Review for Flying Witch Collection - Collector's Edition
Talk about lost in translation! In Western myth, witches are usually portrayed as wizened old crones, cackling over a cauldron, twisted and malicious. Broomsticks, wide-brimmed pointed hats, black cloaks and black cats have become synonymous with the imagery. And Japanese entertainment has taken this vision and somehow transformed it into the most wholesome bundle of cuteness there is. Admittedly I am swayed largely by Kiki’s Delivery Service, where a trainee witch goes on a journey to become independent, a rite of passage into adulthood. But the Ghibli film isn’t the only anime that goes for cute, adorable witchiness, wholesome or otherwise. Shows like Little Witch Academia, Witchcraft Works, The Familiar of Zero, Strike Witches, and MVM’s recent Iroduku all conform to the Japanese version of Western witches. And now MVM bring us Flying Witch, a show that more than most pays homage to Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Makoto Kowata is a teenage witch, which traditionally would mean that she’s ready to become independent, an adult, while she completes her training as a witch. But her parents aren’t traditional, and would much rather she finish high school first. So they’ve compromised, and sent her to her relatives in Aomori’s countryside, cousins Kei and Chinatsu. She’s come with her familiar, a cat named Chito, and she knows how to fly on a broomstick, but she still has a lot to learn about magic, all while she attends high school with Kei.
12 episodes of Flying Witch are presented across two Blu-rays from MVM in this Collector’s Edition release. I haven’t seen the packaging or the physical extras (6 art cards and a 112-page art booklet) to comment.
1. Experiencing Wonder for the First Time in Six Years
2. The Witch’s Visitor
3. Lessons in Gardening and Magic
4. The Fortune-Teller Among the Cherry Blossoms
5. How to Use Your Familiar
6. Suspect Snacks
7. Café Conclusio
8. The Call of the Regular Customer
9. Tomorrow’s Tomorrow is in the Present
10. Bad with Cooking and Bad with Bees
11. A Whale Flying in the Sky
12. Witches’ Robes and Days are as Varied as the Colors of the Rainbow
Flying Witch gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. It’s hard to really pick holes in Blu-ray transfers of recent anime. These shows have wholly digital production processes and the companies have figured out how to put them on disc with as little fussing about as possible. We’re at the fine edge of things here, where the videophile might be talking about episode count and disc compression, but the average fan will be satisfied with the way these episodes look, with a clear, sharp, and colourful image, and a minimum of visible compression, aliasing or the like. Even digital banding is rare on this release, a bright, colourful, slice of life show. The animation is smooth and detailed, the character designs are appealing and memorable, while the USP of the show’s look are the rural settings. Flying Witch is a good looking, if mainstream show, and there aren’t too many surprises here in terms of its animation style.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with English subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. I was happy with the Japanese audio, and it was presented without issue. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos. The actors are suited well to their roles, and the show gets some nice incidental music, as well as a catchy opening theme and a mellow closing theme.
The discs boot to static menus and each episode is followed by translated English credits. You’ll find the following extras on disc 2.
Japanese Commercials x2 (0:34)
Japanese Promos x2 (3:09)
Of most interest will be the Flying Witch Petit shorts. There are 8 on the disc running to 2:07 each, 17 minutes worth in total. The SD versions of the characters get more moments in the limelight.
I know that it’s no-one’s fault when release schedules line up this way. It’s really a matter of coincidental timing that MVM release three thematically related shows in a row. I say thematically related, but really Flying Witch occupies the intersection of a genre Venn diagram. Non Non Biyori epitomised the rural slice of life genre, while Iroduku is an example of magical girls that leans more to the side of witchcraft. Combining both these traits, we get Flying Witch, a rural slice of witchy life. Unfortunately Venn diagrams intersections are no guarantee of quality. Flying Witch, entertaining though it is, is the weakest of the three shows.
Really, the only criticism I can have for the show is a lack of drama. You don’t generally expect drama in these slice-of-life genre shows. They’re usually about people living their best lives, having fun interacting, and generally revelling in their environments. But even the most innocuous of slice-of-life will have some kind of motive to the plot, some kind of impetus to propel a joke towards a punchline, or give an episode some narrative momentum, that will hold the attention. Flying Witch has very little of that. It is the epitome of the ‘iyashikei’ genre of anime, the kind of show that heals its audience over its runtime (see Aria the Animation from MVM for the true archetype though). The thing about these shows is that it’s better to watch them during daylight hours, fortified by coffee, as taken at the wrong time, they can heal you into dreamland.
Makoto moves to the country to complete her training as a witch, while attending high school. She moves in with her cousins, Kei and Chinatsu, and their parents. While she makes a big impression flying on a broom, she’s not too accomplished with magic, and magic is less of a focus for her than living with her relatives and fitting into the rural community. Witches are supposed to keep their calling secret, but it’s a small village that actually has no little experience with the supernatural. Makoto really brings the idea of magic to her cousins, and it’s through the people and beings they encounter that the wonder comes. It isn’t long before Makoto’s big sister Akane becomes a regular visitor, and they also meet a fortune-telling witch named Inukai, who has been a little cursed since she last told Akane’s fortune.
There is a magical cafe to discover, run by a witch, her daughter and an invisible ghost, and with the oddest customers, visits from seasonal embodiments, and spectral postmen, and a flying whale with a ruined temple on its back. There is a lot of magic to the show. But what sticks in the mind are the more mundane aspects of life in the country. Kei’s father is a farmer (with a dialect so strong that Makoto thinks he speaks French) and it isn’t long before Makoto is puttering about in her own garden, fascinated at first by the idea of growing magical ingredients, but also regular food too. There’s also that aspect of life in the country, foraging for wild fruit and veg that make more than one appearance in the stories. There are cherry blossoms to enjoy, festivals to partake of, and a whole lot of rural life to be lived.
Of course witches have their familiars, and Makoto’s hyper-intelligent cat Chito plays a big part in the stories, if only through attitude alone. Chinatsu doesn’t trust the cat at first, which leads to the episode where she follows the cat about the village, and gets pulled into an adventure. Eventually Chinatsu decides that she wants to be a witch too when she grows up, and so we get another, even more naive perspective on magic, as she becomes Akane’s apprentice.
Watching Flying Witch is like being washed over by a wave, impactful and refreshing while it happens, but when it’s all done with, it’s like nothing remains of the experience. I think it’s because I really didn’t get the characters when all was said and done. They were either thin embodiments of quirks, or ephemeral and generic. Flying Witch is a good, very well made show, but it’s just not memorable. The Blu-ray presentation is as you expect at this point.
Flying Witch can be had from MVM’s web-store Anime on Line, from United Publications, Anime Limited, and mainstream retailers.