We look ahead at the next few months in the life of the biggest “image character” boom of the decade: Hobby Japan’s game book series, Queen’s Blade. What is in store as the franchise branches out into multimedia with audio, manga, and full-color comic incarnations in store (as well as even more figures)? Also: what the heck is this Queen’s Blade thing, anyway?

First, the news:

Next Round Character Announced!

One of the two characters in production for the next round of Queen’s Blade books has been announced: Honoo no Tsukaite Nikusu (Pyromancer Nix). With designs from Kuroki Masahiro of Mahou Shoujo Ai fame, doujin authors everywhere have recently been spotted dancing in the streets.

Queen's Blade Nix

Coming Attractions

Apart from the Tomoe and Erina figures up for preorder yesterday and the March 16th release of the Katorea (Cattleya) and Nanaeru (Nanael) books, over the past few months several products have been announced that bring Queen’s Blade further into the multimedia sphere. They include:

Queen's Blade Bitoshi Gaiden Tomoe

  • Queen’s Blade Bitoshi Gaiden (Queen’s Blade Beautiful Warrior Side Stories), a series of full color comics with accompanying drama CDs that will serve to finally fill out the official canon in regard to the Queen’s Blade heroines and their backgrounds.

    The first volume in the series is set for an April 28th release, and will feature warrior miko Tomoe. Noto Mamiko stars as Tomoe in her struggle against the Koumanin-gun (Demon Ninja Army) and its leader Shizuka, voiced by Nabatame Hitomi; Ookawa Tooru and Koyama Tsuyoshi also star. As of writing, two voice samples from the drama are available on its official site.

    The book will be presented in B5 size (twice the size of a standard manga volume), hardcover, with 32 pages of color manga by Eiwa, the original Tomoe artist. The accompanying drama CD clocks in at 45 minutes, including a bonus track related to the earlier-released Tomoe combat game book. The whole package clocks in at 2,500 yen.

Queen's Blade Comic Anthology

  • A Queen’s Blade manga anthology will be released on April 25th. While not part of the official canon, it will feature stories from a bevy of famous manga artists that deal with the daily lives of the Queen’s Blade heroines, from their battles to their brief moments of relaxation, loaded with humor, ero-ero scenes, and THE FIGHTING. A must for any Queen’s Blade character fan! [/end ad copy translation]

    It will feature a cover illustration by My HiME designer Hisayuki Hirokazu, and include stories from the following artists (many of whose sites are not at all work safe): Ena, Minamura Haruki, Mita Kurumi, F.S, Sawaki Takahiro, Juubaori Mashumaro, RustySoul, Hirose Madoka, Kurosaki Kotora (Searchlight), Kokuryuu Manako, Mizuki Hitoshi, Kuroneko, Uchiuchi Keyaki, Kira Hiroyoshi, Koshijima Kazutomo, Shimamoto Harumi, Shirakawa Maina, and Miyabi Maira-L.

    The book will be A5 (oversize manga) size, and retail for 980 yen. With this group of artists on board it defies comprehension that this could possibly be an all-ages book, but from the way it’s presented it seems it may be just barely on the edge…

What is Queen’s Blade?

Queen’s Blade is a series of game books that debuted on November 25th, 2005 with the publication of two volumes from Hobby Japan: Reina and Risty. The books are modeled directly after the original Lost Worlds combat game books from Flying Buffalo Press, and as such you can ostensibly play a game with them (you and a partner trade the books of the characters you’ll be representing, and take turns declaring actions and counteractions with various results), though nobody I know does – they’re essentially dealt with in Japan as hardcover, full color, reasonably priced artbooks of “image characters” by famous designers.

As a side note: I find this in itself to be a fascinating phenomena, and one potentially useful in exploring the purely visual aspects of “moe”: until now the Queen’s Blade characters have been little more than a set of static images and simple character and relationship descriptions, and yet they’ve spawned a vast body of fan work including (as of writing) two independent conventions, dozens of doujinshi, and one direct parody so close to the original format it was actually prosecuted for plagiarism.

It seems that if you have a good character designer and a good sales hook you don’t need any actual content to start a boom; why bother creating an original story when others are willing to do it for you, and increase the popularity of your product in the process? I haven’t thought through the “moe” connection entirely, but it’s a fascinating business model.

Edit: apparently Queen’s Blade does have a background story, albeit a shoestring one:

“Once every four years, powerful women gather from the four corners of the kingdom and beyond to compete for the right to reign over the land as Queen. This tournament is called Queen’s Blade, and any female over 12 years old can participate regardless of nationality, species, or intelligence.

Battles in the tournament are without rules, and your life is on the line. The contest is one of martial skill and murderous technique, where you must fight until your opponent yields or is unable to move. Through the magical devices of the royal court wizard the combats are broadcast throughout the land, where the populace watches them with wild enthusiasm.

You are one of the woman warriors participating in the Queen’s Blade tournament. The fate that lies in wait for you could be the Queen’s throne, the humiliation of defeat, or even your death…”

And there you have it.

The Queen’s Blade books can be ordered outside of Japan here; for the curious, HD coverage of Queen’s Blade began on October 21st, 2005.