The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
When magic users, known as wizards or, perplexingly, WUDs, run afoul of strict anti-magic laws in an alternate Japan, they are defended by lawyers known as Wizard Barristers, legally trained lawyers who can both use magic and have passed the bar. They don't have a good track record – I assume brought on by a societal prejudice against wizards – but newly minted barrister Cecil Sudo has just joined the crew, and she is determined to let justice prevail.
I'll admit that I couldn't help thinking of this episode as “Law & Order: Magic.” There are clear elements of the TV cop procedural/drama, with the police and the lawyers sharing a mutual wariness (or outright disrespect) and the young and naïve barrister out to save the day with Real Justice. On that level, Wizard Barristers is fairly engaging. The bias against wizards is subtly but clearly shown, and Cecil herself is sort of like a moe Elle Woods (from “Legally Blond”), with her adorable outside hiding a whip-smart inside. She also shares Elle's inability to dress appropriately, although the next episode preview shows that resolving a little. (Even if she keeps that hairstyle, which I hate to a ridiculous degree.)
The plot's strengths are watered down by some of the show's other elements in this episode, such as focus on how cute and adorable Cecil is, a fact that her new coworkers just can't leave alone, with one even checking (verbally) her virginity status as part of her fantasy fodder. Cecil's so-called cute traits, such as an inability to wake up on time, impulsive behavior, and no sense of direction, also take away from the plot and premise, as if the show wasn't sure it could hook people with just a story about a young lawyer. The decision to give all of the wizard barristers something unusual about their designs, generally in the form of clothing choices with the exception of the boss, who looks either like a demon or a reject from The Hunger Games, also takes away from the more serious aspects of the show. Granted, this could be me looking for something that simply was never intended to be there, but Cecil's barely revealed reason for being such a gung-ho defense attorney seems to imply that there is a more serious thread here, one that I hope will be developed.
Magic animation is beautiful, fluid, and bright, and even requisite fanservice scenes with Cecil's perverted frog familiar have good animation. The characters are all pretty classic Yasuomi Umetsu, but apart from Cecil's horrible hairstyle, all unique and individual. Simply put, this is a show that could go somewhere, is not about highschoolers (for those of you looking for that), and looks good. This is worth giving a chance.
Wizard Barristers is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: Style - 5, Substance - 2.5
Review: Fresh off his last directing project in Galilei Donna, Yasuomi Umetsu takes full control of the reins on Wizard Barristers in direction, art, and script, delivering one of the most well-animated and expertly directed first episodes of anime in a while. The premise is simple: in a world where magic users exist alongside normies, special agents called "Wizard Barristers" are employed by the government to represent criminal magicians in court, and even catch a few of them on the side. In fact, the premise is maybe too simple. It's the plot to the grand majority of court procedurals in existence, except this time, with wizards! The characters here aren't as boring as they could have been, the writing's far too competent to compare this to other "cast of a thousand boobs" series, but the premise is so dry and well-trod that there's not much for them to play off of yet.
But before you shrug it off with a "pass," it's well worth mentioning that the animation in this episode is jaw-dropping. You wouldn't think this from a cursory glance at the samey Umetsu-faced character designs that seem chained to a place and time that's definitely not modern, (to say nothing of one downright hideous frog familiar,) but Wizard Barristers looks fantastic. It's not just a matter of outstanding animation either, as such spectacle can mysteriously vanish after one amazing first episode in a lot of anime. The way action and dialogue scenes are directed and paced, a lot of information is communicated quickly, entertainingly, and often cinematically. Wizard Barristers has a subtlety and finesse to it that its simple content doesn't really merit, and it's all in the execution. Umetsu reminds us how shots can be laced together to give an explosion the maximum wow factor, how to convey exposition and character development without a single line of dialogue, and overall how to treat your audience with respect without being too obtuse. They're all conventional tricks, achieving an effect completely opposite to, say, Shinbo's distinctive rule-breaking style, but it's refreshing to see even a conventional cinematic eye taken to television animation.
If the content here were remotely novel or engrossing, this would be a hands-down five out of five. As it is, it's just an immensely watchable pleasant surprise that may not hold up as well in future episodes when the conventional story or samey art begins to grate. For now, give it the benefit of the doubt and enjoy twenty minutes of smart spectacle.
Wizard Barristers is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: Wizard Barristers is the most recent brainchild of Yasuomi Umetsu, the man who made his name on the Kite and Mezzo franchises and, less congruously, also created and directed the much more recent Galelei Donna. This one is more a throwback to his Kite days, as it also uses his unmistakable character designs (for better or worse, since drawing variety in feminine faces was always a weak point for him). Beyond that, though, this may be the best-looking new series of the season, and it is far and away the best-animated; even if the CG in a late action sequence is just a little too obvious for current standards, it is still put to good use, and TV series that look more fluid are rate.
The flow of events is also a little different from normal for an anime series, as the first episode has the feel more of a police/law procedural housed within the shell of a greater plot and all of the characters except for apparent lead female protagonist Cecile Sudo are adults. She is a 17-year-old wunderkind wizard in a world where wizards exist alongside regular people and have their own court of law in which to be judged – and, where necessary, harshly punished. She is also the youngest “wizard barrister” (i.e., lawyer) ever, and is precocious enough that she even procures a case on her first day of work before she ever makes it to the Butterfly Law Offices, much to the displeasure of some of her superiors in Butterfly. She and her frog familiar get involved in a case concerning a wizard defending a cashier during a bank robbery, but a new threat arises when individuals who seem to be common thugs but are actually connected to some sinister organization attack.
Umetsu works are often characterized by unflinchingly graphic violence that can sometimes come out of nowhere (even Galilei Donna had some of this), and a couple of minor touches of that are present here, as are a couple of mild touches of fan service. But neither should be strong enough to be a major turn-off. The emphasis on law procedures here might give this one a bit of a different angle, and wizards investigating/defending wizards is a concept with potential. The cast is too broad at this point to readily keep track of, but more episodes should rectify that. Overall, Wizard Barristers could be a good one if the writing finds a proper balance between overarching story and individual stories going forward.
Wizard Barristers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Okay, so the word “barrister” is a little weird for those of us who speak Americanese, and the writing is less than elegant, but who cares? This is Yasuomi Umetsu playing where he plays best: in the action arena. And there are few things as impressive as Umetsu on his home turf.
Though it must be said, a little more grace and finesse wouldn't go awry, script-wise. The show's about wizard lawyers—I refuse to say barrister—in a future Tokyo where magic users and muggles live side-by-side. The heroine, Cecil, is a super-genius-amazing teen lawyer, newly hired at the Butterfly Law Offices to defend wizard criminals. She's a magical defense lawyer because, it is strongly implied, someone close to her suffered unjustly at the hands of the justice system. Oh yes, and Cecil is also a mega-powerful wizard. No, this is not subtle stuff. In general the show is written like a high-schooler's attempt to make Law & Order, like, totally more awesome.
And, and this cannot be said enough, it does not matter. The show's opening set-piece, in which a flame-wielding wizard lays waste to police pursuers and, eventually, an entire train, is quite simply the coolest thing seen this season. The joy of this show is just watching Umetsu flex his directorial muscle somewhere where he isn't forced to horn porn into his work. It's the same joy we got from Mezzo TV and Galileo Galilei. And therein lies our biggest caveat. Because in both of those series, Umetsu's direction fell apart in the later going. There's reason to be optimistic—he's working with his old studio, ARMS, and is exercising his usual wide-ranging control: providing the original idea, the scripts, the direction, and even the lovely character designs—but all of that was true of Mezzo as well, so… forewarned is fore-armed.
Wizard Barristers is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Humans and wizards co-exist, which means wizards need their own special magic courts, which means those courts need special wizard public defenders, which is what a "Wizard Barrister" is. Spunky, Pink-haired, Yasuomi Umetsu-faced Cecil is the youngest wizard barrister on record, and it's her first day at the Butterfly Law Offices, staffed up by a team of other cute ladies, eccentrics and eccentric cute ladies. On her way to the office, Cecil sees a giant flying dragon and decides to investigate; turns out a group of wizard bank robbers were pulling a heist, and another wizard was there to defend the bank patrons. Wizard kills robber, gets arrested, good thing go-getter Cecil was there to take the case!
There's more to Cecil than meets the eye, though - during a late-night chat with her coworker, the two are attacked by wizards, resulting in Cecil busting out some fairly impressive magical chops; dissembling all the metal in the area and fusing it into a giant magical robot thing that fights back. So she's got magic powers too. You must be shocked.
Anyway, this is a Yasuomi Umetsu show, he of Kite fame, and you'll be able tell immediately thanks to his extremely distinctive (some might say 'repetitive') character designs and telltale fanservice, but the show itself is a pretty routine and fairly entertaining procedural with hints at a larger narrative. It's also totally gorgeous, with very fluid, dynamic animation in nearly all instances. Very few corners are cut when it comes to how this show moves, and the glossy appeal of Umetsu's designs pop off the screen. Even if the story isn't much to write home about - and it really doesn't elicit more than a "shrug, that was amusing enough, I suppose" - it's a joy just to watch the really high-end production values at work. Right now they're hinting at "shadowy organization needs secretly-superpowered Cecil for some nefarious reason" which to me at this point would be way less interesting than a straightforward episodic procedural about wizard lawyers, but you could do a lot worse than Wizard Barristers this season. Just watch out for the pervert frog.
Wizard Barristers is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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