Best of 2014 - "Witch Craft Works"
(Best of 2014 is my lazy way of talking about things that I liked this year without having to constrain it all to a series of "Best of X" or "Best of Y" lists.)
Anytime the basic premise of an anime has a stable of attractive ladies and one or two guys, I'm immediately skeptical. Can you blame me? I mean, the glory days of actually good harem anime are long gone, and in their place are a legion of moe garbage shows that don't deserve any of the time or effort that have been put forth into them. Basically, a show with that kind of set-up is an instant mark against in my book.
Imagine my surprise that Witch Craft Works has a huge cast of ladies, one or two dudes, and yet somehow is never a shitty harem show nor any form of moe trash. Actually, it's one of the best anime to come along in a while.
I think part of what makes this series so great is, quite simply, the director. Tsutomu Mizushima is arguably one of the best in the industry. Hare + Guu, Blood-C, Dokuro-chan, Genshiken, Squid Girl... I mean, the guy's resume reads like a list of some of the best shows produced in the last decade. Taking on the tasks of directing and series composition, Mizushima demonstrates all of his fields of expertise in one series. Stellar comedy? Yep. Great action scenes? Mm-Hm. Brisk pacing? You know it. It pretty much reminds me why I love the dude so much, and it's one of his best shows, seconded only by the masterpiece that was Blood-C (yeah, that's right, come the fuck at me.)
But let's not ignore the basic premise of the show, originated by Ryu Mizunagi. We have an action-comedy where all of the major players are women. We have a male lead who is constantly referred to as "princess" and even damselled a few times. We have a pitch-perfect blend of funny, dramatic, and tense. It's a series that I could confidently say has an amazing portrayal of women, without delving into the treacly "grrl power" territory that comes across as an artificial marketing ploy. While, yes, there's still the occasional bit of fan service, Witch Craft Works is a series that has a surprisingly positive portrayal of women, and it's only backed up by a fun, compelling plot. Quite the well-rounded package, I'd say.
What else is there really to say about this show? Well, one thing, actually. I've noticed it's part of a trend. I've seen more shows in recent seasons have portrayals of women that don't totally suck. The "moepocalypse," as I've dubbed it, reduced female characters to cutesy, cloying, harmless objects to be fawned over by middle-aged men who look up the skirts of anime figurines before purchasing them. Too many terrible knock-offs of KyoAni garbage, too many cookie-cutter female characters with one-dimensional personalities. And while, yeah, there are still T&A-heavy fan services shows, I've seen more shows like Witch Craft Works. Series with good, diverse female characters that don't constantly pander to the lowest common denominator of mankind. And it makes me happy. It's the anime industry I fell in love with, coming back to life. It's fucking fantastic.
So why do I like Witch Craft Works so much? Because it's a funny, frantic show full of badass ladies that support each other, without any excessive fan service undermining that. And while it is something that's becoming more of a trend, this is one of the best examples of it that I can think of. A great series, and one of my favorite things to happen in 2014.