Whenever someone outside the fandom thinks of anime, visions of manly battles and perverted fan-service may pop into their heads. While the genre has its fair share of those kinds of series there's always another kind of anime that tends to be overlooked: the ones created to calm and relax its viewers. In recent years the likes of Non Non Biyori and Place to Place have done a fairly good job with showcasing this kind of programming, ones that focus on the mundane things in life with both wit and humor. This Spring another contender has flown into the realm with broomstick in hand and familiar in tow: Flying Witch.
Based on the manga by Chihiro Ishizuka Flying Witch follows a young witch named Makoto (Minami Shinoda), as she relocates from Yokohama to live in the countryside of Aomori with her cousins Kei (Shinsuke Sugawara) and Chinatsu (Eri Suzuki). During her stay Makoto trains herself to be a better witch, learning how to fly and cast new spells with her own knowhow and the occasional assistance from her older sister Akane (Kana Aoi). However with her lack of directional sense and clumsy mentality becoming a better witch will be easier said than done for Makoto.
The series does a wonderful job with its pacing, as it takes nearly half of the first episode to build towards Makoto's witchy reveal. You first get a sense of who these characters are personality-wise, with Kei's quick humor when he says that Makoto is Chinatsu's real mother and Chinatsu's on-par delivery when she jokingly tackle-hugs her cousin with a loud "Mama!" It's when Makoto and Chinatsu are shopping when the witchcraft starts to show. Grabbing a broom Makoto levitates above the grown, with Chinatsu looking very puzzled. Instead of freaking out, the young girl reacts with childlike wonderment.
It's thanks to this pacing that the bigger laughs hit harder. In a later episode the family preps the ground for some gardening, only for Makoto to be distracted by a large pheasant. Like any person would she attempts to catch it, but to no avail. An older family member checks up on the progress, and as he is about to chime in with words of wisdom he too gets distracted by the same pheasant. Because of the simple-yet-lightheartedness delivery of these characters, the humor the show delivers works on a much grander scale.
Flying Witch showcases why some series work better in an animated format rather than a live-action one. One can imagine that if a series like this one were filmed with real people and places rather than hand-drawn that the show would be passed by viewers and -- quite possibly -- cancelled after a couple episodes. However because of its animated nature the series can express more emotion and time the jokes far better than if it were a regular TV series. It's one of the strong points in anime that gets overshadowed by its off-the-wall comedic and action side, where you can take the mundane slice-of-life and make it all the more interesting. (I like to refer to this as the American Splendor approach, named after the late great Harvey Pekar's classic slice-of-life comic book series.)
Credit has to be given to the show's writer Deko Akoa, who has taken Ishizuka's characters and given them a beautiful breath of life that makes the series relatable to anyone watching. Whether it's Makoto trying her best to learn a new spell or watching their friend Inukai (Mari Hino) fail to break her anthropomorphic curse, it's presentation is filled with both calm whimsy and clever banter. For a series that deals with the supernatural, Flying Witch is surprisingly real with its reaction and character mentality.
It also helps that its voice cast does a wonderful job with keeping true to the anime's tone. Shinoda's Makoto brings to life that mentality of a student-in-training, only instead of going to an academia to learn the tricks of the trade she takes a self-taught route that's filled with bumps, potholes, and the occasional hitchhiker to offer some assistance. Aoi's Akane is the polar opposite of her sister, filled with confidence and loud boasting with a heavy emphasis of kindness both vocally and emotionally. It's Suzuki that steals the show as Chinatsu, capturing that childlike adolescence and curiosity that fills their very essence. How she reacts to the magic that occurs around her and the strange new people that enter life is done in the same way a real kid would.
When it comes to the animation style, J.C.Staff hits the tone of the story right with its choice of character and world design. The area of Aomori is showcased with bright beautiful colors, magnificent landscapes, and the finest of details in the buildings, gardens, and households the series treads. Its visual tone often brings to mind the works of Thomas Kinkade and Norman Rockwell, two American artists whose paintings were able to capture a certain realism with ink that's both subtle and stunning, two characteristics that Flying Witch presents with the greatest of ease. As for the characters while their appearance looks well for the most part, the weird shadow that appears above some of the characters' noses can be rather distracting. (Looking at some of the manga for comparison this characteristic only appears in specially-colored pages, never showing up in the regular black-and-white ones.)
Yoshiaki Dewa deserves a lot of praise for his score, which encapsulates the country life that engulfs the town of Aomori. It's melancholy, calm, and calls back to a more folksy era that still exists all the more so over in Japan. Opening theme "Shanranranran" by miwa is one of this year's most catchiest songs you'll hear in an anime this year, capturing the warmth and happiness the series delivers on a weekly basis. Shinoda and Sukuzi's end theme "Nichijou no Mahou" closes things off with a wink and a smile, emphasizing the magic their characters Makoto and Chinatsu experience on a daily basis.
Flying Witch is the anime equivalent of a warm blanket wrapping around your body on a snowy Christmas morning. With its lovable characters and calming animation the series works as a great relaxer after those long, hard-working days. It may not be the most exciting show to watch, but thanks to its clever slice-of-life writing and happy tone it's a cartoon that too pleasant to ignore. Simply put: Flying Witch will charm the pants off of you, with or without the aid of magic.
Final Grade (not an average):