Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Izetta: The Last Witch
In the year 1939, the Germanian empire invaded their neighbor Linvonia, sparking a conflict that would drag all of Europe into war. To the south of Germania, the tiny duchy of Eylstadt lies vulnerable, lacking in allies and dwarfed by the mighty Germanian forces. Eylstadt's princess Fine is determined to protect her home, rushing to find new allies as she's pursued by Germanian spies. But when Fine comes across a strange coffin harboring a red-haired girl, she'll discover a secret that could change the course of world history.
Like many anime, Izetta: The Last Witch barrels out the gate with a first episode that draws all its strengths to the forefront. We're rapidly introduced to a global conflict and a young woman named Ortfine, the princess of the small country called Aylstadt that lies beneath this world's not-Germany, “Germania.” Pursued by Germanian forces across neutral territory, Fine's rush to save her country from oblivion leads her through a daring train escape, a dramatic opera house confrontation, and a mid-air battle inside a Germanian plane. And as that plane buckles and roars, we're introduced to our second heroine: Izetta, the last of the witches, and Fine's great hope.
From there, The Last Witch essentially turns into a tidy piece of alternate historical fiction, using loosely defined country stand-ins to ask “what if the German advance was held back by exactly one plucky flying witch?” The show's promise is summed up in its striking promotional image of a young girl flying on top of a military rifle, and it follows through on that promise, as Izetta allies herself with Fine and works to maintain Aylstadt's independence. Izetta throws spears through tanks, her surrounding allies work to build her up as an unbeatable propaganda tool, and both her and Fine slowly come to terms with their massive responsibilities in this unstable word.
The Last Witch ends up being a sort of balance between a Code Geass-style war thriller (in fact, its writer Hiroyuki Yoshino contributed to Geass as well) and a character piece focused on Fine and Izetta, with roughly equal weight given to each of these priorities. As episodes play out, our pool of active characters expands continuously, ultimately acquainting us with not only Fine's round table and close associates, but also many of the key players on the Germanian side working against her. New battles tend to resolve as a combination of tactical wizardry, sudden twists, and good old-fashioned action bravado on Izetta's part, as she dances through the sky and fights back against tanks and soldiers. “Witch versus WWII-era army” is an odd pitch, but it generally results in some very satisfying spectacles.
All that sounds well and good, but unfortunately, Izetta's narrative is regularly hamstrung by both issues of focus and extreme contrivance. There are episodes of this show that are clearly intended to further ingratiate us to its characters (like the one whose central conflict is “Fine wants a tasty pie”), but the show's character writing often isn't strong enough to avoid these segments feeling like wasted space. The show often makes leaps in assumptions regarding our emotional investment or suspension of disbelief that it simply hasn't earned, resulting in a number of seemingly wasted characters, as well as problems or solutions to problems that seem so unbelievable they undercut the drama of the moment. Some characters seem introduced only to be killed off, and when Izetta tries for levity, it tends to land on tired gags like boob comparisons and walking in on people changing. Izetta is a fine enough adventure on the whole, but it's laced up and down with tiny cracks of poor storytelling and cliche.
Outside of its allure as a war caper, Izetta also strives for some appeal both in terms of its central relationship and its focus on the nature of myths, with its results there ending up similarly mixed. Fine and Izetta are each individually very reasonable characters; Fine's personal strength makes her a great lead for this sort of story, and Izetta's lack of self-esteem feels like an earned reflection of her upbringing. Unfortunately, the conversations between them often just end up revolving around how grateful each of them are for the other's support, and lack the chemistry to really sell their bond. The focus on myths fares somewhat better - Izetta's usefulness as a propaganda tool naturally echoes her ancestors' fairy tales, and the show's subsequent interrogation of both the reliability of propaganda and myth ends up resulting in some very satisfying dramatic twists.
Aesthetically, Izetta: The Last Witch is a solidly above-par production, boasting reasonably consistent animation, attractive character designs, and an appealing array of European countrysides. The animation is almost never truly noteworthy, and the show isn't entirely able to integrate its use of CG mechanical objects, but there are also no points in the show where a lack of animation or overall vision result in a meaningfully worse experience. Izetta is almost a victim of its own ambition in visual terms; the show always looks good and rarely looks great, but the fact that it's able to make action sequences focused on a witch fighting entire armies feel both parsable and visually appealing is no small feat in the first place. The show's music is a similar compromise of “exactly right for the job, but rarely thrilling on its own,” offering a mix of orchestral battle themes and chanting witch-focused hymns that occasionally give way to some extremely anachronistic guitar rock.
Izetta: The Last Witch comes in a standard Funimation slipcase and bluray case, housing the show on both bluray and DVD. There are no physical extras, and the digital extras are limited to the basic promotional videos, along with an included dub. That dub is relatively solid on the whole, though I felt it took some time for characters like Fine to settle into their roles. My one big dub complaint is that Izetta's actress Skyler McIntosh just never felt right for her character - McIntosh's tone just sounded too casual and bubbly for the part, leading to some slight incongruity throughout the show. That said, most of the roles are relatively well-cast, and I particularly liked John Burgmeier's sinister Germanian special officer Berkmann.
In the end, Izetta: The Last Witch leaves me with few strong feelings one way or the other. The show is competently produced and reasonably entertaining, but its storytelling was just too shaky to truly grip me, while its central relationship felt too underdeveloped to speak to me. With a few more rounds of structural editing and some bolder choices regarding the central relationship, Izetta could have been a light but very satisfying thriller I would readily recommend. As is, it's not so bad to just be a reasonably entertaining time.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Follows through on its unique dramatic premise, offers a reasonably thrilling adventure story
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