Witch Craft Works Ep. 1: Alien

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Somewhere amidst all the exploding, flaming robot bunnies, there must be at least a single soul in this anime with whom I can relate to. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not asking for realism. Oh no, I would never expect realism from a show like this. I can obviously tell that this is a show about mahou shoujos. As I’ve mentioned before, there are (sentient?) robot bunnies running about. Surely, the “quirkiness” won’t stop there, a fact painfully hammered into us at the very end of the episode:

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Truly, a smorgasbord of veritable trouble-making lasses. If I was a different sort of anime fan, I suppose I’d be daydreaming about each and every one of them, fantasizing about their individual capabilities. Our heroine Kagari, after all, is purportedly the Witch of Flames. We’ve also already met Kuraishi Tanpopo, a girl with animal ears and the power to command an endless army of robot bunnies. So yeah, it’s not about realism; I’m not looking for that. It’s about… relatability.

I’m not even asking for one of the characters to be like me. That’s the usual spirit of relatability, after all. When the average person says, “Yeah, I can relate to her,” he or she usually means something along the lines of “That person is similar to me in some form or fashion. As a result, I can empathize with her.” But that’s not even the minimum requirement that I am looking for in Witch Craft Works. None of the characters in this anime are similar to me. That’s fine. I wouldn’t really want to switch places with any of them for even a minute anyway. But what I really mean about relatability in its simplest, most elementary form–you could say–is that… can I just have someone in this anime who resembles a human being?

Let’s start with the heroine Kagari. She’s supposedly rich; she gets her own private room at the school, after all. I’m told she’s smart, though I didn’t see any examples of it in this episode and I’m not even trying to be snarky about it. Hell, she’s probably great at sports too, I dunno. But these descriptors are rather impersonal. Being smart, being pretty, being athletic… these are qualities that might characterize a person, but it doesn’t really get to the core of who they are on the inside. And I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t see that core.

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All that I can tell is that Kagari’s stoic and odd. One has to be a little odd to ask a question like this: “You’re safe, so why are you so mad?” Within the context of the scene and what we’ve previously observed about Kagari, this is the sort of question that implies incompleteness in Kagari’s character. As if she’s robotic in a way, or a sentient being that is nevertheless underdeveloped emotionally.

For me, Kagari isn’t relatable. Maybe you guys can relate to her, but I can’t. I can’t imagine a person who is constantly surrounded by sycophants and doesn’t so much as react to them. I can’t imagine a person who, upon being impaled by a score of sharp blades, wonders why someone else might be concerned for her well-being in light of the security of his own well being. But of course, she’s the heroine. In anime, she has an obligation to be special, eroticized, placed upon a pedestal for all to admire. She has an obligation to be extraordinary. For that, one can forgive Kagari for not being quite human. She hasn’t been given the chance.

No, that’s the job of the everyday man. That’s Takamiya’s job, the self-proclaimed average high school student, mundane and featureless in every way. I can’t help but imagine that he’s the character I’m supposed to identify with. But like I’ve said above, that’s not what I’m even looking for. I’m not even looking for a blank slate to which I can project my wishes and fantasies onto. I’m just looking for a human character, but even Takamiya’s thought process is alien to my own.

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I guess my problem is that Takamiya asks the wrong questions. For instance, he wonders why someone like Kagari would even concern herself with a guy like him. But existential doubts of one’s self-worth aside, Takamiya isn’t quite “feature-rich” enough. Does it not seem strange that his classmates are so obsessed with Kagari that it seems like a mental sickness? Does he not wonder why people would even bully him for interacting with her? Does he not want to know why he’s simultaneously her master and her princess? Does he not wonder why he’s being attacked by killer robot bunnies? No, he does not wonder about any of these things.

Rather, his questions are of a different sort. Why is she saving me? Why is she walking next to me? Why does she want to have lunch with me? These are questions about one’s place in society, one’s place within the systemic hierarchal structure. But these are the same questions that Kagari’s mindless sycophants share, however, so it’s hard to distinguish Takamiya from the wailing girls other than that he has, presumably, a dick that Kagari is bound by a soon-to-be-revealed contract to revolve around.

Takamiya is special in his not-so-special sort of way: an average high school boy that our hime-sama dotes upon for reasons currently unknown. It is a fact which is apparently much to everyone else’s chagrin. And its his utter lacking of any sort of distinguishing feature that ultimately dehumanizes him. It would be all too human for Kagari to attach herself to him if he had any sort of talent or skill of note. If he even had a great personality, even. Perhaps it will be revealed that he is caring, funny, sensitive, heroic, whatever, but even if this is to be the case, the reality is that Takamiya has nothing to offer now. He’s just an object that the plot has designated as “valuable,” and thus Kagari finds herself bound to him.

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So I guess it’s natural, especially within the context of Japanese society, that Takamiya only concerns himself with the propriety of his “how-dare-he” existence adjacent to Kagari’s own existence. But while that’s depressing in a sort of way, it doesn’t make him relatable to me. He is alien to me.

And that’s my roundabout explanation for why this anime is so goddamn boring.

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16 thoughts on “Witch Craft Works Ep. 1: Alien”

  1. It’s not like the premise was particularly exciting or original. Just another typical harem show no one will remember.
    What are you writing about next? And which is the show you think has the most “potential”?

    1. I don’t plan out stuff to write at the beginning of a season. I just take a wait and see approach. I watched the pre-air and felt like saying something about it. Trust me, we’re not in a disagreement over the premise. I didn’t go in thinking it’d be good or anything. It was incredibly boring, and I just wanted to explain why I found it so boring.

  2. Your final line was the perfect punchline. Haven’t laughed out loud all day till then.

    Yeah, this seems like another anime that’s going to be playing it by the numbers. Magical girl saves/helps bland/anxious “Protag” (though these kinds of characters are rarely ever actual protagonists for a story) who in turn inadvertently teaches her about being human (in a cliched anime sense of “human”).
    Cue bento, blushing, bikini, contest, hot spring and shower scenes with the sexual tension of grade schoolers.
    I swear, if you knew Japanese and had even a bit of nepotism in your favor you could wring mega money out of the fanbases that adore this kind of formula.

    Well, there’s always “Pupa”. Trailer makes it look like it could be directed by David Lynch and the manga cover(s) shows off some really strange monster designs.

    1. I swear, if you knew Japanese and had even a bit of nepotism in your favor you could wring mega money out of the fanbases that adore this kind of formula.

      I remember reading somewhere that anything outside of the big shows don’t make or pay squat for money.

      Well, there’s always “Pupa”. Trailer makes it look like it could be directed by David Lynch and the manga cover(s) shows off some really strange monster designs.

      It looks interesting, but surreal, it’s probably not. But hey, I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

  3. I started reading this manga long time ago, (probably years ago)
    I dropped it very soon after, mainly because I didn’t like the way the author drew the breasts of the heroine, and the story wasn’t very interesting.

    I guess that another way to describe this relatability you mention has also something to do with empathy or maybe is just the same thing but using another word to describe it.

    From what we know of this characters there is nothing that makes you like or dislike them (dislike them in a positive way) I am saying this from what I remember from the manga because there is no way I’m putting myself through this boring anime.

    If you keep watching though, don’t expect any emotions from the main girl, I don’t think she ever had any, ever.

    Is a shame Space Dandy is not you cup of tea because that’s the only thing I am excited about.

  4. I actually think the “hime” character’s personality fits perfectly with her superpowers.

    Think about a stereotypical superhero.

    He’s dutiful. He’s stoic. He’s ultra-powerful. He’s used to shrugging off wounds that would kill a mortal man.

    Now, suppose this “hime” girl has been raised in a “superhero” mindset since she was a little child. She would have exactly the kind of personality she has shown – quite a bit out of touch from ordinary folks.

    But I didn’t find the show interesting. I doubt I will make time to watch it.

    1. But what is this emotionless superhero you speak of? Yes, they all shrug off wounds (part of the job description, I’m sure), but emotionless? I don’t know about that, friend. Superman isn’t emotionless. Batman isn’t emotionless. Spiderman isn’t emotionless. Would it be more appropriate to talk about Japanese superheroes? Goku isn’t emotionless either. So I’m not seeing it. Off the top of my head, I can think of Doctor Manhattan but he’s hardly stereotypical and his heroism is questionable.

      1. Superman is a tricky example because many different writers have worked on that character, so he’s not very consistent over the years.

        But some versions of Superman are emotionally “wooden” in the fashion I’m talking about.

        It’s not that the stereotypical superhero is totally devoid of affect, it’s that his virtues are so exaggerated that his emotions aren’t realistic. Doc Savage, for example, is always stalwart, brave, and defiant of evil, so he’s not devoid of all emotion, but he doesn’t have any meaningful emotional responses. He never changes. He never really reacts emotionally. No one ever really touches him.

        1. Well, in that case, perhaps you mean that the stereotypical superhero is emotionally secure. Maybe that’s true of Kagari, but I think a finer distinction can be made. She is practically robotic with regards to her emotional maturity. She isn’t just stalwart, she’s not even humanlike outside of her appearance. I’d be fine with her “hime” character if she was simply a bit wooden, but she’s not much of a character at the moment. She’s more like a prop to mother and titillate the main character and little more.

  5. i only watched for an obama reference thats it this show is very typical i’ve seen this formula over agian and the main protag is useless agian

  6. Well episode 6 has rolled around, everybody still watching now realizes every single one of their initial preconceptions from ep.1 were way, way off base (falciel; “it’s harem” lol).
    It now has the most new threads on 2ch, and it’s been the top seller in winter 2014 pre-orders for the last three weeks. And IMHO it’s both the surprise and best new show of the season.

    I’d like to make fun of all of you, but after watching episode one, I was in full agreement at the time. I’m so glad I didn’t drop it and continued to watch it.

    1. If I need to watch weeks of boring episodes before a show suddenly becomes good, I’ll happily pass. There’s more than enough stories out there to entertain myself with that I don’t need to put up with this bullshit “Heh, we were being dull on purpose to throw you off!” nonsense.

  7. My issue with Witch Craft Works was that by the time they bothered to give enough of an explanation for us to care about what was happening, most of the series was over and you already hated all the characters.

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