Reviewby Rose Bridges,
Izetta: The Last Witch
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
The tiny alpine country of Eylstadt is under siege from the mighty Germanian Empire, whose ruler is set on conquering the world. Its fate now rests in the hands of Princess Ortfiné, who is willing to sacrifice everything for her people. Fortunately, she discovers the magical power of the legendary White Witch of Eylstadt in another girl who's just as devoted to her country (or at least its princess). The witch Izetta begins to turn the tide of the war by routing the Germanian army in battle after battle, but Germania may have a few witchy tricks up their own sleeves.
Izetta: The Last Witch was built up pretty heavily before its premiere last fall. Its first episode generated the most hype and buzz of all the premieres (even above Yuri!!! on Ice), by presenting a story that was widely compelling: a princess and a witch fight to save their country from Fantasy Nazi Germany and possibly fall in love in the process. The first episode largely lived up to these expectations, introducing a strong and selfless heroine who was poised to do anything to protect her country, even at the cost of her own life or happiness. Izetta was just as principled, with a goofy fish-out-of-water appeal where Finé remained poised. The two girls were very different, but they shared an instant bond, standing together to defend Eylstadt against its invaders.
There are several fascinating threads that could have spun out from this beginning. The first, and most obvious, is the historical and political situation in Eylstadt. The Europe of Izetta: The Last Witch is obviously engulfed in an alternate version of World War II, but Austria—the country on which Eylstadt is based—had been absorbed into Germany by this point, during the largely peaceful Anschluss of 1938. This obviously hasn't happened here, owing to Eylstadt's strong and devoted monarchy. The show could have explored Finé's tough political choices, especially as she assumes the throne from her father. The first episode shows us hints of that, as she considers a political marriage to the Britannian heir in order to seal an alliance. If not exploring politics, Izetta: The Last Witch could also explore the magical aspect of its world (and to its credit, this comes into play more toward the end of the series).
There was also great potential to focus on the relationship between the story's two main girls. Izetta and Finé have an immediate close bond that the series does not delay to portray with yuri undertones. There's plenty of potential for drama, from their wildly different personalities and backgrounds to the classic set-up of love blossoming in adversity. This dynamic also gives Izetta: The Last Witch the chance to truly break new ground in what is otherwise becoming a very familiar subgenre.
Unfortunately, the show doesn't commit to either of these potential threads. It does focus on politics, but mostly in terms of military strategy. While there is certainly an audience for that—see the host of military-otaku-aimed shows that come out every other season—it's a smaller one than the potential audience for faux-historical war drama, limiting Izetta: The Last Witch's potential broader appeal. I'm a pretty big World War II buff, but I found myself bored by the show's boardroom scenes. The show doesn't often give viewers much reason to care about this war or the people fighting it. Of course, that's not a fault of the focus on battle strategy, but another problem that sinks the larger plot: shallow character writing.
Finé never really develops beyond her "perfect selfless princess" persona. Her only faults seem to be upsetting people when she's too quick to sacrifice herself for them. Likewise, Izetta never moves beyond "klutzy country bumpkin," especially during the slice-of-life scenes in Landsbruck. This shallowness also unfortunately extends to their relationship. It's not even that the romance never moves beyond the soft yuri-teasing clichés you'll see coming a mile away if you've seen many anime like this. More importantly, there's no momentum behind their dynamic as the plot moves forward. Finé and Izetta like each other, but that's about it. There was room to develop more tension between them, as well as more backstory that could have been explored, but it just doesn't happen. The show makes them seem destined to be together, but there's no interpersonal conflict they overcome to make us care about that destiny.
Those are the main characters, so you can just imagine what the series does with its supporting cast. Toward the end of the series, Izetta: The Last Witch starts throwing various twists around just to give its bit players something important to do. Everyone feels like they exist just to fulfill a role in the story, not as a complex person with a life outside of whatever plot point they're checking off. Perhaps the worst offenders in this regard are the servants at Finé's palace and the Atlantan ambassador Elvira. The show introduces her for a boob-grabbing joke, then expects us to be invested in her role in the administration later, but there's never any sort of transition between these modes to allow viewers to take her seriously.
It's a shame, because all these characters have strong potential as well. Perhaps the best example of this comes in episode 8, which focuses on a Germanian spy in Eylstadt. He lives with Bianca, Finé's chief bodyguard, and comes to realize that Eylstadt has good, kind people in it. You'd expect this to lead him to question his mission—but it doesn't. He goes full speed ahead with it, never wavering. I'm not saying he should have switched sides, but his conflict over betraying his hosts should have meant something to the story. As a result, the event that's clearly intended to be traumatic at episode's end just feels hollow.
That's not to say there's nothing redeeming about Izetta: The Last Witch. Its battles are stirring and fun to watch, especially when the Germanians even the odds later in the story. Finé and Izetta are cute and sympathetic, so they're easy to root for—even if it's hard to feel that way about anyone else. The aesthetics sport a bold art style and a rich, luxurious musical score. I especially liked the breathy vocal pieces that accompanied the magical parts of the story, even if they felt excessive at times. The animation did flounder at times, but I've seen far worse. I also found myself pretty invested in the magical lore, which is not something that anime often succeeds at building up. There's a lot to like in Izetta: The Last Witch, but just not enough to cover up for the threadbare character writing, repetitive dull plotting, and ultimate thematic hollowness.
That's my greatest disappointment with Izetta: The Last Witch. The show constantly begs you to take it seriously, despite having seemingly nothing to say. It's one of the biggest stumbling blocks when comparing Izetta to the anime that may have inspired it, Maria the Virgin Witch. The latter had both stronger character writing and complex questions to explore about religion and gender roles. It's not that Izetta: The Last Witch had to say anything profound or groundbreaking, but it would have been nice to see some attempt at a message of any kind.
That's not so bad, if you know that going into the show. When it comes to Izetta: The Last Witch, just come for the military tactics, flashy magic, and some occasionally luxurious aesthetics. If you go in with low expectations for the story and characters, you should have a fairly good time. If anything, Izetta: The Last Witch suffers most for biting off more than it could chew.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Strong aesthetics, compelling setting and lore, main characters are likable if simplistic, catnip for military buffs
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