Izetta: The Fairy Tale That 2016 Slept On | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Izetta: The Last Witch,” animated by Ajia-do Animation Works, directed by Masaya Fujimori, and based on the original story by Hiroyuki Yoshino. 

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Die Letzte Hexe: The Last Witch

Back during the ages of old, a witch with pristine white hair wielded her powerful magic to protect her country of Elystadt, defending its people until her last dying breath. Years later in 1939, militaristic giant Germania invades a neighboring country, plunging Europe into a devastating war. Boasting far superior technological prowess in this industrial era, Germania sets her sights on Elystadt, a significantly weaker alpine country in the way of Germania’s great conquest.

To make matters worse for the tiny country, Germanian soldiers capture their princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, as she is heading to a decisive meeting with Britannia. When trouble aboard the transport plane breaks loose, another piece of precious cargo, Izetta, the last witch alive, escapes. Recognizing Princess Finé from a childhood memory, Izetta transforms a soldier’s rifle into a flying “broomstick” and rescues Finé.

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Now reunited with her princess, Izetta pledges to protect Elystadt from the clutches of Germania—just as the White Witch of legend once did—and with the last surviving witch on their arsenal, Elystadt hopes to turn the tides against the imperialist war titan.

Original projects excite me. There’s nothing more freeing than hearing a studio trying to bring together a story from the their own combined passions, and then seeing the results. Izetta was no exception. While underwhelming in its finale, Izetta provides a magical spin on a historical setting where a world war is fought . . . by a witch.

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What if a World War had a Witch?

Izetta is a bumbling little mess of emotions and crimson hair. She’s kind and overly humble, but often disregards her own well-being for the object of her affection: Princess Finé. Speaking of, our Princess of Elystadt herself is quite the noble woman. Just as Izetta, she’s loyal to her countrymen and responsible to a T. Respect is another quality that runs deep in the Elystadt family’s lineage (or at least the legend has us believe), but trust me when I say that Finé is the genuine article.

The two are a power duo, and many of my favorite scenes don’t revolve around the engaging combat, but rather the quiet nighttime conversations that are exclusive to the pair. Although they act selfishly so as to preserve the others’ safety, Izetta and Finé are undeniably a cool couple bound together by lore and destiny.

Aside from Izetta, Finé, and a young Germanian spy boy named Ricelt, none of the characters’ motives felt resolved, however. If this were an adaptation of a larger work, then I could understand why some details might’ve gotten left out. But Izetta is an original story with an entirely original cast, and to have interesting characters that serve little more purpose than to act as mere decorative pawns is a crime. If one character’s role can be performed by a separate entity and the story pans out the same way, then that’s a sign you should probably rethink your character count.

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Banking on Design: The Art of Izetta

Ajia-do isn’t a studio known for producing the most outstanding works (the most noteworthy to me being Emma: A Victorian Romance‘s second season), but they definitely did Izetta justice. The magical dogfights featuring Izetta flexing her powers are super fun to watch, as she enchants a variety of guns, swords, and missiles to fly by her side and “aid” her. All of the CG armaments gliding around the battlefield are well animated, and the background villages, landscapes, ballrooms, and regal offices are splendidly colored.

Speaking of colors, the character designs are surprisingly detailed and ornate, especially Ortfiné’s. BUNBUN’s light novel-esque character designs mirror the quality of Abec’s works of Sword Art Online fame. The hauntingly gorgeous ED theme “Hikari Aru Basho e” by May’n features the beautiful original artwork in an elegant slideshow fashion. As for the rest of the music, Michiru delivers wonderful militaristic anthems for on and off the battlefield. Overall, the soundtrack supports both the dramatic and the more lax moments of the series fairly well.

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For dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered with another high quality English script. Mallorie Rodak brings a nobility to Princess Finé that is very reminiscent of her lovely work as Space Battleship Yamato‘s Yuki Mori. Derick Snow’s young boy voice for the soldier-spy Ricelt was, wow, perfect, and Jad Saxton’s Sophie makes for a wicked antagonist, even if I dislike the character. I found Skylar McIntosh’s Izetta to be the weakest performance here, but even then I grew to enjoy her natural naivete that fits so well with the role.

The End of Magic and Fantasy

Amidst the hype of the incredible fall 2016 anime season (which included Drifters, Bungou Stray Dogs‘ 2nd Season, Haikyuu!!’s 3rd Season, and the phenomenon that was Yuri!!! On ICE to name a few), Izetta slipped by the radar fairly undetected. Its flashy moniker and simple yet exciting world-wars-meets-magic premise was pretty well received by fans that somehow didn’t have enough that season to chew on, although few stuck around for very long. (Don’t worry Izetta, I made time for you back then.)

After the first stunning and smart six episodes, the promises and high stakes let on by this thrilling first half see a weak follow-up (and even weaker conclusion) come the end of the story. The introduction of a villain, aside from the uninteresting Germanian emperor, in the latter half serves more thematic purpose than anything else. That is to say, the addition of an actual antagonist to directly oppose our titular witch doesn’t make this story of war any more exciting.

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Prior to this reveal, the series was building up to one big narrative conclusion: that war is bad. It’s not novel, but it certainly fits. Seeing as how there are radicals, spies, and heavy losses on both sides of the border, I would’ve been quite satisfied if Izetta had held a more neutral position.

But then they go ahead and say, “Aha, this new villain is TRULY evil,” and any hopes of an appeal to the enemy side are lost in the muddy trenches. Maybe that kind of story works for you, but I just wasn’t a fan of the big baddie because it didn’t feel like the finale Izetta was building up towards. As an original tale, you could’ve gone anywhere . . . and this is what you decided on? At least Izetta looked great soaring high in the sky on that rifle of hers—I’ll certainly miss our little witch and her magic, even if just for that.

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I, for one, am glad we saw the magic. It may not seem like much, but I think the fairy tale of the White Witch who appeared in modern times left something good inside the hearts of people all over the world. — Izetta, the last witch


Afterword

It’s been three years in the making, and it took receiving a physical copy of the Izetta Blu-ray as a gift from my brother to finally make the time for a rewatch and give this series a proper review. Even if I was disappointed with parts of the ending, the final sentiment of leaving magic behind and looking towards the future will always bring a tear to my eyes. More than not, I’m so happy this project became realized by the production team behind it—it’s a noble little piece, and an achievement in my eyes. Izetta: The Last Witch receives the “Coffee” rating, a title that you, eh, might enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend like crazy.

Were you one of the few who stuck around to see the end of the magic, or did you bail out of the plane halfway like Finé did in episode one? Let me know, because literally no one talks about this series! Really, the show is kinda dumb, but it’s fun popcorn material if you just want to turn your brain off. On another note, I’m in the reviewing mood, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more before the inspiration passes! So, until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Eros and Agape: Behind the Lovely Ice-skating Veils | Cafe Talk

A light analysis and comparison of, in regards to love, Eros and Agape, and how they are represented in the fall 2016 anime Yuri!!! On ICE (eps. 1-4).

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The struggle to find love, either in others, oneself, or both, remains one of life’s greatest conquests. When world-junior-class figure skaters Yuri Katsuki and Yuri Plisetsky faced-off against each other in a competition for the gorgeous and professional Viktor Nikiforov’s coaching attention, the two took on opposite personas assigned by Viktor himself: Eros and Agape. But what lies beyond the romantic nicknames, and how do these titles represent each skater on more than simply a physical level? Welcome to “Cafe Talk!”

“Love,”a How-To by the Greeks and Christians 

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There exist arguably six different interpretations of what exactly “love” translates into from original Greek texts (geez, leave it to those Greco-Romans to complicate matters). The four listed above are the famous ones, and all but Eros (the smexy one) can be found somewhere in the Christian Bible. We will only be looking at the two that matter under Yuri‘s light: the red and the blue, opposites in every way. We’ll also sort this out in performance order.

“On Love: Agape” – Yuri Plisetsky, a Lover Deflowered by Cold Submission 

Our Russian punk Yurio wasn’t too pleased when he was denounced “the unconditional lover.” The show translates agape love as follows: “God’s infinite love is self-sacrificing and uncalculating.” That’s actually a pretty good first impression.

Agape love mirrors the sacrificial giving of God to humanity. Graceful, unselfish, unbiased, and possibly unknowing to or of love. Agape lovers give freely and seek nothing. It still functions as active love, but it remains “spontaneous and unmotivated.” In other words, agape lovers seek love by giving in return. They’re typically submissive as well, and value the worth of love above all else. Nygren (see works cited) depicts their value as such: “Those who are loved become worthy because they are loved.”

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Since Yurio hardly embodies any of the agape traits, perhaps they represent aspects he is deprived up. He knows neither of innocent love nor of self-sacrifice, demonstrating only that he is passionate and fierce, hence his epithet the “Russian Punk.” While it’s amusing for us fans to watch his battle against the unselfish, Yurio truly is an unappreciated boy by his Russian coach(es). They respond to success, technique, and poise, not to sympathy and affection. By assigning the Agape costume to Yurio, Viktor has given him everything he could have wished for — to be loved unconditionally and embraced with care. Yurio, if only for a brief moment in the rink, became a lover deflowered by submission.

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But you have to be devoted to the agape all the way . . . That is why Viktor picks Yuri.

And this piece, oooh, this heavenly chamber voice overflows with an innocent, perfect love! Can you feel “someone who doesn’t know what love is yet?”

“On Love: Eros” – Yuri Katsuki, a Lover Instilled with Fiery Passion

Our home-team Pork Cutlet was left stuttering “It’s enough to make even me, a man, pregnant! Such eros!” when the fabulous Viktor crowned him “the sexual lover.” The anime depicts eros love as follows: “Pleasure followed by pleasure. One just drowns in it.” This, too, hits the mark of a passionate lover.

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In stark contrast to the tender and giving apage love, eros love is not found in the Bible’s purity, tracing origins more closely to Greco-Roman antiquity. Nygren notices a sharp reflection of love “to Plato and to Plato’s heirs and followers.” Plato treated love as two different forms of the same “eros,” one being vulgar and the other “heavenly.” Yuri interprets this more on the raunchy side as a vigorous, demanding, and sexual love. It is seeking pleasure for oneself, not necessarily for others (though that is a plus, *wink wink*).

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The differences between Yuri and this controlling love honestly mirrors his relationship with others. Unlike Yurio, Yuri follows the orders of his friends and coaches, causing him to have weaker self-esteem and a poor sense of leadership in the art of skating. He doesn’t want to disappoint others, which is why Yuri lets his coach pick out an earlier song to skate to when he notices the coach’s lack of care for the tune a friend of his created.

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Yuri also tends to hide behind his appearance: longer bangs and glasses, both which shield the face. Just as how Yurio performs at the skate-off with a surprising sense of calm and devotion, our Pork Cutlet slicks back his hair, tosses aside the glasses, and makes passionate love with his footwork on the ice. Viktor has given him bold confidence and sexiness with the eros title, and to that, Yuri expends this energy in his fiery tango.

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And this one, ooh la la, the snappy guitar and sassy violin shine with passion!  To see him take the persona a step forward and declare himself the most beautiful woman seducing the playboy goes to show how much Viktor’s teaching has truly given him.

“On Love: Eros and Agape” – A Tale of Two Lovers

Neither of the boys have given love much thought, which is why the episode carries so much emotional weight in the grand scheme. Episode three (if it wasn’t apparent from the start) firmly presents us with the case of two lovers in search of filling the holes that occupy their minds and hearts. One desired confidence, the other pursued innocence. If I had my wish, Viktor would be teaching them both. But alas, the competition must go on and tear our lovers apart! If Twitter’s given us its two cents on the subject, it’s “Get a man who can do both.”

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“You have to do the opposite of what people expect. How else will you surprise them?” – Viktor Nikiforov, the perfect blend of power and grace

Yuri!!! On ICE claims a hot spot (oh the irony) as one of fall 2016’s bests, and I wholeheartedly agree! Catch it streaming over on Crunchyroll.com for FREE, or check out FUNimation Entertainment’s rockin’ English dub (complete with Russian accents), though you must be a subscriber to access the dub. And where would we be without the incredible music to accompany the performances? Fantastic, I say!

For our “Cafe Talk” conversation down in the comments, I ask, “What do you align with more – are you an Eros or an Agape Lover?” Also, “Who do you feel won the skate-off?” I wish I was more of a “go get ’em guy,” but I digress with my agape language. For the match, my eyes yearned for Yurio, but my heart and body told me Yuri. Let me know, and hey, glide over to that “like” button for more content like this, or the”follow” to keep up with me (OR BOTH)! Don’t forget to share with the other Yuri!!! On ICE fans! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Intrigued by the topic? Here are the works I used compile this post:

Crunchyroll – Yuri!!! On ICE

The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)

Agape and Eros Summary – Anders Nygren

The Four Kinds of Love – Greek Agape, Phileo, Storge, Eros, 3 are in the Bible

The More Excellent Way, Four Greek Words for Love: Agape, Phileo, Storge, Eros

EDM Difference between Eros and Agape