The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Witch Craft Works

Jan 8th 2014

Hope Chapman


Rating:
3

Review: There was a little movie that came out about a year ago. Some of you may remember it. It was called Oz, The Great and Powerful. For good or for ill, I could not get that movie out of my head while watching Witch Craft Works. Maybe it had something to do with the harem of women fighting each other to possess one hapless schmuck, or all the annoying and unnecessary CG. But for what it's worth, Witch Craft Works is much better than Oz. This isn't saying much. That movie is dreadful.

Witch Craft Works is not dreadful, but neither is it very interesting. The animation is nice (sometimes,) the art is attractive (if not generic,) and on aesthetics alone, it can stand head and shoulders above a lot of the cheap, static fallout of the winter season we've seen so far. Even the hordes of CG bunny-rab-bots are pretty benign in context. (Almost kinda cute!) The problem lies in the writing, which is completely negligible, not even bothering to make up a stupid gimmick to set itself apart from every magical "protect the chosen one" harem show before it. Self-professed "completely normal" high school boy meets adored kuudere fire witch who vows to protect him from the other witches of various audience-targeted fetishes who want him for themselves. Witches fight. Boy freaks out. End of episode shows the enemy witches transferring into his school. Buh-WAAAAH?! I had to think really hard to figure out if there was anything unique about Witch Craft Works' setup, at which point I remembered that normal-high-school-boy is referred to as a "princess." But that's it.

If you're looking for a Tenchi or Shuffle! flavored thrill in the form of superpowered girls fighting over a guy, this is as boilerplate as it gets in everything except for the animation, which throws a few nicer sparks than average our way at least in the first episode. Maybe the story will spin out of control and become totally unique in the next couple of episodes, but I doubt it. For the most part, this Hogwarts Harem adventure is contents as labeled: Which witch will win?!

Witch Craft Works is available streaming at
Crunchyroll.

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Witch Craft Works has all the trappings of what, at first glance, could possibly be a hacky shonen romance. Its main character is a bland and unimpressive regular high school dude named Honoka, who's neither interesting nor handsome, and who never goes out after school. He's a total blank slate, until the day school hottie Ayaka (and über rich and smart and perfect) starts paying attention to him and walking to school with him.

But—it also has killer robo-rabbits, witches, girls made out of fire—and, oh, hottie fire-user Ayaka keeps referring to Honoka as "Princess," so obviously there's something there that we don't quite know about. Needless to say, I'm intrigued, and I definitely plan on watching the next episode…especially if it's going to involve giant armies of electro-bunnies. Not to mention, it's only been 23 minutes, and I already understand why everyone in the school is in love with Ayaka. She's pretty, she's cool, and she has a no-nonsense attitude about her that already has me captivated.

There's just a certain… something about Witch Craft Works that makes it so entertaining. Sure, we've seen plenty of anime about witches, and more than enough anime about boring guys with mysteriously hot lady friends. But there's something else about the show that makes it stand out. Maybe it's the way that Honoka isn't the center of attention, even though he's the main character and the one being saved all the time. Maybe it's the go-big-or-go-home attitude of the first major battle, or the absurdity of some of the scenes, like when Ayaka feeds Honoka an ornately carved wiener shaped like a phoenix. Maybe it's the way they dropped in the "Princess" hook without dwelling on it too much, or jabbing viewers' in the ribs with, "Huh? Huh? Don't you want to know what this is all about?"

Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to seeing what the series has in store for us, and just fervently hoping that it doesn't fall into a cesspool of clichés and a few too many witches. I won't hold my breath just yet.

Witch Craft Works is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

When an anime or manga protagonist announces that he's normal, you know he's in for a tough time. That's the case for Honoka, whose major problem seems to be that he lives and sits in close proximity to the school princess, Kagari, and so is always at the mercy of her followers. This naturally all changes on the day when he pulls a plush bunny out of the classroom wastebasket and is promptly almost crushed by a falling school building. Kagari saves him, outs herself as a witch who has to protect “her princess” Honoka, and then fights a bunch of semi-mechanical bunny knights to save him.

This is one of those episodes that I liked less the more I thought about it. I suspect that this is in large part due to the ending theme, which shows the “bad witches,” all of whom are introduced as transfer students into Honoka and Kagari's class in the final few minutes of the episode, as chibis singing while they undergo the various tortures history reserved for accused witches. I am perhaps too sensitive, but this seemed in poor taste to me. I also found the members of Kagari's fan club to be a major negative; the gang of girls out to protect their favored one has really been done to death and all it seems to do here is to make Honoka uncomfortable with his apparently unavoidable situation, although that could be funny looked at in a different light.

That aside, Witch Craft Works does make a few good efforts. Kagari, for example, is Amazonian in her build, making her taller and more muscular than Honoka, and the conceit that he's her “princess” is kind of funny, especially since he keeps hoping he misheard her. The bunny knights are interesting to look at as well, and clear effort has been made to make all of the witches distinct in design and flair. We also get a small hint about Kagari's flame-based talents on the chalkboard before her true nature is revealed – if you look closely, the character for “fire” appears in her name. And of course there's Obama-kun, a member of the fan club who attacks while yelling, “The best is yet to come!” 

All told, Witch Craft Works has its moments of goodness, but they weren't quite enough to make up for its deficiencies. Between the transfer students, the fan club, and Honoka's self-proclaimed ordinariness, all it really needs is for all the witches to fall in love with him to complete the circle it seems to be drawing – even if I did love those bunny knights.

Witch Craft Works is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Theron Martin



Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Honoka Takamina is just an ordinary teenager (or at least he thinks he is). Tall, busty, perpetually somber-faced Akari Kagiya is the adored princess of his school, so much so that Honoka regularly gets inconvenienced (and even accosted!) by her fans because he sits beside her. What he doesn't know – but soon finds out – is that Akari is actually a fire-based witch, her assignment is to protect him, and that others including an animal-eared girl who manipulates an army of rabbit-men are out to claim him, dead or alive, for some as-yet-unrevealed reason. Akari obviously will not stand for that. As mind-fried as he is about all of this, Honoka is also left wondering why Akari alternately refers to him as both her master and her princess.

So welcome to this season's textbook example of Making Generic Anime Series 101. (Not that I am saying that this is the only such case this season, mind you.) The most popular girl in school hooking up with a no-account guy? She has an overzealous fan club out to get said guy for perceiving him to get too close to the princess? And of course she has awesome powers! And of course, despite her always being practically mobbed with attention, she can easily get free to duel with rabbit minions in the school's empty courtyard and not attract any attention doing so. The notion that Akari is referring to Honoka as her “princess” is, admittedly, more than a little odd, and the army of rabbit minions is so ridiculous that one would expect it more of a sillier series, but other than that the only real separation that this one gets from others of its ilk is that Akari is a very physically imposing character design; she is nearly a full head taller than all of the other girls, taller than most of the boys (including average-height Honoka), and built for her size. Her utter lack of expression is also a little different, but that could quickly become a negative.

On the plus side, the first episode does play mostly seriously, and Honoka handles everything in a believable fashion. Hence the writing is far less the problem than the concept. And the series does have one of the most perverse closers ever put on an anime series. But it will need to show something more than it already has to distinguish itself in a crowded field.

Witch Craft Works is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 3.5

Review: The magical action is suitably neat and the tone adroitly balanced between creeping menace and periodically surreal comedy (thanks to the impressively flexible Tsutomu Mizushima), and there are some nice creative touches too (that ending sequence!), as well as a lot of appealingly underplayed mystery, but when it comes right down to it there's only one reason Witch Craft Works works: Its central duo. Specifically, the delightful way that the pair flips anime gender roles right on their ugly heads.

Part of the reason the show leans so heavily on Kagari and Takamiya—the guy and girl whose magical relationship is at its core—is because it can't lean on its premise. Because its premise is a snorefest. There's a boy—Takamiya—with a special destiny that gets him mixed up in a secret world of witches and intrigue. He is introduced to the world by a witchy classmate—Kagari—whose attentions lead to romantic misunderstandings. Through dangers and close scrapes they come to an understanding, after which a series of cute lady magic-users transfer into the class.

No one would blame you for sawing logs while you read that, but you'd be sawing logs in error. However dull the show's setup, Kagari and Takamiya keep the show itself surprising and fun and, yes, quietly subversive. Kagari is the strong, silent protector: powerful; heroic; stoic in her pursuit of duty. Takamiya is the reluctantly coddled princess (Kagari actually refers to him as such): flighty; emotional; a bit resentful and yet clearly attracted to his, er, prince. It's a brilliant turnaround; one that makes tired developments—the damsel in distress, rescued in the nick of time; the manly declaration of protective intent—both funny and tellingly alien. And also warming. For all the (often subtle) humor that the show finds in Takamiya's situation, it also finds a perfectly viable, sweetly romantic romance.

Witch Craft Works is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


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