This Week in Anime - Bleach the Witch

3 months ago 59

Tite Kubo is back in a big way with the anime adaptation of his newest manga, Burn The Witch. Dragons wreck havoc, burninating across the English countryside. Mankind's only hope are the witches of Reverse London who handle dragon threats. Ninny and Noel are two such witches who seek to manage dragons before they get out of control.

This movie is streaming on Crunchyroll

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Steve it's finally October, and my inner goth has been waiting to let loose with a month-long witching hour. Unfortunately the rest of this year has conspired to damper the fun of Halloween, so we'll need to get spooky in new, virtual ways. And what better way than to start off than a witchy new anime?

I'm of course talking about Wandering Witch, the best new show of the season. And nothing else.

It's definitely the only Fall premiere about witches! Can't find any other witches around here, no sir. I mean, it's not like they would've dropped an entire other show with "witch" in the title. That would be in such poor taste. Anyway, without further ado, let's dig into Wandering Wi—

Wait, who put that there.

I mean, knowing Tite Kubo's storytelling it was probably Aizen the whole time.

Nick, before we continue this column, you're going to have to understand that I am 6 or 60 years old and I have no idea what Bleach is outside of a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite.

Well I'll fill you in real quick: Bleach was a Shonen Jump manga that was really good for a while, then got less good, then turned to crap, and then proceeded to run itself into the ground for about five years of publication before being put out of our misery. And now four years later we've gotten a new mini-series from the mind behind it, complete with an animated film adaptation courtesy of Studio Colorido.

Well at least now I feel a little less bad about not giving it the ol' One Piece "oh I guess I'll just read 150 chapters of this to prepare for this assignment" treatment. Also, "film" is putting it a little generously. I know that's what they're calling it, but really it functions like three normal-length episodes strung together. And, in fact, that's how it's been released on Crunchyroll.

It's anime, anything gets to be called a film if it runs in a theater for 10 minutes, ok? Whatever you want to call it, it's Burn The Witch for good and for ill.

And despite the criminal lack of big floppy hats, it does indeed have witches.

Well, if your definition of "Witch" is a girl that performs magic, then yes technically. Dragon Tamers seems like a better fit but hey, they're witchier than Strike Witches so sure.

True, it's about as loose with the definition of "witches" as it is with "film," but they fly, they're girls, and they're vaguely British, so witches it is. Although "Reverse British" would probably be more accurate.

As a Bleach survivor let me warn you now: do not question Kubo worldbuilding. That way lies madness. There's a reason this image makes me incredibly irritated and you're better off not understanding.

I'm already pretty ???? on the worldbuilding contained within this series alone, so I will certainly heed your advice there. In abstract, though, it's pretty straightforward. There's a magic parallel London where dragons are real and known to wreck shit, so the organization Wing Bind trains witches (and wizards, presumably) to deal with these large flying menaces. Also the dragons apparently cause disasters in normal London somehow, but I don't think we have to get into the specifics of that.

Honestly I'm surprised that number isn't higher.

Even that explanation raises several questions this series does not have the time or inclination to answer, but you don't come to a Tite Kubo series for logical magic systems or coherent fictional history. You come here for the character designs and maybe the fights.

Yeah I gotta say, if I were grading this anime on the strength of the above first line of text/first image combination, it gets a fashionably edgy A+. And I do like our two leads, both on the design front and due to the very vocal contempt they have for each other.

Noel and Ninny are probably the strongest characters in this thing, if only because they've got a rapport that's consistent throughout. And they certainly look nice, even if I think Noel just seems like Byakuya Kuchiki with big tiddies.

I sure do know exactly what you're talking about, ha ha haaaaaa. Bleach reference. Burn The Witch also has some other notable fixations. It's still somehow not the premiere with the highest degree of thigh fascination this season, but it's certainly in the running.

I know these witches ride dragons instead of brooms but that's gotta chafe, right?

Almost certainly. I mean, look at how fuzzy some of these dragons are.

Yes that is a dragon, shut up. I didn't make this show.

Listen it makes sense if you read the original manga one-shot. That also explains this dude's whole deal and why anyone bothers to care about him:

Oh, good for the one-shot. Because here I watched 60 minutes of this anime and came away with zero redeeming qualities—or any qualities at all, for that matter—for this dude.

So on the one hand, this version doesn't include the 20 pages where his only lines are yelling about wanting to see Noel's "knickers" On the other, that also removes any defining characteristics for Balgo. You could replace him with the dog and nothing would change.

He seems to be there for comic relief I guess? You know, one of those comic relief characters who isn't funny in the slightest? The fact that he's apparently a plot lynchpin is salt in the wound, because honestly, removing him and devoting more time to Noel and Ninny would've been in everybody's best interests imo.

That's kind of BTW's central weakness. Because it winds up being a "season 1," it has to split time between its actual plot, introducing dozen or more characters, explaining the pertinent history and magic system, AND is constantly seeding stuff that'll presumably pay off in later installments. The result is 60 minutes of stuff happening where it's impossible to tell what is or isn't meaningful.

Nevertheless, there's still some cool stuff sprinkled throughout. Like, apparently any unsanctioned physical contact with dragons is not only verboten, but punishable by death. One could just fly into your face out of nowhere and you'd be immediately arrested through no fault of your own. We're not given the reason for that, but that's kinda intriguing! I also appreciate that Burn The Witch comes up with the absolute horniest way to test for dragon particles.

Everyone knows dragonitis is stored in the tongue, Steve. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Right, and you have to kneel in front of the woman administering the test because that naturally concentrates the drake molecules in your saliva, got it.

It's just how it works sometimes. Don't question it. The same way I don't question how to pronounce half the names in this thing:

Oh yeah, there's a whole round table of Important Characters™ for Kubo to flex both his names and his fonts with.

They're, uh, not all as whimsical as Tronbone Takkinen, unfortunately.

Unfortunately Kubo seems to still be taken with that whole...thing after the Alphabet Nazis in Bleach's final arc. At least Sullivan Squire is easier to parse than NaNaNa Najahkoop or Pernida Parnkgjas. Thankfully the only one of these bigwigs who does literally anything in this movie is the wonderful BRUNO BANGNYFE

Bruno is like the opposite of Balgo, in that I know exactly why he's here, and it's so he can get horned up beyond belief in fanworks. And for that, I thank Kubo.

He's also a responsible mask wearer! Good to have a role model for all the kids out there.

I mean if we've gotta have a dude in this show, I'll gladly take this absolute chad of a himbo.

Extremely good vibes. He also does the coolest thing in this entire first installment, and uses spray paint to draw his magic circles.

It's the dumbest, coolest thing in this whole urban fantasy jambalaya, and I wish we got to see more graffiti magic in action. Especially brought to life by Colorido's impeccable color work. LOOK AT THIS SHIT:

Oh yeah, source material weaknesses aside, Colorido live up to their name and deliver a really fun and colorful adaptation. Burn The Witch could have easily felt middling, but they pour a lot of life into the the characters and the action scenes.

Honestly the anime is easily the superior version here. Not only does color, music, and movement bring this world to life way better than the manga, it also paces out story beats a lot better, actually getting some fruit to grow out of the seeds the original just leaves to struggle. Hell I actually cared about Macy this time!

I wouldn't quite say I cared about her, but I do sympathize with the desire to have a big freaky bird dragon to hang out with and maybe do some crimes together.

She has the only thing approaching a character arc in this whole story, and even if it's underdeveloped I at least had something to attach to with this disaster lesbian.

Good point. Ninny is a loud unrepentant gremlin, so I do sympathize with Macy here as well.

More to the point, Macy's desire to be "special" and clinging onto her new pet dragon as a way to feel important is the most human motivation I've seen from a Kubo character since 2009. It's not perfect, but it gives the film an emotional core to scratch at inbetween the exposition and fight scenes.

And again, it's something Colorido latches onto and depicts artfully. Not that letterboxing a flashback automatically makes it "artful," but you can tell that they cared about the human element as much as they cared about making Elly look like a badass dragon queen.

Ah yes, the big reveal that Elly is actually...CINDERelly, because Fairy Tales is the motif of this "season" I guess. It certainly shows up in the background a lot anyway:

Yeah, whether it's going to end up thematically important or just function as usefully familiar set dressing, who can say. By and large, though, I do like the dragon designs. As regal as Elly's final form is, it's going to be hard to top the first episode's goofy Blue Eyes White Dragon turning into an undead eldritch monstrosity.

I love this googly eyed zombie doofus.

Also, can't be overstated: watch the anime version first. It brings this whole world to life in ways the comics just can't.

And speaking as someone who has only seen the anime, I don't feel enough attachment to want to seek out the manga anyway. But if we end up getting a cool-looking hour-long film out of it on a semi-regular basis, I'm pretty content with what Burn The Witch is doing.

As either a standalone work it's too cluttered and as a pilot for a series it doesn't inspire me to seek out more, but there are flashes of what drew me to early Bleach in here that make me hopeful Kubo can figure something out with this new venture.

When/if we get a part 2, though, it really needs to add an OP. And, specifically, it needs to add this song as an OP. I don't know why it isn't the OP already. What are they even doing?

I'll just be happy if they kill off the pervert dog, personally.

Look, I'll be happy as long as nothing even resembling this happens again.

I already said it on Twitter, but I genuinely thought this was a shitpost someone made up before I found out it was Kubo being as insufferable as humanly possible.

Oh believe me my least favorite part of this entire franchise is that it feels the need to contort itself into being a part of the Bleach Cinematic Universe. Just let this be its own thing instead of making cheeky/pointless reference to your old work, dude.

Please, sir, let these witches fly free.

I'll acknowledge I am outnumbered there. I'm sure my @'s are about to be filled with Bleach stans ready to correct me, but I genuinely want BTW to be better than just a messy footnote in its older brother series' story, y'know?

The only "bleach" I need is in a can underneath my kitchen sink, thank you very much.

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