Subversion succumbs to cliche – Anime Review: Witch Craft Works

Witchcraft_Works_manga_vol_1Title: Witch Craft Works (Witchikurafuto Wakusu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, comedy, romance, fantasy
Series Creator: Ryu Mizunagi
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 episodes + OVA
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 23, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download with fan subs.


 

Synopsis:

Takamiya Honoka is a regular student whose only problem seems to be that he sits next to Kagari Ayaka, the school’s “Princess”. They have never spoken to each other before and any small interaction between them immediately results in her fanclub beating him. Yet when a falling part of the school’s building is about to send him to the afterlife, it’s Kagari that comes to his rescue. Only she’s dressed as a witch, carrying him in her arms and floating on a broom. Kagari tells him it is her mission to protect him and that now she can finally protect him openly rather than undercover.


 

Review:

I have a confession to make, I first became aware of Witch Craft Works when a friend sent me a hentai dōjinshi that they wanted identified. Once I found the original manga, I instantly was drawn to the series.

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The main reason for this is that it sets out to subvert so many tropes of Shonen style action narratives, by positioning the male lead, Takamiya Honoka in the role of the princess to be protected & rescued, with Kagari Ayaka being the knight who protects him at all costs. The reasons for which are slowly revealed over the course of the manga (less so in the anime) & whilst it is a good first step in terms of subverting & parodying the narrative norm, it still falls short in so many ways.

That is because of my two usual bugbears: Fan Service & cliche.

Pretty much, in my view, every two steps both the manga & anime make in a good direction, they’re both pulled back a pace by reverting to Fan Service or not doing enough to twist around cliché into something truly subversive or unique.

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The one of main reasons for this is because of the male protagonist, Honoka, who despite having the role of the one who needs to be protected actually wants to be the one protecting others. Because is constantly targeted by various groups & individuals who are seeking the White Stuff within him (which leads to a lot of bad comedic misunderstandings), he always has Ayaka fighting for him but, in order to satisfy his own sense of justice & male ego, he tries to be the one to protect her. This usually results in both of them getting hurt in some way, even though Ayaka’s magic means she suffers no harm when she’s close to Honoka’s hidden power source, & drives him to do stupid things in order to achieve some sense of control & empowerment within his own life. He is also the constant victim of bullying, because of his closeness to Ayaka -who is worshipped like an idol at their school & has a devoted fan club/following- & he always tries to enforce the Consensus Society rule that the bullies are right & that he has no business being near Ayaka (despite her clear love for & devotion towards him). This shows the greatest of cowardice because at the same time he desires the power & ability to protect those around him, he gives in to pressure & bullying & shows utterly no backbone when dealing with problems. This carries over to the whole cliche of the ‘purity of love’, where Honoka is too much of a bloody coward to even touch Ayaka in any significant way, even if it means saving her life through a simple kiss (this is a trope that pisses me off no end & will write about it at a later date).

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Unfortunately Ayaka doesn’t fair that much better in terms of depictions. Despite being one of the most physically & magically powerful people within the narrative universe, she has a blank cold exterior, refuses to explain anything to Honoka -even if it would mean he’d stop doing stupid things- & is creepily obsessed with him (to the point of sitting by his bed all night to watch him sleep). She also has very large breasts, which aren’t flaunted in the usual Fan Service hypersexualied way but are always emphasised whenever she is shown. Was very much surprised that they didn’t have a beach or onsen but doubt they could’ve fitted it into the very close following of the first story arc of the manga without utterly destroying the quick flow of the narrative.

Before I get into the positives of the series, one more quibble: the anime isn’t as pretty as the manga. Which is a shame because it has the potential to be an exceedingly visually beautiful series. The manga has some pretty images whenever magic is being used or the witches reveal their true powers but they don’t really explore that in the anime. I understand the whole cost factor & the like but it does seem like a shame. Hopefully they will amend this in the Blu-ray releases.

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Anyway, the good of the series.

When it’s funny, its very funny. With lots of good visual gags & running jokes (such as Ayaka easily beating the KMM Gang witches who try to kidnap Honoka or the random unexplained llama).

The side characters are a hugely diverse bunch. With Ayaka’s mother Kazane -the head Workshop Witch- who is powerful but incredibly slow on the uptake. Honoka’s mother, who is emotionally immature from being a victim of extreme bullying in high school & openly admits to a lesbian love for Kazane, who used to protect her growing up, to the point of asking her to marry her (but unable to do so, says that they arranged for their children to eventually marry).

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The 5 KMM Gang witches are also very amusing in their failures & over-confidence. More so when they are captured & enslaved by Ayaka.

Then you have Honoka’s younger sister, Kasumi, who is a violent, loud bro-con who over reacts to everything -especially Ayaka’s presence near her beloved onii-chan.

The villains Medusa, Chronoire & Weekend are al interesting but not enough time is spent developing them unfortunately. Even though the overall machinations of Weekend is what drives the plot & action of the series.

One draw back is there isn’t a great deal of development of some themes & characters, with many popping in during the 2nd half of the series without any context or explanation yet somehow vital to the plot. There is also an ongoing thing that Ayaka & Honoka have a deep connection in their past but something has altered their memories of their connection. Same with why Honoka is possessed of the power that he is. I know this is all future set up for the ongoing manga but a bit too much time is spent going over it in the anime.

At any rate, despite all of my griping with characters & cliche, Witch Craft Works is still a very interesting & unique series. It has good plot progression & the pay-off at the end in terms of narrative outcome is good (except for Honoka’s bloody cowardice over a little fucking kiss!). Depending on how BD/DVD & manga sales continue, we might see a sequel series in a year or two but am not holding my breath over it with how media stakeholders tend to act.

Still, given a bit more spit & polish, I believe that is can truly break out of all the things that are holding it back for utter greatness (which I think the manga does improve on). I honestly do recommend this series & hold it up as an example of progress in getting over so many negative tropes & cliches.

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Been There, Criticised That – Anime Review: Strike The Blood

Strike_the_Blood_Volume_1Title: Strike The Blood (Sutoraiku za Buraddo)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, ecchi, action, comedy, shonen
Series Creator: Mikumo Gakuto
Series Director: Yamamoto Hideyo
Studio: Silver Link, Connect
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 4, 2013 – March 28, 2014
Reviewed format: censored TV downloads

 

 

Synopsis:

“The 4th progenitor—the world’s strongest vampire who should only exist in legends. Accompanied by twelve Familiars and spreading calamity, this phantom vampire appeared in Japan. For the observation and obliteration of the Fourth Progenitor, the government and Lion King Organization decided to dispatch an attack mage known as a Sword Shaman. However, for some reason, the one chosen for the observation was an apprentice Sword Shaman girl, Himeragi Yukina. Wielding the strongest anti-progenitor spirit spear, Yukina arrived at Demon District, Itogami City. What is the true identity of the Fourth Progenitor, Akatsuki Kojou, she encountered over there?!”

Review:

OK, girls & boys, cliche checklist time!

  • One male protagonist with hidden power? Check!
  • Also slightly perverted? Check!
  • Redeems himself by having a pure heart & protects his friends to the risk of his own life? Check!
  • Tsundere style violent love interest? Check!
  • Female characters as potential love rivals for the female protagonist? Check!
  • Secret supernatural powers? Check!
  • Plenty of useless fan-service? Check & motherfucking check!

And that’s what we get with the Supernatural Shonen Ecchi comedy series Strike the Blood.

This series started at about the same time that KILL la KILL did & I didn’t really know anything when I first watched it. The first episode was decent but still riddled with cliches but what do you except? It’s very hard to produce entire new ideas & it does come from a fairly popular Light Novel series?

Anyway, the plot resolves around Akatsuki Kojou, a once human who was turned into the most powerful vampire known as the 4th Progenitor through mysterious means. This garners the attention of the Lion-King Organisation, who sends the powerful & obedient, but very naive, Himeragi Yukina act as his observer in case he goes out of control.

Due to this being a world where magic & monsters are known & have been given their own territory where they can freely interact with each other as well as normal humans, Yukina gets involved in a fight with vampires, causing Koujo to reveal his powers to her as he steps in between them. From there the general plot follows Yukina & Koujo coming to terms with not only the immense power that dwells with Koujo but also there feelings for each other.

I stuck with this series because the first half was very well constructed, with nice little story arcs that build upon the last & develop the various characters, main & side, in small ways. Unfortunately it falls apart a bit in the 2nd half (eps 14 or so onwards) because there isn’t really any developments to be made. Just more female characters added to stir up the fan service & harem angle as well as setting up plot threads that will go unanswered because is doubtful it will get another series.

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One of the major problems is that it is so cliched & spins up all the stupid ecchi, fan-service stuff. It plays out a lot like IS: Infinite Stratos in many ways. The ignorant male lead always being protected by those stronger than himself, so he fights to justify his masculine position even though he keeps getting his stupid arse kicked. Which means he struggles to control his power but also means that he stumbles into situations that make him look like a pervert & no one listens to him when he tries to explain, so he gets his arse kicked again.

& his stupid, stubborn need to protect everyone despite his own lack of skill seems to rev the motors of all the ladies around him, so they flock to have him drink their blood, which fuels his powers.

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At least that’s a fairly interest an angle but having ecchi activated powers isn’t all that new in an anime. The whole slightly perverted protagonist who gets caught in compromising situations that get blown out of all proportions is one of the most common & annoying Shonen genre Light Novel tropes -usually it’s innocently picking up panties (again: see IS: Infinite Stratos). This plays into the whole idea that “a kiss is pure & innocent, only to be done with someone special” but “hey, here’s a whole heap of underage tits bouncing around. Enjoy & feel no hypocrisy in it!

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Anyway, enough bagging, let’s get into more serious discourse. With some critical kicks from the side.

Basically, what does make the series good is the tightness of the first half. You get several small story arcs, usually 3 to 4 episodes per arc, that actually progress the story & character development while setting up future plot points & arcs. Like your typical Shonen work, each new challenge requires more power/strength to overcome &, while getting that power is often more Deus Ex Machina, it actually has some logic to it. What’s actually unlike typical Shonen stuff is that the female characters, whilst being hyper-sexualised, still have their own sense of action & agency. They aren’t sitting around waiting for Kojou to save them, though they are always happy when they do, but always performing actions that will either prevent disaster or protect those they love.

The best example of this is the character Aiba Asagi, the resident computer expert. In fact, she has a supernatural power over computer systems & is considered the Demon District expert on it all -to the point she was once kidnapped due to her talents. Whenever something bad happens -& it always does- she will do anything to see the Island & Kojou (her unrequited crush) protected, even if it means putting herself in danger.

More often than not, even though it is Kojou who defeats the BBEG of the arc, he wouldn’t be able to do so without the female characters. Who either save his stupid arse or provide him with the blood needed to activate his magic powers & thus destroy the ultimate enemy of the arc.

In the end, Strike the Blood isn’t anything new to anime as a whole. It is riddled with cliches & annoyances but does stand above many others of its ilk because of the focus of its stories & the characters within. Unfortunately, possibly due to its source material & translation, a lot left out in terms of background info & development & the 2nd half of the series doesn’t feel as good or refined as the 1st.

It’s not a bad thing to way really but nothing I’d say you should go out of your way for. The blu-ray will be uncensored if you are into that kind of thing. It’s pretty much for genre fans or those who like what I call annoying Fan-Service but it does have some merit in terms of Female Agency, which I’d like to see picked up more in other series (but minus the jiggle factor).