Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Good Witch of the West
Blu Ray - Complete Collection
Firiel Dee's peaceful life in Sellafield is brought to an abrupt halt when her father, the elusive Dr. Dee, is found to be studying forbidden science. Firiel herself is also revealed as the daughter of a lost princess of Astrea – and therefore a candidate to become the next queen. With the help of Lady Adale, another queen candidate, Firiel begins to navigate the complicated world beyond her rural experience, and ultimately Firiel must make a choice: to be with her childhood love Roux and pursue her father's research or to become a member of the ruling class.
The title The Good Witch of the West may be familiar to you – back in the day, TokyoPop released the first six volumes of the manga and first two of Noriko Ogiwara's original novels in English. Neither format ever completed the story, however, so in that respect, Maiden Japan's release of the 2006 anime is a boon to fans. Sadly, the anime is not quite the faithful adaptation that fans might have wished for, and while we do get an ending, the journey to get there is rushed and skims over much of the source material.
The story follows teenage Firiel Dee, a girl raised in a rural corner of Astrea known as Sellafield. Her mother passed away when she was young, leaving Firiel in the care of her father, a heretical scientist. She's mostly raised by Mr. and Mrs. Holy, the live-in housekeepers, and living alongside her is Roux, a boy her age who was taken in by her father. Dr. Dee shows considerably more care for Roux than his own daughter, but despite that, Firiel and Roux become close and romantic feelings soon develop between them. Their lives are upended when Firiel goes to a ball at a local nobleman's house and is revealed to be the daughter of a lost princess—then when she gets home, her father's lab is being raided. Roux and Firiel are taken in by Lady Adale, who Firiel met at the ball, and the two are forced to maneuver a politically charged and dangerous world.
Firiel herself is a remarkable heroine. Strong-willed and determined, she is unwilling to settle for anything less than the truth, but she's still young enough that she's not always confident in her own decisions. With her father on the lam following the raid on his laboratory, Firiel and Roux are essentially on their own, each being pushed and pulled by different forces. Firiel's heritage leads to her tentative acceptance by the nobility, while Roux's status as Dr. Dee's assistant thrusts him into much more sinister forces. The secret alignment of these two seemingly disparate groups creates even more conflict in the complicated situation. This leads to a much slower development of the romance plotline than in the source material; that's not a bad thing on its own, but in terms of pacing, it sees the leads at odds with each other for a little too long. It also skips some of the better humor from both the novels and manga, when Firiel questions where Roux learned to kiss.
This holds unfortunately true for all parts of the story, with pieces of the plot excised in service of fitting as much plot as possible into the series. This isn't good for the character relationships, most specifically Eusis, Adale's older brother and Firiel's would-be suitor, and Igraine, a lesbian-coded school friend. Both are reduced to cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that Igraine gets a little more screen time than before. More importantly, the political machinations are difficult to keep up with, robbing them of their significance.
On the plus side, the story's world is fascinating. The language of fairy tales is deliberately used as symbols for politics and the nobility, with references to Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Goose Girl, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White & Rose Red among others. Roux's full name is in fact Rumpelstiltskin, which has implications of thwarted desires and unholy motives, which fit the work that he and Dr. Dee have been performing. The juxtaposition between these naming conventions and the science fiction appearance of the capital city has some interesting possibilities, as does the way that characters dress – they range from wearing full gowns to great swathes of more modern fabric that don't actually cover much. The dragons and unicorns are exercises in bizarre design, with the dragons basically looking like heads stuck on legs with a tail tacked on for good measure, while the unicorns are horse/emu hybrids. While I appreciate the creativity, it doesn't quite work either.
That's perhaps the best way to sum this series up: it tries, but it doesn't quite work. Its rushed adaptation results in some better nuances getting left out (like large parts of Roux's personality) and reduces the story to its most easily defined aspects. Firiel is the great exception to this – her deliberate decision to protect her friends rather than become the princess in the tower is well-done, as well as her understanding that no one can win if you refuse to play their game. Throughout it all, she remains a strong and interesting character.
Since this is a series from 2006, its transfer to blu-ray isn't as good as we might hope – there's slight motion stutter to the picture during pans, indicating a non-HD source that's had some trouble upscaling. The animation swings between being beautiful and much less so, and the character designs are really dated, mostly the girls with their enormous eyes and scads of hair. It should be noted that these designs lack the delicacy of the manga artwork, but they do capture the feel of the original aesthetic.
The Good Witch of the West is a slight disappointment. With its rushed pacing and condensed characters, it doesn't quite live up to its promise, and it lacks a lot of what made the source novels and manga adaptation so good. But it also isn't a bad series, with a fascinating world, a strong protagonist, and an interesting take on fairytale lore. It may work better for those who aren't fans of the original books, but it should still appeal to fans of fantasy tales as passable entertainment.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Neat use of folklore, Firiel is a good heroine, finally delivers a conclusion to this story
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