Review of Witch Craft Works (2014)

Moving picture, 4.4 hours

Seen in 2022.

Takamiya Honoka is trying to lead a normal life in high school when he is suddenly pulled into a magical war as a polite young man of destiny. His guardian in this war is the school’s “princess”, Kagiri Ayaka: Smarter, faster, stronger and taller than Takamiya, Kagiri is also an immensely powerful witch who princess-carries her protegé.

This is principally a bishōjo comedy, but it takes its cue from Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) as much as from A Certain Magical Index (2008). It’s got the discordant music and Madoka’s eery-cute visual design, merely replacing both the child motif at the centre of the magical girl genre, and Madoka’s SF, with elements of epic fantasy.

Kagiri, the female deuteragonist, is more powerful in every way than the male protagonist, but is still feminized, like the women of The Coming Race (1871). This choice has its place in Japanese pop culture’s long-running games with gender roles, like Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997). As in Utena, it’s not clear whether Witch Craft Works has a feminist agenda. If it does, it overlaps with the objectification of its many pretty-girl characters in different impractical outfits. There are colourful action sequences, but they are animated in banal CGI. They end so quickly, and the consequences are tidied away so completely, that the epic plot is subordinated to the smaller-scale fantasy of a bland guy effortlessly surrounded by silly, pretty girls who can do magic. That’s a shame, because there are impulses toward worldbuilding and feminism that should have been allowed to bloom into coherent results. I was hoping for Magic User’s Club! (1996), but all I got in the end was sex jokes and tropey voice acting.

References here: One Punch Man (2015).

moving picture animation Japanese production fiction series