Being in the interest of watching anime for many years now, I have come to expect many things out of a show that I’m not necessarily pleased with. Anime tropes, as I have come to discuss time and time again, solidified themselves as staples of the medium long before I had a keyboard with which to unleash all my stupid nerd rage. You accept certain things. Fan service, strange comedic interruptions, tacky hairstyles, predictable personalities – all of these are secondary features of anime shows. None of these traits ruin an anime on their own. In fact, you might forget they’re there. If a show holds your attention well enough, it takes a lot to pull you out of that world.
But then you meet treasures like Wolf’s Rain or Samurai Champloo or Death Note, anime crafted from the bottom up to be indisputable art. And you look at other shows and wonder where that same passion and care has gone. You still find tropes in shows like that, but they’re either few and far between, or the anime is too good to notice. You are very much aware you’re watching something special.
And that brings me to my review of Izetta: the Last Witch.
As a disclaimer, I’d like to establish right here and now for my readers that I do not at all think this anime is bad. The art is awesome, the animation is solid, and the world the show has created is spectacular. However, that being said, a lot of this anime falls apart for me in ways I cannot easily forgive.
Izetta: the Last Witch takes place in an alternate timeline of World War II. Instead of Germany, you have its stand-in, Germania. Instead of England, you have Britannia, and so on. The 1940s eastern European aesthetic glitters more often than it glooms despite the dramatic wartimes. Herein lies my first problem with the show: I’m not exactly sure why we’re at war.
If I am to assume the show parallels our world to a certain extent, then I would conclude our protagonists’ country is at war for the same reasons as our world. Germania suffered a post-war economic breakdown, rose again under the leadership of a racist regime, and amassed a terrifying amount of weaponry in order to seize power over its neighbors. Right?
Well, I don’t know.
There are certainly no anime Nazis to be seen, thank goodness, but that also leaves a gigantic hole in the stakes. Our leading ladies, Izetta and Finé, throw themselves into the fray to protect their beloved country, but why? Why are the Germanians being jerks? Are we just to expect that in any parallel universe, the German dudes are always going to be jerks?
I know I’m a history geek, but this is really unfair to the audience. We’re supposed to care for an entire country (which, by the way, is a severely rose-tinted version of most quirky European villages) without anyone explaining why this war matters to anyone.
… But, seriously, plot?
Additionally, this is a story about a witch and her best friend. But also in World War II times. And don’t you worry, these characters thoroughly understand how ridiculous it would be to believe a fairy tale has manifested itself in the real world through this witch. Because they say so at least once every episode. And yet, here we are. Izetta, the last witch of her kind, decides to use her magic to save the archduchy of Eylstadt. A witch joins the war, which fully explains why she is riding a machine gun like a broomstick.
So, thank goodness we got that out of the way.
No, really, I’m happy.
Honestly, the friendship between Izetta and Finé is lovely and most likely romantic, which would be exciting to see. But we’ll touch on that again later. I really would not mind seeing more of them develop as characters in tandem, apart from the strange world around them. And that is not to say that a heartfelt, feminine leading couple does not belong in a warring plot. But I don’t think even the war aspect of the show knows what is going on.
To summarize, the war of the world is weak and underdeveloped. The more internalized intimate side of the story is nice, but also way out of sync from the other half of the show.
As I stated earlier, fan service happens. Most of the time, it is inescapable. The best anime in the world that you can name still probably cater to a hornier faction of its audience at one point or another. So, what’s the big deal?
I noticed pretty early on how seriously this show takes itself in some scenes. One of the sequences from the first episodes juxtaposes a diplomatic negotiation with a military invasion, all during an opera performance. Cinematic and stylistic, the show imposed some heavy connotations to the situation at hand.
How did we go from operatic and well-composed, to a scene where a girl is making orgasmic noises as her ladies in waiting attempt to fit her enormous breasts into a corset?
None of the fan service is subtle. The show’s opening credits even has 2 shots of Izetta naked for no apparent reason, which plays in every single episode. It’s in your face and unashamed, and just as ridiculous as the witch riding a machine gun in place of a broomstick.
Even more disappointing is considering that maybe the tender semi-romantic dynamic between the leading ladies that I actually like only exists as another instance of fan service. Given all that we’ve seen, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
You can ask me to stay tuned in the face of a weak setting. Ask me to hang on while you drop your main characters into a story they don’t quite belong in. And I’m more than happy to disregard real historical content so that maybe we can make room for some unique ideas. But you cannot ask all of this of me and have two solid minutes of an older woman groping two younger girls and still expect me to take you seriously as a show.
Where’s the audience?
I get it. And really, I respect the effort. All this studio is trying to do is create a fun adventure with a combination of unique ideas. But I can’t help thinking who this show is supposed to be for. Is it for history geeks? Maybe more along the lines of history aesthetic geeks, but even that is a stretch. Is it for war-enthusiasts? The actual warring aspect of the show is pretty basic, if not uninspired. Is it for horny teenage boys who like anime girls with big boobs? This is a likelier explanation, but the show still makes a palpable effort to exhibit its heart and compassion amongst the characters. Then is it for viewers who admire strong female leads? I wish that were the case, but, again … two minutes of groping.
This proved itself to be a interesting premise with mediocre execution. All the good ideas are there, but they feel almost floating apart from each other on the same plane. The anime still has several episodes left, so there is still room to impress, but it would take an act of god to keep this writer invested.