Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Arusu, Sheila, and Eva strike out for the land of the warlocks, guided by an untrustworthy warlock lad, but upon arriving are separated from each other. Alone in a land ruled by unfamiliar science, Arusu falls in with a band of outcast warlocks who insist on using magic despite its fall from favor. In the meantime Eva is captured by the terrifying leader of the warlocks, and Sheila accompanies their warlock guide to discover the truth behind the warlocks' push to capture fairies. What she discovers is more terrifying than anything the other two face. The magical world is on the brink of complete destruction, and the warlocks are gathering fairies in a desperate bid to create a sanctuary using black magic. Sheila, determined to save her friends, tricks Arusu into boarding a ship for the human world, and takes on a morally compromising mission for the Grand Master in hopes that it will lift the curse of Eternal Youth from Eva, even as tensions between witches and warlocks reach boiling point. As the world of magic grows ever darker, Arusu and her faith in the miraculous power of magic may be all that stand between her adopted homeland and the path to war.
An odd mixture of glitz, light adventure, and curiously somber content, Tweeny Witches is children's entertainment that never quite entertains, a magical adventure that allows its often moralistic content and dark undertones to overwhelm its sense of fun.
Animated by the energetic and inventive folks at Studio 4°C, Tweeny Witches is flush with striking imagery, eye-catching effects, and fluid, dynamic magical action. Its trio of heroines are cute, with an active, aggressive edge that sets them apart from their vapid moe counterparts, and the Witches' Realm has a whimsical, fairy-tale design that recalls the idiosyncratic visions of animators like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton more than the standardized cotton-candy fluff of Petite Princess Yucie or Ultra Maniac. So how does a series swarming with floating, bat-winged cages, dragon-powered houses, and strangely cute yet lethal attack magic end up a slick, flashy drag instead of a romp brimming with teen (or tween, if you will) 'tude?
You could blame composer Tamiya Terashima whose spare and depressing, if oft beautiful, score smothers each episode in oppressive silence. Or you could blame original creator Keita Amamiya, who took a gag manga and an action oriented pilot episode and from their bones fashioned a ham-fisted exploration of three girls' blossoming morality. But naturally the primary scapegoat is director Yoshiharu Ashino, who drains the life from Amamiya and Studio 4°C's lively world of wacked-out animals, spunky girls, and twisted architecture with a visual style heavily dependent on coldly distancing mid- to long-range shots and an Evangelion-esque refusal to show characters' faces. Ashino also can't seem to resist the urge to flaunt Studio 4°C's mastery of lighting and detail, staging every shot as if it were an Expressionist painting, even when the stylistic flourishes are pointless or counter-productive.
Ashino's baroque direction does grow more appropriate as the series' tone darkens over the course of this sophomore volume, with the violent warlocks, impending end of the world, and increasingly painful emotional lives of the protagonists providing ample narrative drear to match his stylistic drear. Though the result is less than compelling—largely thanks to choppy pacing and poorly integrated plot developments—Sheila's extreme attempts to save her friends and Eva's bitter frustration at being a burden to the more talented Sheila lend the story enough emotional depth to make Ashino's stylistic decisions less incomprehensible, and also offer him more opportunities to center his frame on the expressive faces of his protagonists instead of his busy compositions—chances that he thankfully takes.
The more emoting that the visuals do, the less the burden on the voice actors, something that proves fortunate for the cast of Media Blasters' English version. With a little more visual support, their performances are more convincing, shoring up the major weakness of the first volume's dub. In faithfulness and casting it couldn't, and can't, be faulted, but there was an elusive lifelessness, a lack of conviction, that afflicted it. With some meatier material to work with and less of Ashino's intrusive face-blocking, that sense of ennui largely disappears. It's far from perfect—there are too many acting snags for that—but given Media Blaster's inconsistency in even including dubs, its very existence is a blessing, especially since its target audience—ostensibly young girls—isn't one that's traditionally into hardcore otakuism. That it is a solid work to boot is pure gravy.
In addition to providing seven episodes, a dub, and a hilarious English name (just try to say "Tweeny Witches" without busting out laughing), Media Blasters also provides an amusing and informative round table discussion with the three leads (Houko Kuwashima, Ryou Hirohashi and Sachiko Kojima) and a pair of promotional videos. That's a good deal for twenty-five bucks.
In an interview on the first volume Keita Amamiya rather kindly referred to Ashino's stylistic approach to the material as being more "mature" than he envisioned. At the time the material and approach complemented each other so poorly that it was tempting to interpret “more mature” as a euphemism for “missed the point entirely.” With the content growing ever darker, perhaps it's time to let the expectations of larky fun go and accept the series for the serious, often moralistic magical girl tale that it is. It may not be terribly entertaining, but as the cliffhanger at the end of this volume will attest, it isn't without its reasons to keep watching.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Idiosyncratic visuals; stellar animation; lively lead character.
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