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WWLA Xtra: Beyond Sara Pezzini - Looking at "Witchblade" Anime

On the final day of Wizard World Los Angeles, 2007, Top Cow, Gonzo Studios and Funimation gave American viewers a first look at the English-dubbed Witchblade anime, and CBR News was there.

The panel consisted of moderator Filip Sablik, VP of Marketing and Sales at Top Cow, Rob Levin, Top Cow's VP of Editorial, and colorist Blond. Sablik began by explaining a bit about the Witchblade property. "The Witchblade is a mystical gauntlet that is passed from female bearer to female bearer since the beginning of time," Sablik said.

The bearer that comics readers are most familiar with is Sara Pezzini. But Top Cow teamed up with Gonzo Studios in Japan to create not one but two new chapters in the saga of the Witchblade, an original manga set in the not-too-distant future and an original anime set in the far future. "One of the cool things from our standpoint is that Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins, the CEO and President of our company, has said that both of these versions of the Witchblade are considered part of canon, meaning that the Witchblade you see in the anime exists in the history of the Witchblade, it's not an Elseworlds/What-if kind of storyline," Sablik said.

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The Manga is written by one of the head writers for the anime, and will be made available in two formats. Bandai will release a digest sized collection, which, save for English translations, will be a direct port from the Japanese version. "For the American comics market, we have a flipped and color version. We wanted to make sure there was a product that our traditional comic fans, who may not be familiar with manga, would just be able to pick up and read," Sablik said. Blond is responsible for coloring the original Japanese manga.

"The original artists for the series all gave us their blessing to have Blond color it and to have us flip the pages," Sablik continued. "Because they really love what we do with the American comics, it was one of the things that drew them to the property, so they thought it was kind of cool that we wanted to present it in the American fashion, and also present it in the original format." For more on the coloring of "Witchblade Manga," see our December, 2007 interview with Blond.

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"Witchblade Manga" is about a girl named Takeru, an average Japanese schoolgirl who happens to be raised in a Buddhist Monastery. But there is one room in the monastery that Takeru is forbidden to enter, and a box inside that room that she is forbidden to open. "Of course, she starts having dreams about it and does go in the room and open the box, and it's the Witchblade," said Sablik.

Without further ado, Sablik kicked off the video portion of the panel, which began with a pre-recorded message from Christopher Bevins, voice director at Funimation Productions (the company that is responsible for bringing the original Japanese anime to American audiences). Bevins asserted that he and his assistant director both were longtime comics fans and were excited to be working on the show. "I love the visual style that [Gonzo] brings to their shows, I love the music and sound effects, the sound design that they bring. I love the way they approach their characters, Gonzo really has an incredible way of storytelling that no other animation studio in Japan has," Bevins said.

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"How would you describe Witchblade?" Bevins continued. "Well, it's full of action, of course. And it's full of well-endowed ladies, shall we say. Great visual style, really sexy, really dark, really funny, it's got the whole package."

Then they showed a compilation of scenes from the end of episode 2 and the beginning of episode 3, featuring the voice talents of Jamie Marchi (as Witchblade bearer Masane), Carrie Savage (as Masane's daughter Rihoko), and Mark Stoddard and Christopher Bevins himself (as Masane's handlers). In Bevins' own words: "Masane has been locked into some sort of testing facility where they wanna see what kind of power she's got, so she's gonna be forced to fight against some strange robot tank thing. I believe it's the second time she actually transforms into the Witchblade form in the series, she really is doing it against her will. It's just happening, she doesn't know why, she can't explain it, nor does she really care at this point. She's kind of giving into the power."

According to Sablik, the anime came about because Top Cow President and CEO Matt Hawkins "really loves anime."

"Gonzo was definitely looking to do a crossover property, they were looking at American properties, at whatever had sort of market presence here, and they wanted to give sort of their own spin in Japan," Levin said. "It was a synergistic reaction between Matt wanting to expand into anime and them wanting to sample American ideas."

"The Darkness" video game came about for much the same reason, and Top Cow is also exploring the possibility of making an anime of "Aphrodite IX."

Levin also touted the soon-to-begin-filming movie-adaptation of Top Cow's "Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman, with director Timur Bekmambetov ("Nightwatch").

The release date is not set in stone, but the first of the Funinmation DVDs is expected to be available this October, and it's estimated that there will be six DVDs in total to cover the 24 episode run. Among the DVD extras fans can expect to see are renditions of the anime and manga characters by the likes of Top Cow artists Marc Silvestri and Tyler Kirkham.

The first two issues of the manga are already available, and the digest sized Japanese port is expected to come out in late summer. And fans looking for a primer on the Witchblade and it's bearers can check out the "Witchblade: Bearers of the Blade" special, available now from Top Cow.

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