Young Cecily Campbell is a Knight of Housman, Third City of the Independent Trade Cities, and has thus sworn to protect the populace. Seemingly the only female knight in the city, she is in way over her head and barely strong enough to wield her sword. As the story begins, Cecily is saved from a seemingly crazed knight by Luke Ainsworth, a katana-wielding blacksmith that lives like a hermit outside of town. After seeing his blade in action, she begs for him to create her own katana, but Luke has no interest in sharing more than two words with her.
In the first few episodes of The Sacred Blacksmith (based on a series of ‘light novels’ by Isao Miura), Cecily’s inability to take care of herself in a fight edges on annoying. Thankfully, however, her skills soon pick up and it becomes clear that she is the strongest of the characters. The series features a large cast, including Lisa, Luke’s innocent yet headstrong young assistant; Aria, a ‘demon sword’ in human form; Hannibal Quasar, the gruff head of the Knights of Housman; and Fio Atkins (my personal favourite), Cecily’s no-nonsense maid. Whilst all the characters quickly assume traditional anime archetypes, it’s a great mix.
The plot is filled with references to prayer contracts, the evil Valbanill and a lot of talk about swords. This reviewer didn’t miss the fact that they are often used as phallic stand-ins by the mostly female cast, either, particularly in the case of the ‘Ballock Knife’, which has a guard that looks like a pair of… well, you know. There is also a most unhealthy fascination with Cecily’s breasts, and it’s frustrating just how often the plot gets sidetracked in favour of pointing them out (at least in the likes of ‘Ranma ½’ (Ranma Nibun-no-Ichi) the gender-bending nature of the narrative meant such diversions made sense.)
The setting is effectively a fantastical medieval Europe with a Japanese edge, and this is what sold me on the series in the first place. The animation is of a solid quality – unlike feature length productions, it may skimp on the crowd scenes, but it pulls out all stops when it comes to the action, and the music is particularly rousing. The character designs are nothing original, and often include skimpily-clad women wielding massive swords, though the backgrounds are lovingly rendered. Whilst obviously not of Blu-Ray quality, The Sacred Blacksmith looks great on an HDTV.
This is a show that got better with each episode. It started out as nothing more than a mildly entertaining diversion, but by series end you truly feel for these characters. After the first few episodes, each having a major action set piece, we come to one devoted exclusively to Luke’s assistant Lisa and her determination to serve him well, no matter how little attention he pays to her. It’s a beautifully told story that really adds something, and the show thus avoids becoming a ‘monster of the week’-type affair.
Like many examples of anime, The Sacred Blacksmith actually surprises you when the sincerity kicks in. The usual themes of love, loss and retribution are all here, but when it gets towards the end of the series, you’re well and truly psyched for a massive final battle that has a truly emotive kick to it. As a story of the underdog finally getting the recognition she deserves, Cecily’s tale is particularly effective. If not for the unnecessarily exploitative obsession with Cecily’s physique, this would be a truly great series. As it stands, it’s an impressive and exciting action fantasy. Plus, it has that ever-so-slight air of incomprehensibility about it, which is surely a must in anime. Every time Aria the demon sword transforms, she delivers the incantation: “Shake off your slumber. Seize upon the truth. Take the wind in hand and kill God”. What does it mean? Who knows! But it’s awesome.
The Sacred Blacksmith Collection is now available from Madman.Rating: