Izetta: The Last Witch
Izetta takes place during World War II in an alternate universe. Elystadt, a small country, is besieged by the Germanian Empire, a force seeking to dominate the entire world. Outgunned, outnumbered, and lacking in allies, things look bleak for Elystadt until Princess Ortfine encounters Izetta, a young witch who she had met and saved in her past. Izetta rescues Ortfine and then pledges to help her free her country, but will the witch's power be enough to stand up to the Germanian Empire?
October 1, 2016 - December 16, 2016
Producer: Tatsyua Yamaguchi & Shin’ichiro Ozawa
Director: Masaya Fujimori
Writer: Hiroyuki Yoshino
Starring: Himika Akaneya & Saori Hayami
Distributor: Aij-do Animation Works
Genre: Action, Military, Historical
Rating: R-17+ (for violence and profanity)
I didn’t know what to expect from Izetta: The Last Witch when I began watching. All I knew was that it was set during World War II in an alternate world, where the events were based on real-life situations but names were changed to protect the identities of the innocent. Or… something like that. In all seriousness, it’s World War II with the names of countries changed, Hitler and the Nazis replaced with an Emperor, and a witch added into the mix.
I’m not much of a history buff (honestly, I didn’t realize how much the events in the anime mirrored those of World War II until I read a different review), but I do like fantasy, so I was willing to give Izetta a shot. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale: a tale of my journey with tanks, planes, and a witch on a huge rifle…
Spiritual Content: As the title implies, Izetta is a witch, making magic a central theme of the show. In Izetta’s case, magic is more whimsical than anything. While there is a “system” in place–namely that witches draw their magic from ley lines scattered throughout the world, and the absence of ley lines means their powers are inaccessible–there isn’t a deep explanation of that system. Izetta seems capable of using her powers simply by force of will. No chants or rituals need to be used to activate them. Given these two statements, the show should be safe for anyone okay with Final Fantasy VIII or X-Men–because Izetta’s powers seem to be inherent, but rely on special “magical points” in order to draw them out. Essentially, in the world of Izetta, witches are just people who happen to be capable of drawing magic from the ley lines.
Language: The language count is as follows: 10 uses of “d*mn,” 2 uses each of “d*mned,” “h*ll,” and “b*stard,” and one use each of “g**z,” “cr*p,” “manwh*re,” and “g*dd*mn.”
Alcohol/Drug Use: There are a few scenes of characters drinking alcohol and/or smoking cigarettes.
Nudity/Sex/Fanservice: There is a surprising amount of fanservice in this show, although not enough to classify it as a “fanservice series.” The most common element is the fact that a lot of the women wear cleavage-revealing tops/dresses throughout. There are also a few bath scenes and other scenes that show women in varying states of undress. Bare butts are seen a few times, as well as bare breasts, although breasts are always obscured to some extent—at the very least, nipples are always covered in some way, shape, or form. Some breast jokes are made, and Elvira, Fine’s “PR rep” of sorts, is shown to be quite a pervert. She uses the need to take Izetta’s measurements as an excuse to feel her up.
Violence: Since the show takes place during World War II, you can expect plenty of scenes of wartime violence. Gunfire, mortar shells, and tank and aerial combat all feature heavily. Soldiers are shot and killed countless times throughout the show’s duration. Expect plenty of blood. Gore doesn’t really feature, so you won’t see intestines strewn about, but to some extent this art mimics reality—when people are shot, they bleed.
Other Negative Themes: Although it is never explicitly stated, there are plenty of scenes to imply more than friendship between Fine and Izetta. The way the two women look at each other, speak to each other and, in some cases, hold each other, certainly suggests something more, although it feels more like pandering to the shipping fanbase than anything; otherwise, you would think the writers would have just been outright about the yuri relationship if that was the intention.
Positive Themes: The biggest positive theme in Izetta is that of self-sacrifice. Izetta dedicates herself to helping Fine, simply out of gratitude for all that Fine has done for her, and Izetta will stop at nothing to fulfill the Archduchesses’ dreams, even if it means death.
When I first started watching Izetta: The Last Witch, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but the first episode certainly managed to draw me in and make me want more. The seamless progression through the first handful of episodes kept me coming back, as cliffhanger endings made me eager to see what would happen next while also creating a solid sense of cohesion between the individual episodes. Even when this eventually stopped being the case, the show managed to remain interesting and entertaining through its eighth episode. After that, things quickly deteriorated—but more on that in a moment. Let’s talk about Izetta’s good points first.
One thing I have to praise about Izetta is the artwork. Nowhere during the show’s run did I feel that the art was shoddy or skimped on. My only criticism is Izetta’s face at the start of the opening credits. Something about it just seems odd, but since it’s just the opening credits (and since I pretty much always skip those), I won’t hold it against the show. Praise for the artwork must also naturally flow into praise for the battle sequences. Again, the artwork here is magnificent, as is the ferocity and intensity of the battles. There is no doubt that these characters are in the middle of a war, and the action manages to keep viewers on their toes.
Praise must also be given to the characters’ personalities. While Izetta may be a bit two-dimensional—her whole story is about her gratitude to Fine, causing her to put herself on the line, despite it being taboo for a witch to interfere with human affairs—the rest of the cast unfolds more dynamically. Fine (by the way, there should be an accent on the e) is thrust into the position of archduchess after her father passes, and must contend with the new responsibilities that come with the role. While she is shown to be confident most of the time, her uncertainties—as well as her concern for Izetta—show through, as does a girlish charm that is revealed in her love of a certain bakery’s pie.
Secondary characters, such as Germania’s Berkman and Fine’s counselor, Siegfried, are slowly fleshed out throughout the series–some with deeper personalities and others with darker, depressing backstories. The show even manages to create pity for minor characters a few times, such as a young soldier of Elystadt who finds out more information than he should. Character relationships are definitely a highlight of this show, so, if you enjoy that dynamic, you should give it a look.
Now, let’s start to work towards my criticisms of Izetta. First, let me reiterate that the first eight episodes are spectacular. The show manages to establish its backstory, as well as the magic system of the world. We find out that witches draw from ley lines, which are basically veins of magic throughout the world. If an area does not have a ley line, then a witch cannot use her magic. Given that Izetta is a devastating force capable of wrecking a whole army on her own, it was a wise move on the writers’ part to place some form of limitation on her. This handicap also serves to challenge the other characters, as they must keep Izetta’s limitations a secret and create illusions that Izetta is still using her magic, even in areas where she can’t. The series also sets up a tragic backstory through the “White Witch,” a witch from Elystadt’s past who helped rescue the country once before. Plots to combat Izetta and to uncover the secrets of her power are hatched, along with tragic love stories. By all accounts, Izetta should have been a spectacular series. So what went wrong?
First off—and this is a spoiler, although probably not much of one—it is pretty easy to guess from the start that, somehow, Germania will acquire a witch of their own (although the identity of that witch is still a bit surprising). That’s not the problem—as I said, it is pretty easy to assume this development. The problem is that it comes straight out of nowhere. In episode 8, Izetta meets a strange women who bites her, drinks her blood, and passes out. This is weird, to say the least, but it sets the intrigue of what the strange actions will mean in future episodes. At this point, Elystadt has been enjoying countless victories over their Germanian foes. Then, in episode 9, Germania suddenly appears with their own witch, and, out of the blue, Elystadt is on the ropes. It’s like the writers realized they only had four episodes to wrap everything up, so they pushed the fast-forward button and skimped on any kind of build-up. One minute Elystadt is superior, thanks to Izetta; the next minute, Izetta is being used to wipe the floor. Granted, there is an explanation eventually given, but it comes after the fact, instead of being foreshadowed, which would have at least made this development feel a bit more natural.
On top of this, several subplots are never really carried to completion. Basler, a Germanian pilot and the only survivor of his unit’s confrontation with Izetta, is hired by Berkman and given a special, experimental plane that is supposedly able to keep up with the witch. Basically, he is set up to be something of a threat/challenge/rival to Izetta; however, he skirmishes with her once in his new plane, and then never fights her again. In fact, he is barely shown until the last couple of episodes, and even then he isn’t on the battlefield.
Another example occurs when Elystadt tries to gain support from the Allies by showcasing Izetta’s power and proving that they can beat Germania with their witch ally. The Allies seem to be convinced, but at the end of that particular episode one of the world leaders is shown discussing the need to take out Germania and to then eliminate Elystadt because Izetta could pose a threat to the rest of the world. Again, this could have added a whole new dynamic to the show and could also have created a downside to Elystadt being public with Izetta’s power, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s not even mentioned again until the last episode, where Fine is able to assure the Allies that magic will no longer be an issue after Izetta’s final battle with Germania’s witch.
To sum up my issues with the plot: it essentially feels like the show was not allocated enough episodes. Perhaps if Izetta had been given 26 episodes, or perhaps if the light-hearted episodes had been eliminated to make room for more plot-centric episodes, then more details could have been fleshed out, more conflict built up, and a better story told. That’s not even taking into account the ending, which I feel the writers went soft on. I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of the show’s central themes is Izetta’s willingness to sacrifice herself to the very end, and the way the show closes out greatly cheapens that theme.
There is also the fact that the writers seem to cater to the shipping crowd, as there are many scenes that suggest a lesbian relationship between Fine and Izetta, but none that actually outright confirm it. Still, the shipping community will use something as simple as two girls hugging to imply lesbianism—how much more two women embracing numerous times, taking a moonlit flight on a broom, dancing together, and expressing their emotions to each other? It’s like the writers didn’t quite want to “go there,” but, at the same time, still wanted to encourage the community to have their fun with the possibilities. Quite frankly, the yuri undertones come across as unnecessary pandering.
At the end of the day, Izetta: The Last Witch settles for just being “okay.” What starts out as an intense and interesting ride peters out to a rushed and unsatisfying ending. There is so much more that could have been explored about this world and these characters, had the time and space been provided. I won’t say that Izetta is so bad that you shouldn’t watch it, but at the same time there are, quite frankly, much better historical-fiction anime series out there. History buffs, at the very least, will probably enjoy making the connections between Izetta’s fictional account of WWII and the real thing. The rest of us should probably stick to finding better fantasy anime.
+ Gorgeous animation
+ Intense fight scenes
+ Great example of self-sacrifice
+ Well-written first 2/3rds
+ Interesting characters
- Rushed finale
- Dropped plot points
- Pandering to yuri shippers