To be honest, I’m pretty much of the opinion that if I never see another “He was a normal high school boy living a normal life until she showed up…” anime it’ll be too soon for me. It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to say it’s nearly impossible to find any new ground here, and that the anime landscape is cluttered with dozens (or hundreds) of these shows from recent years which range from mediocre to putrid. But Mizushima Tsutomu is the director here, and he’s a good one, especially with comedy – Shinryaku Ika Musume, Jungle wa Itsumo Haru nochu Guu, Oofuri, among others. Of course there’s also the last two episodes of Another and all of Blood-C – though Mizushima effectively said he was forced to do what CLAMP told him to do there.
In any event, Mizushima is the reason I’m giving this show a chance, and at least it’s a manga and not a LN adaptation. I think the premiere is pretty indicative of what happens when you take a tired premise and put it in the hands of a stylish director – it’s somewhat more entertaining than you expect it to be. But if there’s anything in the source material to allow Witch Craft Works to escape its prison of a plot, it’s not too apparent in the premiere.
The aforementioned normal high school boy is Takamiya Honoka (Kobayashi Yuusuke, in his first major anime role) and the girl is Kagari Ayaka (Seto Asami, playing against type). If there’s anything remotely original in the setup it’s the degree to which the trope is stretched – Takamiya is a complete schlub, utterly bland and unexceptional, and Takamiya is a badass witch. Not only that she towers over Takamiya, calls him her “Princess” (which is what the rest of the school calls her), carries him in her arms like a baby and ties his necktie like the bow on the girls’ uniform. We may be in parody territory here, though whether it’ll be effective comedically in the long term it’s too soon to say. The norm is so absurd in these types of shows that parody seems almost pointless – like hentai doujins of To Love-ru.
The premiere is pretty fun, in a throwaway fashion. The parts that aren’t bad CGI are pretty nicely animated, the character designs don’t look too cookie cutter and Mizushima keeps things moving along pretty briskly with falling buildings and armies of arcane robot bunnies with axes and sledgehammers. The comic timing, as you’d expect, is very good – the rhythm of the dialogue is better than the words themselves. As for the plot, it involves Kagari being the “Witch of Flames” and the fact that she must eternally protect Takamiya (naturally) – initially from a rather bumbling rival witch named Kuriashi Tanpopo (Izawa Shiori) who ends up transferring into Takamiya’s school with a bunch of her allies after her attempt on his life is foiled by Kagari.
Apart from the extreme gender roles most of the humor in the first ep is derived from the reactions of the students in Kagari’s fan club to her association with Takamiya, which follows 100% predictable lines. In fact there’s way too much that’s predictable here, on the whole. As much as Mizushima-sensei’s impact on the show itself, the draw here for me is curiosity as to what drew him to the material in the first place. So far, I don’t see it – but this was certainly not a bad premiere, so I’ll give it another week or two and see where it goes. On the plus side, the ED is quite catchy and the animation is probably the funniest thing in the episode – though given that it depicts Tanpopo and her cohorts being tortured Salem fashion, it’s certainly tasteless.