I don’t regularly write negative posts because normally the things I get the most excited and passionate about are the things that I enjoy, but in Fall 2016 there was an anime that I was deeply disappointed with, and ever since the finale the world has seemed intent on not letting me forget about it. Even now it continues to pop up in my social media, forcing me to think about it more than I normally would and develop lot of clear negative opinions on it. They’ve culminated to the point where I have them all sorted out in my mind and written out in analytical format. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this you’ve already finished Izetta: The Last Witch, because if you haven’t, be prepared to have the entire show spoiled for you. However, I’m going to avoid discussing any major plot points for any of the shows I’ll be referencing for the sake of contrast and comparison.
Note: I know a lot of people enjoyed this show, and I by no means expect everyone to agree with my opinions on it. If you enjoyed it, all I ask is that you consider it from the opposing point of view. And by all means, please share your opinions in the comments, especially if your views are in opposition to my own. I often find I learn the most from the people who disagree with me.
I can’t confidently say that all the facets of Izetta are poorly comprised. It’s never a particularly strong series, but it’s no throw-away show, either. For starters, I thoroughly enjoyed the first and last episodes. The first is set up quite nicely; it introduces its characters, hints at its story, delves into its concepts, briefly depicts real world politics and war, and shows off some competent and vibrant animation. The last episode was enjoyable not only because I was happy for it to finally be over, but also because it was genuinely fun to watch. Some scenes carry real emotional value and others relish in mindless self indulgence, making it an enjoyable viewing experience. Secondly, I’ve been enjoying this recent trend of anime with LGBT+ themes and protagonists that don’t fall into the typical yuri/yaoi genres, so I’m thankful that Izetta is counted among them. Finally, while I have a difficult time calling any of the characters “strong”, in the way that I define character strength, Izetta and Fine are enjoyable to watch because they have clear motivations, personal beliefs and struggles, and good chemistry to boot.
All that being said, those are the only parts of the show that I genuinely enjoyed. If you’ll have me, let’s dig into why. I’ll like to start by dissecting the surface aspects of the show, and we’ll continue to go deeper into it and in more detail as we progress until we reach the core and source of Izetta’s failures.
While the production quality in this show never goes off the deep end entirely, it is extremely weak. High production quality isn’t a necessity in order for me to enjoy a show, but combined with other issues it can easily become frustrating. While parts of Izetta were fun to watch, they were enjoyable for no other reason than that they involved a witch flipping over tanks like army toys. There’s nothing about the way the action sequences are directed that gives me any reason to care about the show’s events. The editing and shot composition is often nothing short of bland and uninteresting, given the exciting events taking place. When I was watching Flip Flappers and Occultic;Nine last season, what immediately set them apart from other shows for me, other than their unique aesthetics, was how interesting the directing, editing and shot composition was. In contrast, all those elements in Izetta strike me as not substandard, just incredibly monotonous for an action show. Hell, even Keijo!!!!!!!! had more interesting action direction than Izetta did. It isn’t helpful that the sound direction has some issues as well.
When episode three rolled around I became aware of myself becoming disinterested and attempted to discover why. Upon my second viewing, I realized that the blame belonged at least in part to its bland design. The color palate had gone from detailed and interesting to dull and lifeless, doing little to reflect the intense tone of the scene. When I think about some of my favorite war sequences in anime, especially the ones with high stakes and intensity, I think about how vivid and memorable they are because of how they look visually and aesthetically, and while the show’s animation hadn’t gone off the deep end, there wasn’t anything to set these scenes apart from the rest of the show, and they were made worse because I felt like I was supposed to be witnessing an intense, realistic depiction of war. The first episode of this season’s Youjo Senki had a couple scenes of trench war with magical elements similar to those in Izetta, but where Izetta’s war scenes looked bland with their uninteresting visual design and direction, Youjo Senki’s had dark colors and shading to give it a more intense, realistic look and feel, in addition to having great action direction, reflecting the thematic intensity of the scene. Obviously, Izetta and Youjo Senki are completely different shows both in style and story. Youjo Senki is clearly set up to be a darker and more cynical show in general, but given how realistic and tense the first episode of Izetta was, I don’t think it’s unfair to be disappointed that it’s war sequences ended up being some of the weakest scenes in the whole show, which, for a WWII action series, is unfortunate.
Another aesthetic issue with Izetta are its character designs. While there’s nothing wrong with traditionally generic anime character designs (even if it does look like they were copy-pasted from Sword Art Online with different hairstyles and eye colors like a random character generator), I found myself increasingly frustrated by the fact that half of the characters looked like stereotypical anime characters—big, colorful eyes, vibrant hair colors, refined, detailed features, etc.—and the other half looked like they were taken from a more realistically designed show like Black Lagoon. Seeing these conflicting character designs in the same room always had a way of grating on my nerves. They don’t even have any similar features or proportions, they look like they were handled by completely different character designers. I still don’t really see a purpose in having half of the characters look like “anime” and the other half look more realistic. If their goal was to create a show that looked realistic, why not include all of the characters in this effort? If the goal was to make a show that looked like “anime”, why are there so many dull character designs, settings and color palates?
Now that I’ve discussed some of the surface elements of the show, I think it’s time we dig a bit deeper into the narrative itself.
The antagonists are, at best, unmemorable. At worst, entirely uninteresting. The leader of Germania is introduced as a character who is completely defined by how despicable of a person he is. Whenever he gets screen time the viewers are put through ridiculous dialogue designed to make him appear to be the most evil person in existence, which gets old after, like, two or three scenes. He doesn’t have any motivations, personality or personal life outside of the fact that he’s a tyrannical dictator. This isn’t a huge problem because he never directly confronts any of the main characters and the role of the antagonist shifts to different characters throughout the show. However, I still feel like more time could have been devoted to making him, at the very least, a believable character. I understand that the purpose of this might have been to make the audience hate the character, but if that was the goal then they failed miserably because he ended up being so ridiculous and over the top I couldn’t care enough to hate him. If you want to make a character that people will hate, by definition, you need to create one that people will care about, because hating a character requires effort on the part of the audience. A good example of a story with a villain I found easy to truly hate recently would be Erased. The author of the manga spent a lot of time making this character seem human and realistic, going so far as to highlight some of their personal struggles before revealing that they were actually a sick and twisted child murderer. By that point, I was already so invested in the character that I couldn’t help but despise them. Whether or not the anime adaptation handled this as well is still up for debate, but I think you get my point.
Beckerman and Sophie are definitely stronger antagonists than the Germanian tyrant, but still don’t have very much going for them. Beckerman is set up to be smooth, cunning, well read and extremely intelligent. He carries himself in a way that would suggest that he’s in control of everything around him and orchestrating events according to his agenda, which would explain why the Germanians attempted to get rid of him towards the end of the show. However, I was never impressed by or interested in his character beyond the first episode. While his role in the story is extremely important, Beckerman himself, as a person, is completely irrelevant. He doesn’t seem to have any motivations or reasoning behind his actions except for survival, and we don’t learn anything about his philosophy until the last episode, and even that has little to tell us about who he is as a person. For a character set up to be a genius analyst, most of his actions throughout the show seem like basic strategic maneuvers, so not only does he have no personality or motives beyond survival, he’s considerably less interesting than the first episode made him out to be. And then there’s Sophie, who doesn’t require nor call for analysis. While she has all the motivation in the world, does that make her an interesting antagonist in of itself? I’ll leave that up for you to decide.
Moving on. One question I kept asking myself throughout most of the series was this: What kind of a show are these writers trying to create?
I enjoy “rule of cool” shows, like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Hellsing, Black Lagoon, etc., and I also enjoy dense political thrillers with intense conflicts and war, such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I also enjoy shows that shift between tone and genre frequently, such as Bakemonogatari and Higurashi. What I don’t like is when a show can’t seem to decide what it wants to be, and this is something that got under my skin about Izetta for most of its run.
The first episode got me hyped up. It started off with an intense train chase scene. We were introduced to our first villain, Beckerman, and it’s already clear that he’s involved in some kind of secret government operation, which immediately grabbed my interest in both his character and the story. We saw Fine’s pain over losing one of her bodyguards and watched her do things real leaders have to do, like negotiate with the Prime Minister of Great Britania. Finally, it ended in a scene of stunning animation with Yuri undertones. It was a great first episode that showed a lot of promise as a solid political-war-fantasy action thriller.
Unfortunately, beginning with episode three I started to feel confused as to what this show was really trying to be and accomplish. I wanted to believe that they were just slow episodes with some awkward fanservice and that it would get back on track soon, but it never returned to the tone the first episode had established. Over time it started feeling less like a political war thriller and more like another cheaply made and designed “rule of cool” story. Eventually the entire show became about Izetta doing badass stuff with some random politics forced into the dialogue to keep the story moving. If the writers wanted to make a straightforward “rule of cool” show, I wouldn’t have complained. I would have gladly watched four hours of Izetta being badass, because she’s a badass and it’s fun to watch. Even if the tone shifted between lighthearted and serious throughout the show, I probably would have enjoyed it, but the way they kept wanting to hold onto the political tension they had created in the first episode amidst the cool, fun tone they were trying to shift to ended up dragging the whole show into the ground.
Changes in tone and structure in anime can be done really well, as is displayed in shows like Bakemonogatari and Higurashi. The problem with Izetta is that when the tone shifts, it never does so completely. Most of the show takes place in this weird, in-between spot between being a political war drama and a fantasy action joyride, and it ends up feeling like a disjointed mess. The reason why I still think the last episode was quite good because it was completely “rule of cool”. It doesn’t try to force in any political dialogue, in depth story or some kind of deeper meaning, it’s just a twenty minute roller coaster ride. And that’s not to say the tone didn’t shift between fun and serious. Watching Izetta fight the White Witch was a ton of fun. Fine’s speech was dramatic and emotional. The scenes in which Beckerman had a gun to his head and Izetta sacrifice sherself are serious, somber and thoughtful. The tone shifted throughout the episode, but it seemed like it was confident in those shifts. Both the first and last episodes were consistent with what they were trying to be, one a political war thriller, the other an action fantasy joyride.
Since we’re on the topic, I’d also like explain that this is why the fanservice in Izetta drives me crazy. I don’t have an issue with fanservice in general, since it can be used really well. One of the shows that made me laugh the hardest last season was Keijo!!!!!!!!, whose entire premise revolves around over the top fanservice, but the writing and animation matched its ridiculous premise so well that it was hilarious, and, I’d argue, a genuinely good show. In contrast to how well the fanservice works in shows like Keijo!!!!!!!!, in which it fits the tone and premise of the show and what it’s trying to accomplish, in Izetta it’s out of place. The first episode established a dark, mysterious, serious tone, and then just a couple episodes later we’re assaulted with close ups of Izetta’s breasts, and then a woman uncomfortably groping Izetta, and then a guy walking into girls taking a bath. It just gets progressively worse as time goes on. In a show set up to be a fantasy political war thriller, these scenes felt awkward, forced and out of place. I’m not saying that the tone of a series can’t shift from being serious to being full of fanservice (again, Bakemonogatari is a prime example of how it can be done well), but as stated earlier, the problem with Izetta is that the show never blatantly shifts from one side to the other. The transitions are so awkward and the fanservice doesn’t serve any purpose to the characters, story or humor. I struggle to find anything salvageable about these scenes.
Whenever I see fanservice like this that seems so grossly out of place and pointless, I actually get a bit offended. It’s as if the creators think that they can keep me and the rest of the male audience interested in a show as long as we get enough close ups of a fifteen year old girl being squeezed into a corset. Fanservice can be used really well, but in Izetta it’s nothing less than appalling.
Now it’s time to get into the biggest problem with the show. If this area was handled well, all the other issues I’ve talked about so far wouldn’t have been nearly as frustrating. Izetta’s largest failure is in its writing.
Of course, this should come as no surprise. Many prospective viewers were already concerned prior to its airing when Hiroyuki Yoshino was announced as the head writer for the series, the man responsible for notoriously bad scripts of anime such as Guilty Crown, and he certainly lives up to his reputation.
There are a lot of things I could complain about in regards to the writing in Izetta, but to sum it up in a couple sweet sounding points, its biggest issues are 1. The Convenience of Izetta’s Powers, 2. The Progression of Plot Events, and 3. Plot Holes.
Let’s start with the first point, the first warning sign I noticed and was unimpressed with early on, one that a lot of viewers might not have seen as being immediately dangerous but had unfortunate consequences for the development of the characters; the source of Izetta’s abilities being “lei lines” in the ground. In the show’s universe, some areas have these lines, some don’t, which means in some areas Izetta can use her powers, and in others she can’t. It seems harmless enough by itself, and may even be seen as a positive since it keeps Izetta from becoming an unbeatable god. However, at some point I realized that it was a clever tactic to give the writers complete freedom over the dramatic tension of the show without having to actually do anything. If they want us to cheer for Izetta, she’ll be able to use her powers wherever she is. If they want us to feel fear for her, she won’t be able to, no matter the circumstances. This might not seem like a big deal at first glace, but here’s the problem: this means that the creators can create any dramatic tension they want whenever they want to, but that tension is worthless because it completely ignores the roles of the characters in the story. They don’t have anything to learn from their failures or successes because whether or not they win or lose is decided by the writers, not by their actions.
That might sound confusing, so let me put it differently, using an example. In Kill la Kill, episode three, Ryuko is getting her ass handed to her by Satsuki and is about to fail in her journey before it even begins. Because of her weakness and failure, she’s forced to reconsider the mindset and standpoint from which she had been fighting in the first place as she sought to understand the source of Satsuki’s unbelievable strength. When her mistake finally dawns on her, despite her morals and the unpleasant reality of her situation, with a little bit of encouragement from Mako, she adapted and survived. Because of the plot tension created by her shortcomings and mistakes, she’s forced to change and adapt to her situation, thereby developing her character. This is what originally made me so invested in the show. All of this character development happened within a single episode. With twenty-two left to watch, I couldn’t wait to see how her character was going to develop in the future.
In Izetta, the characters are never placed in situations where they’re forced to adapt, develop and change because their actions and shortcomings are never the source of the dramatic tension. The drama happens regardless of what they do because that’s where the writers decide they want the tension to be. The most the characters can do is go where the lei lines are and try not to go where they aren’t, which doesn’t allow much in the way of personal development. The only exceptions are in the beginning of the show when Izetta makes the decision to fight for Fine, and the final episode when Fine allows Izetta to sacrifice herself. Everything in-between is extremely underwhelming in the characterization department, and the source of Izetta’s powers may be to blame.
Let me use an example from Izetta to further illustrate my point. In episode seven, when the Germanians lured Izetta into a trap to discover her weakness in an area where there were few lei lines, Izetta begins to lose her powers and is in danger of failing her mission. In a show like Kill la Kill, this would have been a moment where Izetta had to approach her situation from a new perspective, improvise and find a way to adapt to it. She’d have to find a way to survive and complete her mission with the limitations put upon her, perhaps without her abilities. She’d have to learn from her weaknesses and grow as a character because of it. Instead, flying by the seat of her pants, she barely survives and complete the mission, wasting a great opportunity to explore and develop her character.
The fact that the writers have an explanation for her powers at all is already a step up from many shows, but it still strikes me as a lazy way to tell a story by neglecting the roles of the characters. As soon as I realized this in episode four, my feelings toward the writing had already turned doubtful.
It turned out my cynicism wasn’t in vain, because after the explanation of Izetta’s powers the writing immediately took a turn for the worse as my second point, the progression of plot events, became more forced and ridiculous with each new episode, often relying on coincidence and what seems like divine intervention to move its story forward.
Consider this situation: a young Elystadt soldier goes to the river to get water and overhears two high ranking officials talking about the most critical, top secret information in the entire kingdom out in the open. Shocked by what he hears, he runs back to the camp and immediately blabs that he heard something relating to national security to the first soldier he sees. As luck would have it, this first soldier he bumps into is the one and only Germanian spy in their ranks, who later attempts to get the information out of him by threatening his life. This was the moment when all my suspicions and cynicism regarding the show were finally given validation. This entire sequence of events is so outrageously unrealistic and forced that calling it cheesy would be gracious.
Another example: In episode eight, two Germanian spies break into the old castle containing Izetta’s most important secret. When their plot is discovered, they escape into a hole that magically appears in the ground and luckily provides a convenient means of escape. Their luck seems pretty selective though, since they’re killed just minutes later. However, after the spy carrying the photographs of the lei line map dies, his body is discovered by another random Germanian spy that had apparently been positioned in Eylstadt the entire time. As Reddit user SpaceEthiopia put it in the post they wrote on Izetta’s writing, “This is one of the least believable, most hackneyed and forced anime I’ve ever watched. Nothing happens naturally, every act of the plot just feels like God is playing with his army men.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
And before we move onto the plot holes, let’s talk about episode eight. I understand that the writers were trying to give the Germanians some humanity to make up for their robotic, evil leaders, but this rushed and awkward side plot between Bianca and Ricelt was not the right way to accomplish that. Nothing about their interactions feels natural, they don’t have any chemistry, the conflict between the two was awkward and ridiculous, and by the end of the episode we’re expected to believe that they had developed romantic feelings for each other in the time span of about a day. The final scene in which the two are pointing guns at each other is set up to be an intense, dramatic high point of the series to create an emotional response from the audience, but the buildup was so forced, rushed and emotionless that I was left mostly confused.
I get the rational for this side plot. The writers wanted to make it clear that neither side is completely evil while simultaneously highlighting the tragedy of such a meaningless war. However, there are a plethora of alternate ways to do this without distracting from the show’s primary focus. Showing the families, relationships and personal lives of any of the antagonists would highlight their humanity far more efficiently than this poorly constructed attempt at a romantic tragedy side plot. Additionally, if the writers really wanted to drive home the themes of the tragedy of the war and the humanity of both sides, why is this the only scene in which they are addressed? Before this episode the Germanians were emotionless robots without personality, and after this episode they continue to be emotionless robots without personality. Before this episode the focus of the show was on Fine and Izetta’s relationship, and after this episode it returns to focusing on Fine and Izetta’s relationship. So what exactly was the point of this side plot if they didn’t intend to develop the themes they were introducing? Put simply, at this point in the series, the writers wanted to turn Izetta into a “rule of cool” show, but not without sacrificing their attempts at some kind of deeper meaning, even if those attempts distracted from the focus of the series. This is why I still hold that episode eight is the single worst episode I watched in Fall 2016, and was the one that drove Izetta down to the rating that it now sits at on my list.
Finally, the last thing I want to talk about in relation to the writing: plot holes. I’ve seen people try to defend some of the issues in the show as “leaving things to think and theorize about”. And yes, leaving plot points open for audience consideration and interpretation is a good thing for a show’s writers to do. The recently aired Flip Flappers and Occultic;Nine have given me a lot to think about even now, months after their completion. However, there’s a big difference between making me wonder about something and simple plot inconsistencies. The question of how Germania developed the science for cloning or their knowledge of witches are things I can theorize about. However, there’s also some real logical issues with the plot that shouldn’t be ignored. For example, how is Izetta so knowledgeable about warfare in episode three after being awoken from a coma? While living on her own, how did she get the needed target practice to be able to take down war planes with giant icicles created from her blood with pinpoint accuracy? What is the deal with her blood technique used in episode two? Why doesn’t she ever use it again? Something like that could have really come in handy, like when she was trying to take down the Germanian aircraft carrier, or when she was fighting Sophie.
Izetta is clearly an extremely powerful witch, so how were the Germanians able to capture her in the first place? Were they lucky enough to find her in a location with no lei lines? If that be the case, why didn’t the Germanians realize her weakness then and there? If she was captured as a child, how was she able to use her magic so well after awakening? I kept hoping that the show would eventually offer some kind of explanation, but regrettably, it never did. It doesn’t make any logical sense, no matter how I try to spin it, and is something that will likely bug me every time I think about the show for the foreseeable future.
Another thing that confuses me is whether or not this show is trying to tell me anything—that is, whether or not it has a point to make. I kept getting the feeling the writers were trying draw my attention to something they were attempting to commentate on. If that was their goal, they failed because I can’t think of a single thing I took away from watching the show. Was there supposed to be some sort of hidden meaning in the idea of magic versus science? Was it trying to say anything about or draw any conclusions from that interesting concept? Was it trying to commentate on the nihilistic reality of a tyrannical warmonger’s fantasies, as was presented in episode eight? If that be the case, why is never explored beyond that episode? Of course, if the show isn’t attempting to draw any conclusions from its themes, then I don’t have any complaints, but if that was the intentions of the writers, they failed miserably.
I understand that sometimes characters are enough to carry a show, even if the rest of its quality is sub par. For example, Tokyo Ghoul is very far from being a perfect show in almost every way, but I was so invested in the characters that I still enjoyed the ride, as much of a train wreck as it turned out to be. Despite an overly edgy plot line and atrocious production and writing, the way the writers thoroughly explored their characters made it enjoyable for me. Another example would be last year’s Kiznaiver. While the plot was weird and didn’t seem to have a set direction, concluding without having completely flushed out all of its plot threads and themes, the ways the characters interacted with each other and developed throughout the show thanks to the writers’ thorough exploration of their histories and personal struggles was excellent, and I enjoyed every second of it. Their interactions were weird, but still comedic, dramatic and enjoyable, and when the show went serious it always sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. In terms of plot composition and story it’s definitely no masterpiece, yet still landed a high rating on my list because of its cast of characters.
Now, in contrast, consider Izetta, in which most of the character exploration ended in episode 3 after Izetta made the decision to abandon her upbringing to protect Fine and her kingdom. There was a moment when both characters became disenchanted after Eylstadt was taken over by Germania, but when Izetta rediscovered her motivation there wasn’t any new exploration of her character, just a return to what she had already decided upon. Fine also got some additional development in the last episode when she came to terms with Izetta’s desire to sacrifice herself. In fact, her speech to the gathering of politicians is the most emotional of the series, but I still can’t help but feel like it was too little too late. This is why I spent so much time discussing the issue with the source of Izetta’s powers because I believe it’s partially to blame for how little the characters were allowed to be a part of the story between episodes three and eleven. Again, Fine and Izetta are good characters and are a hell of a lot of fun to watch because of their chemistry and interactions, but they weren’t explored enough in order for me to feel that they made up for the multitude of issues we’ve discussed. And even though Fine and Izetta are generally entertaining characters, I still found the interactions between the characters at Anteiku and the Kiznaivers to be far more fun, despite having a larger and harder to manage cast.
The thing that saves Izetta from being one of my least favorite shows ever is its interesting concept, its characters, and a handful of fun, enjoyable moments. The first and last episode were thoroughly enjoyable, the relationship between Izetta and Fine was nicely handled, and even though I’m extremely disappointed in the execution of the show’s concept, the fact that the concept exists is enough to make this show at least partially enjoyable on a fundamental level. When I first started watching Izetta, as a fantasy/history geek, the idea of seeing witches fight Nazi’s with magic was what excited me the most, and in the end, that’s all I got out of it. Unfortunately, I discovered that I had dramatically underestimated what I really wanted to see. I didn’t just want to see witches fighting Nazis, I wanted to see it coupled with an interesting story, significant character development, decent production values and writing that wasn’t complete garbage.
In conclusion, I’m seeing way too many people talking about Izetta as if it were just a good show with a couple issues. I see it as just the opposite; a bad show with a couple decent moments. It’s not abhorrent, but I do think it’s bad. If you disagree with me and my conclusions, hopefully I’ve helped you understand the reasons for my disappointment. I’m sure someone could read this and think that I just need to lower my expectations and enjoy the show for what it is, to which I’d reply “Why should I?” Last Fall alone there were a couple great shows and some genuinely good ones. Why should I have to settle for anything less? I’m sure there are many worse shows that I could be picking on, but this is the one I was looking forward to the most from the Fall 2016 anime season, and additionally, the one that has refused to leave my mind and my social media since its finale, so naturally this is the one I have the most to say about.
If you made it to the end of this obscenely long cynical, analytical dissection, I applaud your endurance and attention span. Thank you very much for hearing me out.