Kazuyuki OkitsuYo TaichiYusuke KobayashiShiori Izawa
Witch Craft Works
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: U-W
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Original creator: Ryu Mizunagi
Actor: Asami Seto, Yusuke Kobayashi, Ai Kayano, Ai Matayoshi, Aya Hirano, Ayako Kawasumi, Kana Asumi, Katsumi Chou, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Mamiko Noto, Mari Shiraishi, Miyuki Sawashiro, Momo Asakura, Natsumi Hioka, Rie Kugimiya, Sayaka Ohara, Shiina Natsukawa, Shiori Izawa, Yo Taichi, Yuka Kuroda, Yuko Iida
Keywords: anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=15708
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 10 October 2015
I liked it a lot. You'd assume it's the usual nonsense, but it's seinen rather than shounen (i.e. it's for an older audience), so much of the expected juvenile stuff is missing. It's not a harem show despite being about a boy surrounded by girls, it avoids fanservice and it has a surprisingly strong plot in which decisions have consequences. Once you're past the first two or three episodes, all the episodes are quietly fitting together into a bigger picture that's heading for an apocalyptic ending. Admittedly it finishes with a major unresolved issue, but hey. It's a faithful adaptation of a manga that's still ongoing, so I can live with that.
Honoka Takamiya is a completely unremarkable high school student. Ayaka Kagari is the tall, beautiful ice maiden who's perfect at everything and sits next to him in class and on the bus. (This isn't a good thing. He gets trampled underfoot, bullied and occasionally beaten up by Kagari's intensely protective fan club, which appears to comprise almost every girl in the school.)
Then, one day, an army of soft toy rabbits try to murder him on the orders of a witch in cat ears. As realised by director Tsutomu Mizushima, this looks even weirder than it sounds. Kagari then reveals herself to be: (a) a witch, (b) Takamiya's personal bodyguard, and (c) the magical equivalent of the Terminator. Oh, and she calls Takamiya her "princess". (Apparently the manga's author had originally planned to go all the way and make the character female, which survives in the fact that "Honoka" is a girl's name.)
The show's most problematic area is the characterisation of its two leads. Personally I liked them both, but not all fans agree with me. Takamiya starts out as a withdrawn shadow of a human being, shrinking from human contact and letting himself be crushed. He grows from that. Admittedly he gets rescued a lot and he never turns into a strong hero who can fight on Kagari's level, but he does at least try. He also faces and takes some intense decisions, some involving the very, very bad thing that's waiting to be unlocked inside him.
Then there's Kagari. At first glance, she's emotionless. Her facial expression never, ever changes. What's more, she's officially invincible. She can't be beaten and she can't be killed. The villains of the first few episodes are so outclassed that it's being played for comedy and their plot role soon changes to something more interesting.
You can see how these two as the show's main characters could put people off.
In fact, Kagari's a good deal more interesting than that. Firstly, her invincibility comes with magical conditions and a sufficiently ingenious or scary opponent is fully capable of putting her out of action. There are in fact two people in the show who could crush her like a bug, one of whom is laying elaborate plans to do exactly that. Kagari's unkillability is also not as good as it sounds. It has specific and quite fragile criteria.
Secondly, Kagari isn't actually emotionless. I think it was in ep.5 that she started unfolding for me as a person. Look at the way she snatches up those Takamiya dolls, or her deadpan teddy bear mutilation in the scene where Takamiya's mother and sister are unleashing some extreme (and very silly) revelations. Her face doesn't even twitch, but she has that bear dancing and burning in mid-air, before then stretching its ears about a foot away from its head. I find her funny.
Thirdly and most importantly, Kagari isn't simply a heroic character. She's potentially murderous, often needs restraining by Takamiya and is the daughter of someone whose hobbies include torture. She's capable of laying worrying plots. After a while, she starts keeping villains around Takamiya's house as a sort of extreme pet, without explaining herself or even telling him. (There's a reason.) Her idea of combat training includes dropping you off a skyscraper. There's no doubting the seriousness with which she takes her duties towards Takamiya, but even he at one point has visions of himself being reduced to some kind of parasitic being that can't act independently.
Technically, you'd call this a magical girlfriend show. There is Kagari-Takamiya romance. However it has an eccentric, deadpan tone that I find quite interesting, complicated by Kagari's capacity for extremely unexpected actions. (Takamiya's sister also complicates things, but in a way too silly to take for anything but comedy.)
What arguably detracts from this, alas, is the tone and the art style. The art and character designs are a bit more cartoonish than the original manga and one's not being encouraged to take the more hard-edged material seriously. Kagari's torturing mother is played for laughs. One doesn't really take Kagari seriously when she's talking about possibly killing people, even though we know she's not joking. "I merely raised their body temperature a bit. Maybe next time I'll boil their blood." I think the show would have been stronger had it been played a bit more for real, although the flip side of that is that it's an extravaganza of whacked-out imagery. Most episodes have something mad and wonderful to look at. That I loved. It's one of the show's selling points. There's a Godzilla battle between a kaijuu-sized teddy bear and a soft toy rabbit, complete with collateral damage and flattened buildings. One of the characters is a walking, talking crocodile. There are magical realms that look like candy overload hallucinations, yet at the same time this is a show where your enemies might be planting bombs and throwing cars at you through shop windows.
The show also avoids fanservice. (The manga's author is female.) Characters are often buxom, but they also keep their shirts buttoned right up to the neck. This I appreciated too.
I really liked this show. I'm not sure it completely succeeds, but I like the two leads and I admire how the storyline builds up. Kagari's certainly a good deal more unpredictable than you'd expect from a character with her apparent story role. I'm not sure the ending's quite as strong as it could have been, depending as it does on lawyer-like interpretations of magical contracts, but it's reasonably clever and it's obeying the show's previously established rules. I can imagine this being an off-putting show for some people, but I think it's underrated.
"Can I burn her? She's annoying me."