The Absurd Nature of Witch Craft Works: The Creation, Destruction, and Inversion of a Modern Fairytale

Rebecca’s given her opinion of the anime, but I wanted to jot down (very briefly) some of my own thoughts on Witch Craft Works since I think it’s one of the most interesting shows to air in the last couple seasons.

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Witch Craft Works is an interesting modern (subversive) take on the fairytale that goes quite a different route than stuff written by Neil Gaiman (whoich tends to also be very fairytale-esque). In Gaiman’s work, for instance, the setting often requires a suspension of disbelief and includes elements of the fantastic. While most of his worlds aren’t really explored systematically (indeed, that defeats the point), we are taken through a surreal tale that echoes the fairytales of old but instead incorporate a lot of modern storytelling elements.

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In Witch Craft Works though, this is done quite differently. We are instead bombarded with the absurd in everything from the setting to the witches’ powers to the main plot events (and logical leaps) and even the dialogue.* The sense of urgency or idea of a grand quest and a fully-formed world that we see in most fairytales is gone, replaced by a lot of information that is very deliberately** not fleshed out. Instead of a reworking of the fairytale/mythic atmosphere that Gaiman (re)creates, Witch Craft Works tears it down while simultaneously reconstructing something similar from the ensuing wreckage. Some of the overarching motifs, such as how Witch Craft Works portrays magic as “a tool to protect the deceptively valuable mundane”, are subverted as the mundane (e.g., school life, home life) becomes the absurd. The climax in the fight against Weekend becomes an anti-climax as Honoka randomly faints, turns into a climax again via Honoka’s moral dilemma, and subsequently becomes another anti-climax as the resulting loss from his choice is robbed of all it’s value as Honoka’s big kiss is turned into from a serious affair into a comedic routine (that works!). Through these repeated deconstructions and inversions, Witch Craft Works becomes absurdity incarnate.

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In addition to the overarching aspects of the show, we see that it’s carnivalesque deconstruction/inversion extends to the characters themselves. Honoka Takamiya and Ayaka Kagari seem gender-swapped, with Honoka so ridiculous in his stupidity and uselessness he functions as a caricature of the typical shoujo hero(ine). Honoka’s sister Kasumi is the typical overbearing “imouto” with a twist. The Tower Witches serve as antagonists but not quite; in fact, most of the enemies end up as sort of “allies”, while lots of the allies end up doing things you’d typically expect from the enemy. Even the “true love” subplot between our main duo goes backwards, as Ayaka originally knows her true love but then has to find him. Like Oregairu, the list of trope/archetype deconstructions/inversions goes on and on.

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And then there’s the ending, which in my opinion is brilliant. It single-handedly invalidates most if not all the progression made throughout the series, while simultaneously deliberately answering no questions of real importance. It’s fantastic (or disappointing) in its absurdity in bringing everything back to the beginning in one large giant “reset”.*** Just like the rest of the show, it screws with what endings are supposed to do by doing absolutely nothing at all!

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All that said, I didn’t actually really “like” Witch Craft Works. While I could appreciate the fantastical world and absurd nature of the show and what it was doing, I ultimately couldn’t really get invested in it. And I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the characters, or the setting, or the way it seemed to tease me with possibly giving out new information. Or the way the show seemed to deliberately try to screw with me in a way that Oregairu and even Monogatari never did. Regardless, it just never clicked. I watched the entire series ambivalent and uncertain whether I liked the show or not, and by the end didn’t feel any different.

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My personal feelings aside though, I can definitely say Witch Craft Works is one of the coolest/cleverest anime I’ve seen in recent memory besides Samurai Flamenco and Kill La Kill, and definitely one of the most unique. While it might not be enjoyable for everyone, it’s likely well worth the watch!

Random notes:

  • The penguins. Is that supposed to be a callback to Penguindrum in an attempt invoke similar ideas and themes? I haven’t seen it so I have no idea, but it’s a thought. Otherwise, that was pretty random.
  • Conflicted on how I feel towards Ayaka’s enormous boobs and the random odd fanservice-y shots. Is it just me “male gaze”-ifying everything unnecessarily, or was it really just an strange part of the show?
  • I can’t wait for the OST!
  • Kasumi = BEST GIRL, although Honoka’s so dumb I have trouble doing the standard wincest ship. I could dig Kasumi x Tanpopo though (plus then we’d get Kuma and Usagi and AHHHHHHHHHHH IT’S PERFECT OTP RIGHT HERE).
  • I still die whenever I hear “Chronoire Schwarz VI” or “Weekend”. Engrish is fantastic sometimes.

*And we’re not even talking outlandish color scheme, whimsical art style, and dreamlike yet discordant soundtrack. I would discuss particulars, but I want to keep this relatively short. **I’m almost positive this is deliberate because the show delivers (or implies) an absurd amount of leading statements like “Ahhh that’s what you were up to” or “Ahhhh that’s what this is” or “Ahhh that’s how this works” without ever following them up. ***Although it could be seen as a typical “here’s the cliffhanger for the second season” type of thing. I think this misses a little bit of the point though, because even in the ending any sense of “wrapping up” that the viewer can latch onto outside of a global “reset” are deliberately avoided. For instance, Kazane beats up Chronoire Schwarz VI (who had also beat up Weekend), but then immediately afterwards absolutely no screen time is given to figuring out either of Chronoire and Weekend’s real motives (and thus letting the viewer find out what the whole point of the main plot was all about). It also doesn’t even give us much of a point of continuation beyond something ridiculous, since it could be assumed that Kazane captures them both and thus removes the only powerful “bad guys” from the series. Still, this show is all about ridiculous, so *shrug*.

Edit: This review originally began as series of Tweets. I’ve included them below for completeness (and because I think I’ll be doing this type of thing more in the future — for all the horribleness of a 140 character limit, it does force me to be concise!).

3 responses to “The Absurd Nature of Witch Craft Works: The Creation, Destruction, and Inversion of a Modern Fairytale

  1. Pingback: The Dumbest Protagonist Ever: Why Witchcraft Works Makes Shoujo Heroines Look Intelligent | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

  2. Pingback: I Am Incapable Of Taking Anime Reviews Seriously | Fantastic Memes·

  3. Pingback: Disaster that Befalls a World | atelier emily·

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