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The Sacred Blacksmith (2009)
Director: Masamitsu Hidaka

review by Sarah Ash

Flame-haired Cecily Cambell (Ayumi Fujimura/ Cherami Leigh) is proud to be carrying on the family tradition as one of the knight guards of the independent trade city of Housman. But when the young woman bravely confronts an old knight who has gone berserk in the city, she nearly loses her life when he transforms into a loathsome demon - and she is only rescued at the last moment by Luke Ainsworth (Nobuhiko Okamoto/ Blake Shepard). Luke is known as the 'sacred blacksmith' so Cecily, having broken her blade in the fight, begs him to make her a sword similar to his own magical katana. But the aloof and proud young man brushes her aside, retreating to the lonely forge where he lives with Lisa (Aki Toyosaki/ Monical Rial). Lisa is an unspoilt, child-like girl with pointy ears, who helps him forge magical blades.

However, it seems that the monstrous transformation of the knight into a demon means that the evil influence of Valbanill, the one who caused a disastrous war some years ago, has not been banished. Demon contracts are still being forged between humans and demons, creating hideous beings of superhuman strength. A mysterious man in black is seen whenever these grotesque monsters appear, but no one so far has found out his true identity.

Cecily is asked to protect Aria (Megumi Toyoguchi/ Anastasia Munoz), a 'demon sword' who turns out to be a beautiful young woman (with the ability to shift her shape into a deadly weapon using the power of the wind). The two form a strong bond of friendship, as Aria is weary of being fought over by powerful men eager to use her power to further their own bloody ambitions. Aria also longs to find out if there are other demon swords with shape-shifting abilities - and why she was created. It's not long before she discovers some of the answers to her questions, as a traitor lurking in the midst of Housman brings Cecily, Luke, and the whole city into mortal danger and puts the young swordswoman's courage to the ultimate test.

Based on an ongoing series of light novels by Isao Miura, The Sacred Blacksmith delivers 12 episodes on two discs. Cecily and her chums sport a variety of costumes ranging in influence from European medieval to the 19th century maid's frills so popular with Japanese fans. And yes, where there are maids, there is usually fan service; Cecily is rather well-endowed and so we are treated to some (yawn) boob jokes. Given the large number of cute young women warriors and female demon swords, The Sacred Blacksmith easily earns itself the label 'harem' series, as girls fight each other with massive swords, or giggle together in the communal bathhouse. However, the fan service doesn't dominate the story and the girls are sympathetically betrayed, even if a little difficult to believe in as bona fide warriors. Cecily makes a likable heroine, but her budding relationship with the prickly, standoffish Luke never seems to progress very far, and the friendships between the girls dominate the narrative.

There's nothing here to raise The Sacred Blacksmith out of the ordinary. It's very much a generic tick-box sword 'n' sorcery fantasy yarn and, where the English-y names probably sound more exotic to Japanese ears, characters called Cecily Cambell, Luke Ainsworth, and Reginald Drummond don't really cause much excitement over here. That's not to say that the main characters aren't endearing - but with only 12 episodes, too many different strands are introduced to be satisfactorily developed. There's no steady build to the final confrontation; the writers seem far too happy to meander around, taking time out from the main plot to give us dollops of harem fan service-lite, as the girls go shopping, take a bath together, etc.. So when the villain finally reveals his identity and launches a vicious attack, it all seems to come out of nowhere and the climactic battle and its resolution feel rushed. I've also been watching The Tower Of Druaga, another sword 'n' sorcery fantasy anime series, and, have to confess I find it much more successful than Sacred Blacksmith; it manages to inject wickedly funny dollops of self-parody (it's based on a game) yet also build genuine tension, with believable, identifiable characters.

There is one interesting fantasy idea underlying one of the main relationships in this tale: that between the blacksmith Luke and Lisa, his pointy-eared assistant. To elaborate further would give too much away, but when the revelations begin to come, we get a glimpse of what a much stronger story this could have been, if more time had been devoted to them. The original casting is significant too: moe Lisa is played by Aki Toyosaki, possibly best known for her role as Yui Hirasawa in the popular - and ultra moe - anime series K-ON! Aki Toyosaki also sings the ending song Miracle Happy Day which features chibi Lisa in various painfully cute situations.

DVD extras include all the episode previews which have been mysteriously removed from the end of each episode and compiled here with irreverent jokey voiceovers by various cast members in character, and the usual text-less opening and ending songs.

The Sacred Blacksmith

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