Oh, the irony.
This will likely be the last time I discuss this series, but I did want to make mention of something here in light of how things have fallen elsewhere. Sure, there’s some plot and drama before and after this, but it is so generic Blade and Soul Bad that it really isn’t worth belaboring.
No, here, we have praise to discuss yet again. I know! Twice in a single series, amazeballs.
The teaser is simple. Karen is in her room getting laid, but it is a very subdued, even cold affair. The camera lingers over a wedding photo…wait that’s a pretty photo-realistic picture. You lose points from the Butterfly wanted poster, show. Whatever man she’s using for sex shyly leaves with Karen staring out the window, very aloof. It all lasts maybe 20 seconds but it establishes Karen’s mood quite well, as this episode evolves her character quite a bit.
A lot has actually happened in the previous episode from the plot side of things. Alka met up with Yuu, the little furry sage boy? And he seems to have found a way to penetrate her hard shell. She isn’t exactly the milk of human kindness yet, but the person who pissed Loana off by not alluding to emotion doesn’t exist anymore. Yuu, also, may have been a boy, but as we’ve established that is not armoring against this show’s Reverse Refrigerator Syndrome, so he did die. Alka managed to kill Jin in revenge, but has struck out on her own.
We catch up with her getting a new job, but now, as opposed to earlier in the series when she would just take the contract because that was her code, now she’s probing for information about the job, and unsatisfied, leaves it on the table, so to speak. The old man who wants to hire her is shocked. A Sword Clan who won’t kill is useless. She eventually meets up with Karen, who offers her a job. Suspicious, but at this point, with Jin (apparently) dead it doesn’t raise too many questions now that the main heat is off, as opposed to her stance that trouble not be brought to her inn earlier in the series.
Karen has assigned Alka a mentor to show her the ropes around the inn, Miharu. Pia (the little girl from Episode 4) is also here to help the woman who destroyed her life. There’s a montage of Alka adapting poorly to normal life, nothing really fresh here, thankfully it’s only about 20 seconds of our life wasted. Loana and Hazuki make it to the inn, Loana observing the shift in Alka’s behavior. Haruki says that’s Karen’s way: to help people forget the bad times in their past.
Yes, Hazuki said something really important. I know!
Miharu levels with Alka in private. She’s killed people, too, but Karen sheltered her. It’s apparently a thing the other girls employed here talk about, though, so we can get the sense Miharu feels somewhat isolated. Hence why she latches onto Alka here, saying that it doesn’t matter if she’s killed before, that she will protect Alka, and Alka can return the favor so they both have hope to live for.
I will say this in general about Miharu and Alka’s dynamic here. It’s very, very rushed, so that it does feel forced. But, in your head canon, you CAN see the shades here, why Miharu would want to latch onto Alka from her perceived isolation, and that knowing that is what caused Karen to nudge these two together. It’s a good idea that wasn’t given the time to develop naturally, but maybe that can be resolved in the novelization (that was a joke).
Karen has called Alka to her bedroom. She’s pretty drunk. I know what you’re thinking, and to be fair Karen isn’t setting our minds at ease. She talks about how Humans exist to experience pleasure and indulge vices. But rather than being the intro to lesbian sex scenes, it’s to establish Karen’s motivation. We see into her backstory here, she was basically homeless and saved a wounded man. He tells her to call Palam soldiers, that there is a bounty on his head and he would rather a good person like her catch the reward if he is to die anyway. It’s your basic hurt/comfort love story.
The extremely jaded will no doubt twitch at Karen basically falling in love with the fact this guy is fabulously rich, and her comments about how most men make promises they can’t keep, but he did, really speaks to this being a bit on the shallow side of romance. Most irritating, probably, is them in the love boat after their wedding, and Karen saying she doesn’t need anything material, just him (he’s never given a name, being a man and all). It’s easy to pontificate on high about not needing material possessions when you are left with enough money to run the largest underworld empire on the planet. He warns her that while his immediate danger is passed, he’s still got a bounty on his head, and someone may come one day to claim his life. He jokes that if he dies, she can cut off her favorite piece of him and keep it forever.
Karen indicates the wedding photo to Alka. It takes a few seconds, but she eventually goes white with fright. Yes, she’s the one who killed Karen’s precious nameless lover. We might say “But how can an assassin with Alka’s body count remember each and every job she’s done?”, but we DID establish earlier in the series that Karen was probing Alka’s past about a very specific man killed by the Sword Clan, so being generous, we can say she puts two and two together here.
Karen smiles, handing Alka a jewelry box and telling her to look inside. We don’t get to see, but it makes Alka, yes, Alka, recoil in horror. Karen’s really going off the deep end here, her voice wavering in that yandere twitch, saying “he’s inside here, now”.
Alka’s visibly shaken, wobbling in her steps, when Miharu comes to tend to her. She even hugs her tightly, saying it’s okay because they will always be together and she won’t have to face it alone. Finally, ever quiet Alka voices words of thanks to Miharu. This overjoys Miharu, who has until now complained that Alka never says a word, and she goes off to get water, supposing Alka’s sweating related to a fever. But she doesn’t come back.
Yes, like everyone else Alka encounters, girl love or no, Miharu is dead. Everyone gathers outside as the body is found. Karen steps up to Alka, saying it’s so tragic, but that those who kill ultimately receive just rewards. Karen dismisses everyone to get the shop ready, leaving her and Alka staring each other down in the rain. Alka’s expression shows she clearly knows why Miharu died. But instead of a badass fight, she gets her things and flees the inn.
Flashing back to the Master’s words, about how he wishes for Alka to have full emotions like a normal person, she grits her teeth, running back to the old man from the begining to take his job in defiance of her dead master. It’s obvious she’s going through the whole “but emotions are pain” stuff most such arcs involve, but she doesn’t voice it. And being such a cliche arc, it’s kind of refreshing she doesn’t.
But Alka is not the same person, despite just taking a job. She screams and shouts her approach, letting out all her rage…and it was a trap. Her target turns out to be Karen. And without her objectivity Alka is picked apart in this fight, and it’s obvious Karen could kill her at any time in her current state. But she drags it out. And while Blade and Soul’s fights have never been all that great, the visceral character stuff going on elevates this beating into actual entertainment.
Lifting Alka by the throat, Karen finally voices exactly what has been going on. She wanted to take revenge on her husband’s killer, but after finding out it was Alka, she thought it was pointless. Alka was a “void” and wouldn’t be ABLE to suffer as she had suffered from the pain of loss. Now that Alka can feel, Karen promises to make her suffer for the rest of her miserable life, and we close on her mad laughter.
So why did I want to talk about this? It doesn’t seem very engaging. And that is true. This is full of the cliche and sameyness of most of Blade and Soul, and it’s rather hard to care about. And on top of that, this brings a lot of questions up about Karen’s backstory and why she’s such a great fighter when she was a flower girl for most of her life. On top of that, why go after the contract killer when someone else clearly wanted him dead? I suppose it would be cliche to want revenge on the entire nation of Palam (as, having a bounty on his head when she meets him, and Palam don’t seem like the most forgiving of guys). But going for the closest target just seems petty.
Well this is in light of the rest of the series. Alka does get her wits sorted out, and Karen, after finally getting her revenge, recognizes she feels empty and ceases to give a shit about making Alka’s life Hell.
I will levy this much praise at the episode: It was extremely ballsy to take one of the main heroes and send her full evil, and THEN expect us to still give a crap about her before the finale. This is a character we (theoretically) care about, to give her a face-heel turn like this is pretty outside the box when it will be reversed later. We often have heroes in anime who WANT to take revenge, but these almost always come in one of two forms.
First, their target is absolutely evil.
Second, they never complete their revenge, having a last moment epiphany of “but I would be no different!”
I’m not counting the antiheroes who eventually turn good, though they pretty much fall into the either category anyway.
Now, obviously, this is Blade and Soul, and a character piece. This combination is not the stuff success is made of. But it is defensible to take risks on your plot. Blade and Soul has some awfully one-dimensional or laughably developed characters, but they do tend to push at boundaries when it comes to the story.
As I’ve pointed out we have a lot of holes in this piece, but I do see where they wanted to go. And good on you guys, it could have been really interesting with the right cast and tighter character motivation. Giving Mahiru and Alka some time to get close would have worked better, we could have skipped Episode 7, and given this little plot more time to build. Karen’s motivations are also petty, it would be nice to have more understanding of this. Does she simply hold Alka responsible because she was the one assassin better than her husband? I mean it’s not like there weren’t a dozen other people after his head when she met him. And of course, this begins Alka’s insufferable arc. I didn’t actually think she’s be worse than as an emotionless blob, but she gets worse.
Still, credit where it is due, this was a move that most formulaic series would avoid. And seeing a show as half-assed as this continue to make episodes that challenge the status quo is strangely refreshing. If the rest of the series was more like this and Episode 6, it would probably be passable entertainment. Revenge isn’t like other dark moments. It is extremely personal, and always premeditated. It’s difficult to salvage your character from taking, and fully enjoying, their vengeance. Me? I stopped giving a crap about Karen around Episode 4, and Episode 5 sunk her for me. I have zero fucks to give. So I can’t exactly speak to the relative effectiveness here. Still. I was slightly entertained by this episode.
Because thinking must never be the enemy. It is more defensible, more commendable, to take risks with your lousy characters than to play it safe with moderately-interesting ones.
Am I going somewhere with this? Naaah. Or maybe that’s just a riddle for you to figure out.