The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Flying Witch ?
What is this?
Makoto Kowata has just turned 15. According to witch tradition, this means she must go out into the world and refine her skills among the common people, with a broom in her hand, a song in her heart, and her adorable black cat Chito at her side. Her only magical talent right now is the power of flight, (and riding a broom for extended periods can be uncomfortable!) so she has a lot more witchcraft to study in the comfort of her second cousin's house in the secluded northern forest of Aomori prefecture. However, wizardry doesn't pay the bills like it used to in the old days, so her parents have also insisted on her attending school, which leads her to become fast friends with the shy yet tenacious Nao Ishiwatari. Nao isn't sure what to think of Makoto's unique heritage at first, but it's always good to have a new friend to fly to school with, right? Flying Witch is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 3:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Well, that was absolutely charming. It's nice to occasionally get a show like Flying Witch, that reminds you just how good a slice of life can be. This premiere was pretty much flawless from to bottom, an endearing, well-executed, and legitimately funny introduction to a world I already want to revisit.
From the opening minutes, Flying Witch nails that all-important central demand of slice of life, the creation of a strong sense of atmosphere. The town Makoto moves to feels like a living place from the first minutes, and the show's excellent soundtrack helps enforce the feeling of slow-paced country life. The shot framing, detailed backgrounds, and precise pacing all help position you in this world, where life moves slowly and witches just kind of exist.
The show's sense of humor is equally impressive. Slice of life shows generally don't have that much bite in their humor, so it's all the more important that they innovate on their execution and nail their comedic timing. Flying Witch easily manages those hurdles - its jokes are light, but their timing is very sharp, making the humor feel pleasant, funny, and naturally integrated into the show's conversations. Nobody oversells a punchline here; the various riffs on Makoto being bad at directions all end in smart anticlimax, and a good number of jokes either pop up naturally mid-sentence or rely on endearing but momentary reactions. On top of that, the show's final gag, where Makoto yanks out a mandrake for her new friend, is a fantastic setpiece - from its well-executed buildup and payoff to the way it reflects Makoto's general oddness, it's a distinctive highlight within an already great episode.
Finally, the way Flying Witch is integrating its premise already seems like a great take on the concept. Witches are apparently pretty unusual in Makoto's world, but people know about them, and so her witchness basically just makes her eccentric more than magical. But the inherent wonder and weirdness of her position still informs many of this episode's best moments. The first time Makoto takes flight is a great example; it works as both a joke and a legitimate moment of beauty, seemingly conveying what it really would feel like to see a friend just float off into the sky.
I have basically no complaints about Flying Witch's premiere. From its strong premise and endearing characters to its excellent execution, it is a fantastic opening, inviting the viewer into a world that's always charming and infused with just a hint of magic. I hope the show can maintain this quality throughout.
Jacob Hope Chapman
At last, I found it. Flying Witch is my kind of "healing anime."
Even in the most benign, endearing, wholesome iyashikei shows like Non Non Biyori, there's usually an undercurrent of "this is escapism for otaku" resting just beneath the surface of all that peace and tranquility. This isn't necessarily bad or good; it just is. Moe has changed anime for both better and worse, and healing shows are usually built on a sense of hyper-reality needed to insulate that moe feeling to appropriate "healing" levels.
So Flying Witch immediately stands out by achieving a more universally human tone that's not unlike watching a Studio Ghibli movie, where the nice people in its world aren't nice in a slightly cartoonish too-cute or quirky way, but almost refreshingly normal and chill. Makoto acts like a real high school girl, not an "anime" high school girl. Her cousin acts like a very average, probably not-all-that-interesting guy and his little sister acts like a real small child, a true anime rarity. This could result in an extremely boring experience if it wasn't for the show's pitch-perfect direction, pacing, and engrossing atmosphere. Despite the magically hovering bamboo broomstick (which is also introduced in a beautifully atmospheric way), Flying Witch feels like a little slice of reality out in the boondocks with pleasant people, and I definitely got that namesake "healin' feelin" from the uniquely wistful experience.
But just when I had started to nod off too much, our heroine pulled a screaming hollow-eyed mandrake out of the ground to offer her new friend as a housewarming gift, and I totally lost it. Oh the horror! The strangely adorable horror! I have no idea what made this final scene so amazingly funny, maybe it was being jerked out of that serene sense of security or maybe it was the hilarious little hellspawn's flailing grody root-limbs and vacant expression, but the scene is so magical that it absolutely sold me on the show. Even if iyashikei isn't normally your thing, Flying Witch leaps out to me as a cut above its peers. More please!
I came really, really close to giving this episode a 5, because by the end, I was fully immersed and enjoying it. The problem here, for Rebecca of the Shortish Attention Span, is that it takes just a little too long to get going, relying on the fact that Makoto has a phenomenally bad sense of direction and that Chinatsu thinks she's weird because she talks to her cat rather than getting to the meat of the story: that Makoto is actually a witch.
Once that's out of the way, Flying Witch is both adorable and charming. There's a sort of everyday quality to the story that belies its supernatural aspects, with Makoto's slightly flaky attitude feeling just as comfortable as the warm sense of family that Kei and Chinatsu give off in their home. For Kei and Makoto, Mako being a witch really isn't anything that needs fussing over, which feels like a really nice change of pace. Sure she can fly around on a broomstick (which gets painful after too long) and knows just how to spot a wild mandrake root and how to prepare it so that it becomes helpful instead of deadly, but that's just a part of who she is, not the sum total of it. The same can be said for Kei, who at first seems to be the laid-back responsible type – after all, he picks Makoto up at the bus and makes lunch for his little sister – but by the end of the episode we also know that he's the kind of guy who sleeps through assemblies and ditches his newly arrived cousin to go hang out with his friends at what is apparently disco karaoke. This means that no one is a one-note character; each person stands to be fully rounded with multiple facets to their personalities. If nothing else, this alone would make Flying Witch worth watching.
The peaceful quality carries over into the animation and art of the show, with the first time we see Makoto rise into the air on her broom having a gentle sense of lifting to it, like it's a natural process slowly unfolding rather than magic taking place. The pastoral northern setting contributes to this feeling, as do the understated character designs; even the more eccentric looking characters in the theme song have an unremarkable quality to them that says that this is a show with fantasy rather than a fantasy show.
Of course, “pastoral” often translates to “slow,” and with the exception of the very end with the world's creepiest plant and its slow, fluid writhing, things proceed at a pace that's somewhere between “calm” and “dull.” If you like your stories to move along swiftly, this may not be the show for you, because although a fair amount actually happens in the episode, it does glide along without any urgency, and as I said I found myself somewhat bored by the beginning. However if you can stand a little slowing down, this looks to be one of the loveliest shows of the season and is worth checking out…because really, you need to see that mandrake root at the end.
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