First Impressions: Witch Craft Works, Mushishi Zoku Shou, Hitsugi no Chaika

Seed week rolls on with three shows starring robotic rabbits, mysterious mushi, and saboteur siblings – but mostly that second thing.

Witch Craft Works 1

Witch Craft Works

This show is so, so dumb. Its cookie-cutter introduction starts with a loser main character who introduces himself as a “completely ordinary high school student” living out what he thinks is “another typical day.” What foreshadowing! Our super-popular female lead, whose breasts are roughly the size of her own head, develops a sudden attachment to this idiot, which confuses her adoring classmates, then causes them to beat him up. Worst of all, Witch Craft Works establishes mood by having characters think things like, “This is weird. I’m actually mad,” to themselves. On its face, this is not a very promising series, but there are two reasons why I’m actually looking forward to the next episode.

The first is the power dynamic between the two leads. Ayaka is a highly skilled witch who specializes in, and is apparently made of, fire. She defeats wave after wave of robot bunnies (pictured above, but more on them in a moment) in two beautifully animated action sequences, all without breaking a sweat. She also claims that it’s her mission to protect our loser lead Honoka, who she refers to as her “princess,” and who is so cowed by the threat of physical violence that he audibly whimpers not once, but twice during the premiere. Ayaka is a full head taller and many times stronger than her charge, which turns anime’s predilection for powerful male leads and helpless female love interests on its head. Honoka can be seen attempting to ride a broom in the OP, so my hope is that she will not only protect him, but also serve as his mentor in the magical arts, giving both of their characters a nice arc to follow.

The other reason(s) I’m itching to watch the next episode are the robot bunnies that I mentioned above. Simply put, they are the breakout characters of this first episode. Their CG animation blended very nicely with the show’s hand-drawn backgrounds and characters, especially during the fight scenes, which blew Gatchaman Crowds and Tokyo ESP out of the water. And although they exist to do the bidding of another witch, the rabbits have a ton of personality, much like the minions from Despicable Me. They communicate through a flurry of squeals and squeaks, get into fistfights with each other, and create their own fun by jumping and sliding from high places whenever a spare moment arises. Hopefully these bunnies will become a permanent fixture of the show, because they may be what Witch Craft Works needs to advance past the early rounds of this tournament.

Seeding estimate: Middle of the pack

mushishi 1-5

Mushishi Zoku Shou

Oh, how woefully unqualified I feel to write about a new season of Mushishi, or any episode of Mushishi for that matter. This is an anime so visually pleasing, so thematically sound, and so emotionally resonant that it nearly defies belief. This series, and this episode, reach levels of artistry which few other anime in history can claim to match. If you don’t love Mushishi, you probably won’t be happy with the results of this tournament, as it’s nearly guaranteed to place in the top 4 and could easily win the whole thing. This has been your Mushishi trigger warning for the day.

Of all the expectations I had for a second season of one of the all-time great anime, finding an intro song more appropriate than “The Sore Feet Song” by Ally Kerr was one of the steepest. That song’s gentle harmonies and chiming acoustic guitars were such a sublime match for Mushishi’s meditations on humanity, nature and family that I thought surely they would just recycle it, but I’ll be damned if “Shiver” by Lucy Rose isn’t an equally fitting companion. The soft piano chords and sparingly-plucked electric guitar, along with Lucy’s hushed vocal delivery, come together in an OP so fragile and so ethereal that I’m a little choked up just trying to describe it. And the visuals, with footage of slowly-moving rivers, light filtering through tree branches, and cherry blossoms carried by the wind all fading into each other, were a wonderful accompaniment.

Briefly, then, since I’ve spent so much time talking about the first two minutes, let me talk about what makes Mushishi such a treat on a narrative level. This episode, despite functioning as a fine introduction to the setting and the concept of mushi, was really the story of a father and son. The son, Rokusuke, works for a brewery, and has been desperately trying to produce the golden sake about which his father, himself a master brewer, used to rave. Eventually he succeeds, and after finishing his work for the day, the son begins to scale the mountain path to his home, gourd of sake in hand, eager for his father to taste it.

Already there are stakes. At the first sign of trouble on the mountain path, Mushishi has its hooks in us. But there are no hundred decibel orchestras or screaming teenagers here to jack up our level of investment by artificial means. We simply desire that Rokusuke receive from his father the same praise that each of us, as children, wanted from our parent or parents. When he stumbles upon the gathering of mushishi in the middle of the forest and his supply of sake slowly begins to dwindle, we pray that he doesn’t run out. When one particularly thrifty mushishi attempts to trade an ordinary cup for some of his golden sake, Rokusuke takes the deal, because even though he knows the cup is nearly worthless, it reminds him of a cup his father once had. When he learns that his sake causes people to see mushi and can never be sold to the public, we share in his feeling of defeat.

In the end, the father does not taste his son’s special brew, but he does receive the cup for which Rokusuke bartered, and it reminds him of the ceremony he once took part in – a memory he now shares with his son. The golden sake is set aside, and mushishi in need of its unique properties come to buy it from time to time, affirming the son’s skill as a brewer. Rokusuke redoubles his efforts to create the perfect sake, now motivated not just by a craving for his father’s approval, but to produce the best product he can for the job’s own sake. By their shared experience, he has already been brought closer to his father, which was the thing he wanted all along.

There are 18 shows left for me to sample before this first week comes to a close, but I can hardly imagine that any of them will come out of the gate stronger than this. It gives me great joy to be watching new episodes of Mushishi again.

Seeding estimate: #1

hitsugi no chaika

Hitsugi no Chaika

After finding so much to say about Witch Craft Works and Mushishi, my first impressions of Chaika: The Coffin Princess will be short. I found a lot to love in the character of Chaika herself, a young girl who dresses like a maid, speaks exclusively in sentence fragments, and hides a magical sniper rifle in a coffin that she keeps with her at all times. The brother and sister mercenary duo who she hires are far less interesting, however, one being a lazy slacker with a complaining streak a mile wide, the other an abusive nag who harbors romantic feelings for her brother. Fifty bucks says one was adopted, or they’re not even siblings in the loosest sense of the word.

The character designs, Chaika aside, offer nothing to catch the eye (unless cleavage counts), and the art and animation are only passable, which is a major disappointment given that this is a BONES series. As for the plot, it’s a mishmash of fantasy, politics, and military history that doesn’t carry much weight, given how little reason there is to care about the characters feeding it to us. Honestly, if this episode had been a solid 22 minutes of Chaika standing in front of a chalkboard and laying out this series’ unnecessarily complicated backstory, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Still, the opening scene suggests that Chaika was sent to this universe from a different time or dimension, which has me at least slightly interested in where the story is headed.

Seeding estimate: Bottom 25%


NEXT UP: Knights of Sidonia, Sabagebu!, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

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