Sacred Blacksmith Review
If you’re familiar with the sword-and-sorcery demon-slaying anime (I’m sure there must be a Japanese term for it, there are more than enough examples of this popular fantasy genre), then you’ll know pretty much what to expect from Sacred Blacksmith from the outset. There’s a rookie knight, a growing infestation of demons that become increasingly bigger and more dangerous, and a shadowy organisation behind it all or a historical secret that accounts for the worsening state of affairs. There are two ways of playing out this situation – one is to take it deadly seriously in the Claymore style, with little time for fooling around and not even much in the way of character development (though no worse for that), the other is to have a bit of fun, humour and exploit the cuteness of the characters along the way, which is the path that Sacred Blacksmith takes. As is often the case with anime however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that events can’t take a darker turn late in the series.
Whether that is the case with Sacred Blacksmith is hard to say, because although it wraps up its storyline at the end of the first season of twelve episodes here quite well, with some interesting dark revelations and twists after a fair amount of entertaining knockabout humour and character building - or at least character conflict - in the first half, there is no second season to indicate how the series would follow through on these developments. Which is a pity because, allowing for the wild variations of tone which you have to do often in anime, Season One actually holds a great deal of promise.
The rookie knight in Sacred Blacksmith is Cecily Cambell, Knight Guard of the Independent Trade City’s 3rd District Defence Order of Housman I. The title sounds impressive, and it’s a station that should put off casual troublemakers who interfere with the traders, but with an unwieldy antique family sword, inherited from her father, and having only been a guard for a month, Cecily is ill-equipped to deal with anything more serious. And, unfortunately, after a period of relative peace following the Demon’s Contract War things are starting to look quite dangerous indeed, with bandits and demons like you wouldn’t believe roaming the area surrounding the city, and indications that Valbanill, defeated during the war and his powers suppressed, may be about to return.
It’s going to take more than a few Knight Guards to defend the city from the threat of Valbanill, and that hope lies in a young blacksmith, Luke Ainsworth, who is able to mystically forge powerful swords with the help of his young assistant Lisa. Having pulled the awkward young knight out of a few close calls already, Cecily hopes that Luke might be able to forge her a special katana of her own. A sword of unusual powers that has the ability to take human form has however been left in her care. Aria is the Demon Sword of the Wind, and Demon Swords – oh yes, there’s more than one – are coveted by a number of parties, including a mysterious man-in-black, who all have an interest and perhaps involvement in the increasingly dangerous situation where instances of demon activity in the region are becoming more widespread.
The human sword which is also partly demon is a nice touch, and it’s the ambiguity between humans and their use of mystical and demonic forces that makes Sacred Blacksmith interesting, as well as providing a few historical revelations towards the end of the twelve episodes. Otherwise, up to this point, the series is fairly standard rising-to-the-challenge, proving-one’s-worth kind of material, with a bit of romantic comedy on the side. Even here however, it’s quite well done and actually quite funny. Even when it gets a bit girly – with episode 5 being devoted to a shopping expedition – there’s a good sense of humour to the proceedings and some significant character development.
In terms of the animation, Sacred Blacksmith looks good, with attractive character designs (Lisa is adorably cute) even if they are a little generic. The medieval town settings and other backgrounds are detailed, and there is a good consistency to the drawing style and strong colour schemes, the action well-storyboarded with relative fluidity to movements. The action scenes, particularly the Demon Sword battles, are highly dynamic and quite impressive. The series doesn’t particularly cater to fanservice to any great degree, but you’ll find at least one panty-shot or reference to Cecily’s prominent assets in each of the earlier episodes. There’s definitely a boob obsession going on here, which can be a bit distracting for anyone who just wants the series to stick to the plot, (maybe it was just getting to me, but even two eggs in a pan looked suggestive to me in one episode), but it’s far from a major feature, and it does indeed fall by the wayside when the action kicks off. And when that happens, Sacred Blacksmith is well worth your time.
Sacred Blacksmith: The Complete Series is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, collecting the entire 12 episodes of the series on a 2-DVD set. The set is Region 2 encoded and is in PAL format.
The quality of the transfer is simply superb. Other than being a fraction sharper, it’s hard to imagine that the series could look much better if it were in High Definition. The transfer is stable, lines are clean and unbroken, the image bright, colourful and sharp. There are no artefacts, marks or flaws of any kind to speak of.
Both the original Japanese audio track and an English dub are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Personally, I went with the English dub for this series and found that the voice acting – from the familiar team behind most Funimation English dubs – suited the content perfectly, and from a few samples I made it seemed to be better than the Japanese track, but you’re free to choose whichever you prefer. The translation on the English dub however is far more meaningful than the literal subtitles, which are overly stiff, formal and awkward in expression – although if you’re a fan of fantasy series you’ll be well used to that. The subtitles are in a yellow font.
There’s not much to say about the extra features. The usual useless Textless Opening and Closing credits are there, as are the Episode Previews, which isn’t a bad idea instead of them usually being at the end of the episodes for you to skip past. They’re worth a look for the humorous way they're delivered.
Although the entire twelve-episode series of Sacred Blacksmith is included here on the 2-DVD release from Manga Entertainment, and although the initial storyline is taken to a point of conclusion, there are plenty of threads that have clearly not been fully developed and it seems won’t be followed-up on, since there is no second season on the cards. That’s a pity because, although it’s a little generic in places, Sacred Blacksmith gets off to a reasonably good start here and demonstrates a great deal of potential. There is however enough of action, intrigue and entertainment here to make this first season worth picking up on its own.