What the Witchblade anime series reminded me about product management

Witchblade is an anime series based on the comic book by the same name. On the surface, the show is about women in bikinis fighting monsters.

Which describes, roughly, 50% of the anime Japan has produced.

But having just finished the series, I can attest there’s more to the Witchblade anime than that.


Image source: Witchblade: The Anime

Every episode of Witchblade season one began with this explanation…

“Sought by the greed of men since the dawn of human kind, but only bestowed upon the women whose fate it forever scars… The Witchblade. Is it the righteous sword of God? Or hand of the Devil himself? Now a new bearer has been chosen. And she must discover the answers for herself. As she stands on the brink of destiny, she is forced to seek the balance between ecstasy and ruin.”

If that doesn’t sound like product management, what does?

Confession

I started watching the Witchblade anime on Hulu several years ago because it looked like a show about women in bikinis fighting monsters.

After about four episodes, I got bored and moved onto more high brow entertainment. Like The Machine Girl.

Recently, Hulu sent me an update warning that Withcblade was expiring, and that email prompted me to check it out again. And I’m glad I did because there’s more to this series than I thought.

What’s the Witchblade anime really about?

A major theme in this series is mothers and daughters — and, ultimately, sacrifice.

The main character in the series is the amnesiac Masane Amaha, a clumsy but lovable woman who’s caring for Rihoko, a young girl who may or may not be Masane’s daughter.

When the legendary Witchblade bonds itself to Masane, she finds herself a) entangled in a power struggle between two shadowy organizations, and b) transforming into a powerful creature craving fights with monsters lurking in the city.

< SPOILERS >

What we don’t learn until halfway through the series is that Masane is doomed.

As the wielder of the Witchblade, she cannot take it off, and every time she uses its power her body breaks down. Worse, when she dies, the Witchblade will forcibly take Rihoko, cursing her with the same fate.

In the end, Masane chooses to obliterate herself and the Witchblade– saving the city from an invasion of monsters and saving Rihoko from her fate.

< / SPOILERS >

What does this have to do with product management?

Originally I was thinking of something to do with customer communication

Hulu got me back by contacting me about the upcoming expiration on these shows. That’s good — I mean, it had been years since I’d last watched one, and they didn’t give up on me. But at the same time, they waited until the end was nigh to contact me again. Where were they during all the time in between?

There’s something more interesting here, though

Frankly I’m more fascinated by the weird turn the Witchblade series takes as it matures, moving out of its first season into its second and final season.

From the thumbnail description of the show, you can probably guess the target audience for Witchblade: Young, male, and action-oriented.

However, does Masane’s focus on her daughter and her ultimate fate sound like it fits with the interests of that kind of audience? Not really.

So what happened?

In most modern stories, character development happens in the beginning: We’re made to care about the characters, so we’re more invested in their trials and tribulations when they strike. With the Witchblade anime, the development happens in reverse, with the characters becoming more alive and poignant as the story draws to a close.

I’ve been looking for details about the production of this show online and haven’t been able to find them. So let’s speculate: I’d say the production team discovered something once the series started airing — namely, viewers weren’t that interested in the “fan service”. But they were very interested in the relationships among the main characters, so the producers started gearing the show toward that.

And that’s worth remembering

Sometimes it feels like we spend so much time trying to fit round pegs into square holes when the data is really telling us something else.

You can draw all the strategy diagrams you want, outlining why your product is brilliant and exciting. But if your model is out of date or out of touch, then you’ve got to find a way to adapt it to add real value or throw it away.

As we stand on the brink of destiny, we are forced to seek the balance between ecstasy and ruin. Or, in this case, the balance between waste and true value.

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