Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 6th 2008
11-year-old Arusu has always believed wholeheartedly in magic, so when she falls into a magical world while trying to retrieve a Book of Spells left to her by her absent father she regards it as the greatest thing ever. Soon, though, she discovers that the witches of this realm enslave fairies and use their body parts to power their magic. Not content to let the system stand as it is, Arusu determinedly sets out to find a better way while also just as determinedly learning to use magic. Partly by happenstance and partly by assignment she falls in with two young witches, the unconfident Eva and stern Discipline Officer Sheila. Her presence has shaken things up at higher levels, however, and the loss of her Book of Spells calls into question her ability to return to the Human Realm.
Known in Japanese as Mahou Shojo Tai Arusu, this series was originally broadcast in 9-minute episodes but has been rearranged here into dual-part episodes of a more typical length, with the opener and recap given only before the first episode in each pair and the closer given only after the second episode. Thus this volume actually contains 14 short episodes spread across two disks even though it is structured as if it only has seven full-length episodes.
Though the name Tweeny Witches is a catchy and appropriate adaptation of the original Japanese title, it may discourage some anime fans from checking the series out since it strongly implies a kid-oriented magical girl show. To an extent it is still that, but only the technicality that the series features preteen girls flying around on brooms and using magic classifies it as a magical girl series, as otherwise it falls far from the norms for the genre. It is not overwhelmingly cute, does not feature sugary-sweet content, has a dramatically different artistic style, and most significantly, it lacks transformation scenes. In fact, it more resembles a work of Western animation than any Japanese magical girl series.
It also features a clever balance of fantastic wonder and darker themes. The world conceived by creator Keita Amemiya (probably better-known to older anime fans as the creator of Iria – Zeiram the Animation) and Character/Art Designer Daisuke Nakayama is a bizarre place where fairies look nothing like the traditional Western concept, houses can sprout dragon wings, large transports look like giant broomsticks, and those who can't cut it in magic school either get sent to the Human Realm or else become broomstick biker punks. Since fairy parts are required to empower magic, possession of fairies is both figuratively and literally a measure of power amongst the tribe of witches, which has led higher-up witches to virtually enslave fairies. Naturally that doesn't set well with free-spirited Arusu, who firmly believes that magic should make people happy and little critters should not have to be imprisoned just to harness it, which leads to most of the source of conflict in the series so far. She also has a decidedly odd impression of the proper way for a young witch to ride a broomstick. Sharply contrasting her is dedicated, hard-nosed traditionalist Sheila, a girl old before her time despite a curse that prevents her from growing up unless she can recapture lost fairies, and Eva, a young witch of little conviction.
The series runs into trouble in its editing, animation, and scene selection, however. At times the course of events suddenly skips forward with little or no transition, occasionally leaving viewers with the impression that some content was cut out. The series also has the very annoying habit of doing just about everything it can to avoid showing its characters' faces (and often even whole body) when talking or involved in complicated movement, which results in a lot of off-screen dialog. While such short-cutting gimmicks have been a staple of cheaper animation production for more than a decade, they are taken to much greater extremes here than nearly anywhere else in anime. This results in an overall disjointed effect that, at times, makes events hard to follow and distracts from neat things going on in the background.
And the background artistry and overall artistic style is where the series most triumphs. Wonderfully bizarre settings, stylized witches' garb, and strange robots and critters, all done in a heavily earth tone-based color scheme that makes brief shots of the real world seem bright by comparison. Character designs range from stylized elementary school kids to crude caricatures, with Arusu's broad-smiling design almost certain to win a viewer over, but no one goes around toting wands or uniforms with hearts on them (though hats do seem to have eyes, as well as other things that should not normally have them); think of what the Harry Potter movies might look like if they were animated and took a walk on the wild side and that will give you at least a basic impression of what this series looks like. Some CG animation and renderings get almost seamlessly mixed in to sharp effect, while the opening visuals resemble Renaissance and Reformation-era European paintings. What animation actually gets shown looks good, but as mentioned before, the series takes a lot of shortcuts. Amusingly, the panty-flashing scenes one might normally expect to see have been replaced by bloomer-flashing scenes. Also watch for odd bonus visuals after the credits for each double-episode, where Next Episode previews would normally be.
The ambitious musical score depends more on dramatic orchestration than the cutesy numbers that have become staples of magical girl titles, and goes a long way towards giving the series some more serious undertones. An unremarkable instrumental piece fronts each double episode, but closer “DuDiDuWa*lalala” by KOTOKO provides a catchy wrap-up at the end.
Media Blasters farmed the dub production out to Bang Zoom! Entertainment, which achieves what should be a very satisfying effort for any fan of English dubs. The casting is right, the performance have the correct styles for the roles, and the minimal amount of lip-synching that needs to be done allows the English script to stay quite tight to the subtitles. Only one problem exists here, but it is a glaring one: why did they keep the main character's name as “Arusu” in both English and the subtitles when clearly it is supposed to be “Alice” converted into Japanese syllables? Is it really so important to “maintain cultural integrity” that a name that was originally English shouldn't be converted back into its proper English form for the dub?
The second disk contains an interview with the creator and textless opener and closers for Extras. An art box is also available. Given that the equivalent of seven full-length episodes retails for an MSRP of only $24.98, the series is also a bargain.
Tweeny Witches mixes some mildly serious themes in amongst its wonder and fun, giving the series a little more meat than might normally be expected from magical girl fare. It may suffer from some problems, but lack of vision and creativity are not among them. It is worth a look even by those who do not normally care for the genre.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Fantastically inventive setting, fresh twist on a well-established genre.
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