and so the real innovation in a show like Broken Blade comes not from the ingredients themselves but from how they’re put together.
What makes this show work—and work a lot better than you might expect—is the writing and characterization. Rygart is clearly pulled from the same shelf as the other misfit/loner heroes of mecha anime, but he’s been brought to life with an uncommon degree of attention. He’s also surrounded by a cast who aren’t simply die-cut pieces: everyone from the King and Queen on down are quirky and alive. The end result is a show that feels populated by people and not just types, and where it feels like something is actually at stake in this war. (Rideback was the same way.)
Speaking of the battles, anyone who goes into Broken Blade looking for major mecha-on-mecha combat is not going to be disappointed. Every episode features at least one high-end, spectacularly animated combat sequence. The animation crew also backed off from a trend that’s been increasingly bothersome as of late: the tendency to animate vehicles or machinery using CGI rendering. Instead, all the mecha are hand-drawn, which makes them feel even more substantial. When they clash, they do real damage to each other, and the viewer’s teeth are rattled. It isn’t just a bunch of pixels colliding.