Tsutomu Mizushima is such an underrated director. Sure, he's had a few mainstream hits every now and again, but most of his works are fantastic, yet rarely ever get the praise or attention they deserve. He displayed unflinching vision in the fiendishly original Blood-C, borderline insanity in Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-Chan, and a true commitment to chilling horror in Another. He generally tends to subvert what viewers expect from any given project, keeping them on their toes and prepared for the worst. So, it pleases me to say that he's back at it again with Witch Craft Works, a series about a busty witch made of fire and the boy who's her princess that she's sworn to protect from an army of robotic bunnies.
Honoka is a thoroughly average high school boy, by all accounts. He's made fun of for being so unremarkable and milquetoast, in fact... even within the confines of his own internal monologue. So, imagine his surprise when a girl who is referred to as the "Princess" of their school, Ayaka, starts taking a special interest in him. He's going to need that attention, though, because it seems like there's an otherworldly force determined to bump him off by dropping an entire building on him, or beheading him at the hands of deranged rabbit robots (rabbots?). Luckily, the "Princess" happens to be a witch with control over fire, something she can do because she is, quite literally, made of it. Faced up against the forces of a small platoon of witches, we're left to believe that this series will be about Ayaka protecting the weak and seemingly useless Honoka from an onslaught of ludicrous assassination attempts.
This set-up alone is a nice change of pace, hearkening back to cult favorites like Princess Resurrection and separating itself from moeblob, toy tie-ins, and the other cancers to the anime industry. Aside from being rife with great, punchy dialogue and pitch perfect pacing, the subversion of expectations Mizushima has historically employed is humming along underneath the surface of this show. Instead of a stoic warrior protecting a helpless girl from evil forces, we have a stoic witch saving a weak boy and verbally reducing him to a "princess." Said boy gets picked on and beaten up by girls because of attention given to him by Ayaka, as opposed to girls picking on other girls for a guy's attention, a la classic shojo manga, Mars. Some instances of trope subversion is subtle, others blatant, but at the end of the episode, you're left impressed with how original this series is shaping up to be.
Granted, it's not totally perfect, despite a really promising set-up and an already endearing cast of characters. If the show does indeed become about Ayaka fending off Honoka's assailants, there's a very good chance that this could turn into a fight-of-the-week type deal, albeit with more interesting characters than your typical shonen fare. Not only that, but the status of Honoka as Ayaka's "master" is a dull plot device that's been done to death, for the most part, and is wholly unnecessary when considering that he knows absolutely nothing about the strange world of magic that he's being indoctrinated into. While I doubt the former fear will come into fruition, and I'm confident that Mizushima's track record of strong female leads will still stand, these are definitely signs that this show could potentially take a turn for the worse. Also, I'm trying to nitpick and find flaws so this review doesn't sound overly glowing. Just being honest, folks.
But it's hard not to when your show is already this engaging, and complimented by nifty visuals. Now, this isn't the greatest animation in the world, but as typical of JC Staff productions, I'm pretty confident that the solid animation quality will stay throughout. The environments are cool, and the usage of CG is actually pretty fucking well-implemented. This studio has always done an admiral job of spreading its budget around evenly, from my experiences with them, and so this first episode bodes well for the overall animation of the series. Bonus props must go to the wonderful soundtrack, which is somehow atmospheric, peppy and exhilarating, all in one, as well as the fantastic opener and the unique, gut-busting ending sequence. From a technical standpoint, this is a pretty slick little show compared to most.
That's a sentiment that stands for this first episode as a whole, actually. Witch Craft Works is more of what this industry needs, in my opinion: fluff that is fun without being pandering, funny without being stupid and exciting without being mindless. Not only that, but its concept wins brownie points on originality alone, and the characters are already some of my favorite of the season. This show is definitely going somewhere interesting, and if it keeps up this pace consistently, then the underrated Mizushima will have yet another notch on his already-worn belt.
Oh, yeah, and the series has a side character named President Obama who speaks in broken English. Yep. Worth watching just to see that, really.