Blade and Soul
This is a new anime that is only on its second episode so far. It's based on Korean game developer NCsoft's MMORPG that shares its title. There is no need to be acquainted with the game in order to follow the anime.
The show follows Alka, a Sword Clan assassin who is, curiously, not armed with a sword. She does have daggers, and she's pretty slick with them. The combat sequences are nicely done and though they avoid lobbing entrails at the screen, the animators aren't afraid of a little red spray. There's much ado made by the other characters about her always slashing throats as it seems this is a technique only known to the sword clan. Eh, sure fine okay, we'll go with it.
The art style is quite competent and there is a good degree of detail put into the world and the character designs. I immediately felt that the world tastes very Final Fantasy in that there's a blend of industrial age weapons with a mostly medieval technology base. The voice acting is well done and the voices do seem to fit the characters decently.
Back to the character designs, they do feature heavily in the fan-service department on the costume designs for the female characters. One of the mercenaries Alka meets is rocking a skimpy bikini top. The merc seems to know she's doing, so it's certainly being worn for its top of the line protective qualities. There's several minutes of the first episode dedicated to shots of Alka's tush under somewhat dubious pretenses. Eventually, another lady sees to it that she is properly attired in a bustier and thong, thus Alka is ready for action. The battle lingerie seems adequate until she gets to the desert, whereupon she is sold a napkin on credit to cover her shoulders. Sunburn don't play, y'all. I get it, it's aimed at young men, 'nuff said there.
The writing for the characters does make them feel like they're all pigeonholed into standard anime archetypes. Alka, the laconic militant is the worst offender in this and her character comes off as being extremely flat. Laconic is a great word, look it up. Other characters follow suite by being the cruel and cold imperial lady, or the boisterous scamp of a mercenary who is down on her luck, etc...
Plot-wise, it's been okay so far, we're still too early in the season to really get a feel for it, but we've got the standard expansionist empire thing going on and they are pretty adamant about killing or capturing Alka, for some naughtiness or other. The animators are not afraid to show bad people doing bad things, as most of the characters from the first episode don't seem to have survived disappointing their local empire. I'm a gloomy type of fellow, I suppose, because I do like my villains to be villainous.
Overall, I think this one could be interesting, sure the costume design for the ladies is a little over the top and the characters are all stereotypes, but that's a hard to escape in the genre. The plot flows well enough to stay interesting and I'll probably keep watching, if I can remember to check back as more episodes come out. The production quality is up to standard, minus some visual continuity issues, such as when a 2D character is suddenly switched out with a paper-ized 3D figure.
I'm taking points away for potty jokes, a thoroughly recycled world, slathered on fan-service, and various other wholly arbitrary reasons such as the number of beers I've had while writing this. It still comes away with a 'B-' average so far. Watch it, it won't hurt you.