Flying Witch – the brilliance of Slice of Life

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Studio J.C.Staff
Genres Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Spring 2016
Director Katsushi Sakurabi
Music Yoshiaki Dewa

     An anime that belongs to slice of life genre is difficult to make. It sounds very easy – just tell what happens every day and that’s it, right? Nevertheless, not every show has that special something that makes seemingly boring or just not that inspiring things into a spectacle you want to watch and enjoy. Sad as it is, our usual lives tend not to be comprised of stuff that is worth telling as a story and something memorable happens only rarely. What to do then? Many great slice of life shows that don’t pursue any continuing narrative either build colorful characters or manage to include some particular quirks to their stories, something that make them stand above their counterparts. The real mastery then is to mix those quirks within mundane activities of the characters. This way we have ridiculous situations of Nichijou, multitude of wondrous youkai in Natsume Yuujinchou, parental learning moments in Usagi DropFlying Witch, though probably not able to boast the perfection of some of the greatest anime, stands near enough and wastes no time telling what its special quirk is.

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    As with most of slice of life anime, the set-up of Flying Witch isn’t anything complicated – Makoto with her cat Chito-san arrives to live with her cousins Kei and Chinatsu and their parents in the snowy Aomori prefecture. The unusual thing is that Makoto practices to become a witch but this part of the set-up isn’t remembered as often as you would think looking at the title of the show.  Not that I complain since there’s lots and lots of things to do in Aomori apart from witching. Makoto with Chito-san explore the surroundings and, as her relatives live pretty close to nature which means a bit of farming and stuff, she wholeheartedly takes up every opportunity to enjoy her staying and experience things she hadn’t before, even if they are such small and forgettable like tasting some random vegetable found by a roadside. Of course, cooked.

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     Things changed a bit when the Fire Nation attacked, I mean, Makoto’s sister Akane began visiting her. Akane being a professional witch (I guess it’s genetics after all with all the witches in the family) didn’t miss opportunities to teach her kouhai about some simple stuff. Of course, when she wasn’t sleeping. Or drinking. Anyway, witchcraft in the anime is only a secondary focus at best so don’t expect any ground breaking or time bending magic tricks. It’s well tuned with the atmosphere of the story – some walking paper cranes, ghosts working in a café and just all around pleasant and friendly stuff that makes you a bit amiably surprised and refreshed (if you ever were) from gardening, farming (talk about using the setting efficiently), cooking, exploring and just slice-of-life-ing. That’s one of the strengths of Flying Witch – the balance between occasional unexpected supernatural incidents and comfortable life at a beautiful place doing whatever the heart’s desire is. The only thing that a bit bothered me is that some of the characters or phenomena of the witch world didn’t receive as much attention as they (I think) would be able to withstand. I don’t say that the composition of the show was lacking – you can only put in so much content into a 12 episode show. Still, there are many things left that I would like to see more and to know more about. I guess this problem can be at least partly attributed to the fact that the anime is an adaptation. The mangaka probably plans her stories so that they would provide just the useful information at a time and wouldn’t leave her with less ideas that are being prepared for the future. To please the thirst for more there’s only two choices – embrace the manga or not that hopefully wait for any news of the possibility of a second season.

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     Usually in any anime you can’t rely only on the setting and the originality of the premise. That’s where the characters come in and even if I can’t claim that Flying Witch has a very memorable cast, the dynamics between the characters and some of their individual quirks make it a good watch. There’s nothing much to say about Makoto herself, only that she is a pretty normal girl, a bit absent minded sometimes (and because of that relying on her cat) but trying to do her best. Chito-san behaves like an ordinary cat with all the catlike mannerisms and that further gives some strength to the realistic part of the show which is balanced by frequent Makoto’s interactions with Chito-san as if she was just another human. Maybe our witch just knows her cat perfectly but that certainly adds some sense of magic to the atmosphere. Other secondary characters worth mentioning are Chinatsu – a kid that behaves like a kid. As weird as it sounds, it’s not that usual in anime with a few exceptions (that are getting more frequent with Amaama to Inazuma and others). You can’t not smile when Chinatsu reacts to something with all her childish soul or just idealistically and enthusiastically tries to pursue something. Makoto’s sister Akane is another character worth mentioning, being totally unlike her sibling – outgoing and energetic (when she’s not sleeping) world class witch full of weirdest ideas. The cast’s strength lies in the interactions between themselves, the strong sense of kinship and mutual reliance, just like you would want to have in an ideal family. Also, it’s remarkable that even if Flying Witch tells episodic stories, the characters, even less prominent ones, retain their memories of recent matters. There’re many instances of episodic shows whose order of episodes you can change without any impact, but this one not only adds just a little bit more to the realism using recurring characters and reminiscences of past events but also makes the grand story more cohesive.

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Excerpts from the anime

    Let’s move to the visuals, where one big part of the greatness of the show lies. Talking about the character designs I just don’t know how to define what actually makes them look very pleasant, but it really does. It was probably the first few seconds of the PV of the show that I, still don’t knowing basically anything about Flying Witch, thought “Hey, I could watch this”. The designs somehow just add much to the soothing, relaxing, comfortable and warm atmosphere that is one of the strengths of the show. Another huge positive comes from the backgrounds. When you watch the anime you can’t not notice that the surroundings seem somehow different from usual cardboard cutout buildings and streets. The reason of this is the hard work of the staff – the town where everything happens actually exists, and that is Shimoyuguchi near the castle town of Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. There was a series of articles on Crunchyroll (here, here and here) about that which you should definitely check. Of course anime makes every place look way flashier and brighter to accommodate to the general feeling of the show but many actually existing buildings and places enhance the sense of location many times and, even if it’s not the thing you notice very easily, make you far more attached to the show.

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    As with the character designs, I fell in love with the soundtrack from the first glance. I can’t remember how long ago it was that some first notes of the first track paired with the visuals would move me so much. The general mood of the soundtrack remains very light, simple and laid back, as expected of a piano, some strings and woodwinds for the most part. The beautiful main theme reappears at various moments in different arrangements but the lack of complexity isn’t a bad thing. Sure, many people probably won’t be compelled to listen to the soundtrack all the day but as an accompaniment for the story it works well. Still, for me especially the main theme and some other jazzy tempered tracks are some of the more beautiful musical pieces of the year.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Kowata Makoto' by Yoshiaki Dewa

     Flying Witch is an easy anime to miss if you prefer something that has action and high stakes. Still, I highly recommend to dive into the heartwarming greatness of iyashikei and enjoy small beautiful things that happen every day. In this perspective Makoto, who begins her explorations of tiniest joys of a more rural setting than she (and probably the viewers) is accustomed to and Chinatsu who still views the world as a place full of wonder and happiness are the best characters the show could have had. Some little and innocent magic tricks and the queerness of the world of witches renew the enjoyment when you begin to get comfortable with Makoto’s everyday cooking and farming, accompanied by the soundtrack that could compete for the best aspect of the show – it’s very pleasing that all those parts comprising the show really work together to reach one goal – the brilliant atmosphere.

     I believe, this anime is

 3
Good

     Of course it depends on your preferences but if you are not indifferent to the slice of life genre or just want to have a calm and soothing experience, look no further – Flying Witch is just for you.

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Suisei no Gargantia – a mix of everything that, well, quite works

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Alternative title Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Studio Production I.G
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Source Original
Episodes 13
Season Spring 2013
Director Kazuya Murata
Music Taro Iwashiro
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     Would you be hyped if Production I.G announced a new anime that has a giant robot? Not enough? What if the composition of the series and some scriptwriting would be done by Gen Urobuchi? I believe many, if not the majority of anime viewers would at least check it out. Yet, the spring season of 2013 also had Shingeki no Kyojin, Hataraku Maou-sama! and Oregairu to offer among others, so it’s not really a surprise to see that Suisei no Gargantia hasn’t created a large fanbase and isn’t the show to be talked about very frequently. So, is it worth checking out?

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     Behind the two lead characters in the key visual of the series looms a giant robot so naturally many people  thought that Suisei no Gargantia would definitely be just another usual mecha show, maybe, knowing Urobuchi’s involvement, many characters will die horrible deaths. The first minutes of the show didn’t surprise anyone – massive space battle where no viewer can understand what’s going on wasn’t offering anything new. Well, at least the animation was decent – it’s Production I.G after all. Nonetheless, as our main character soldier Ledo woke up from artificial sleep after some trans-galactic travel (the battle didn’t go very well), all the mecha-ness disappeared. By the end of the first episode Ledo finds out that he and his robot Chamber have arrived to planet Earth – long lost to the civilization that Ledo is from.  The Earth is quite flooded – everyone lives in fleets made of many connected ships and boats. So ended the first episode that managed to unnerve many people – some loved the first part with the mecha battle and complained about nothing happening towards the end of the episode. Others conversely preferred that more peaceful and atmospheric part while murmuring about almost senseless beginning. It turned out that as the parts of first episode looked like day and night, the whole series also had some segments that screamed of either slice of life or action. Slice of life segments came first, as Ledo (and Chamber) tried to adapt to the living in the fleet named Gargantia, while trying to grasp the differences between his own very organized and strict civilization and this happy-go-lucky style of life that local people like the lead heroine messenger girl Amy led. At first it may seem quite pointless to throw away precious time that could be used for mecha fights and stuff, but in the end the peaceful time spent on Gargantia was crucial to Ledo’s decisions in the later episodes when all the action and drama began. It could be argued that even in terms of slice of life the show uses its time inefficiently – there is an episode (and a bit of another one) that is just filled with mild fanservise. It’s possible to think that it was meant to show Ledo’s development from a Rei Ayanami type of person to a more humane one, who is able to feel at least something when some girls start dancing in the attire that is quite revealing. Everything just boils down to personal preferences, but clearly the amount of fanservice was a bit bigger than the plot needed. That aside, a big praise must be given to the creators who thought that after Ledo arrived to the Earth he would need some time to learn the local language. Such details really add to the realism of the whole story. The later part of the series focuses mainly on action with some twists, but it’s nothing really Urobuchi-like as the amount of dead characters doesn’t reach your typical Urobuchi level. It isn’t unheard of to make a story that doesn’t belong to just one genre and changes throughout the season, yet it isn’t such an easy job to make everything run smoothly. I believe the transition from the first action sequence into the peaceful slice of life environment was done pretty well, but the opposite didn’t look that effortlessly to me. Still, both parts were quite enjoyable and, even if some things in the story aren’t that original or unguessable, everything was executed pretty well.

     As far as the characters go, the cast isn’t that big and diverse. The main focus of Suisei no Gargantia is to show Ledo’s development from soldier that knows only war and drill to a decent and humane person. Also, there is Chamber. Normally a robot wouldn’t be considered a proper character, but it just happens to grow and change throughout the series as well as his pilot does, even if it’s barely noticeable. There’s nothing really exceptional about all the supporting characters (who actually look pretty flat and aren’t that developed through the series, though it doesn’t really grab much attention as a negative trait and sometimes might even work as a contrast to Ledo’s changing) – we have some girls (suitable for fanservice, how else?), some wise old men, just everyday workers and one particular character who caused me many a headache for being an idiot. Well, I can believe that in the whole enormous fleet there should be some idiots around but when the idiot starts giving orders out of the blue that go against the basic common sense and everybody has absolutely no problem with that and just happily complies, I start to lose patience. Also, there’re some inconsistencies like changing the view whether killing could be justified, or simply conveniently forgetting that people that didn’t mean anything good at first place later shouldn’t be trusted.

Excerpt from the ED; animation by Yoshimichi Kameda
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     If there are some problems with the story and characters, there hardly could be any complaints about the visuals. The character designs look really refreshing after all the high-school stuff that just overflows the market. The colorful clothing that sometimes resembles some Native American trends, sometimes goes with the full Hawaiian look, looks well with the whole setting and vibrant backgrounds. If I have to condense all the artstyle into just one word, it would definitely be ‘colourful’. Sometimes bashing almost all the colors together looks like a true nightmare, other times it can turn into the absolutely amazing gem that Mononoke (not that Princess one) is. Suisei no Gargantia manages to use all the means and effectively make a pleasant almost heaven-like atmosphere. When it wants, it can transform and do a great job representing darker themes and more complex character emotions than just happiness. Still, at times I just began to ask how the same show can capture such a great shot one time and some episodes later look like there was no effort put in drawing faces. Nonetheless, more times than not animation was done really well as far as I can tell. The Mecha parts (yes, there are some, but clearly not enough to call the show full-mecha) done by CGI also didn’t look like abominations from hell, and that is something even in this day and age.

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     Another thing that is crucial to the success of the show is music, though sadly it is often overlooked. Even when the story of Suisei no Gargantia wasn’t going that well, the music kept me just glued to the screen (well, actually to the headphones). Taro Iwashiro, who hasn’t done that much anime work, managed to capture the right atmosphere perfectly, be it a battle theme or just a calm breeze of the wind. Not to mention that a symphonic orchestra used to its full potential is a rear sight in the fields of anime soundtracks. I believe that the music of Suisei no Gargantia can rightly be called the best part of the whole show, and would not be shamed after comparison with even the best live-action film scores or works by Yuki Kajiura or Youko Kanno.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Before Proceeding'
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Excerpt from the OST: 'I Like the Ocean Breeze'

     Gen Urobuchi’s name attached to the show may have done more wrong than right, as this isn’t your normal UroButcher series. Suisei no Gargantia tries to combine slice of life elements with some action later on and even if has some mecha elements, they are really not the center of the story. After all, it was quite a fun ride, not to mention that it was wrapped pretty well, and even if the show isn’t flawless and pacing clearly isn’t the strongest part, Suisei no Gargantia was entertaining enough, and in the end that’s all that matters.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     There are shows that are certainly better. Also, the themes and the whole changing of the style thing might not be for everybody, but I think it’s worth checking out, at least for the soundtrack and beautiful scenery.