Distributor Crunchyroll • Certificate NA • Price NA
Originally a feature film, Tite Kubo's latest IP, Burn the Witch, has been cut into three 20-minute parts for distribution across Western streaming platforms, making each a bite-sized morsel to digest.
The story concerns witches Ninny and Noel, who both work as "Pipers" for the Wing Bind corporation, which is responsible for controlling dragons. According to the opening exposition, Dragons are integral to London, which is why they appear on so many landmarks. The creatures are also responsible for 72% of deaths in the city, which might imply that the organisation is either under-funded or not very well run.
The film introduces us to the idea of a "Front" and "Reverse" London, with both existing at the same time in separate dimensions. Our heroines can travel between worlds, but Reverse London is not revealed to the denizens of the ordinary world.
During the setup, we see that Ninny is a member of a popular girl-band in the normal world, and quite the celebrity. I would have thought that this would cause no end of complications for her real job, but you get the feeling after a while that a lot of the elements here are rough drafts.
Take Balgo Parks for example. The young man makes his entrance being dragged through the skies by a dog with dragon wings named Osushi. Balgo is a squealing, cowardly, irritating and immature nightmare - he just happens to be a Dragonclad, a human that naturally attracts Dragons. This quirk has granted him immunity from the (wait for it) draconian laws (ha!) that would otherwise see him jailed for 100 years or executed for having contact with a dragon. When the ruling council of Wing Bind decide to have him executed for being too dangerous, I was completely on-board. I noted as much in my blog article (where I watch the first episode of a show and decide if it's worth continuing) and I'm sad to say that by the end of the show, I still wanted him dead. He has not one redeeming trait whatsoever. Scooby Doo's Shaggy without the wit, charm or irony.
Throw into this a former band-mate of Ninny's, a girl called Macy. She's needy, shrieky, bratty and downright awful. I can see why Ninny kicked her out of the band, but like Balgo, Macy is a terrible and unsympathetic character. This deflated much of the drama as I didn't care if the two people our witch-heroes were protecting lived or died. Though if I'm really honest I was rooting for the latter outcome.
Put those two to one side, and you still have a series with some wonderfully imaginative elements. The architecture of the fictional London is spot on, and captures the capital perfectly. I loved the low-tech Dragon Barricade defences, with stone signs rotating to show warnings and rails popping up to secure the area. Likewise the character designs are rather nice, with some particularly Bleach-y elements in places, which makes sense by the end of the film.
Ninny is a typical tomboy antagonist, a blonde version of Lina from Slayers, while Noel is a more reserved and serious character, going by the book and keeping her emotions in check. Between the two, they make an engaging double-act, though it's hard not to concede that neither bring anything particularly original to the table.
Other design elements, such as the cute monster/brooms the witches ride, through to the dragons themselves, are interesting and diverse. Battles are handled with Kubo's usual flair, with magical abilities used to thunderous effect in places.
Like Little Witch Academia, there's plenty of scope for the series to develop into something far more intricate and interesting than the opening salvo. There are some good ideas here, in particular the mix of magic and technology, the divisions within Wing Bind and the motivations of the characters. The soundtrack would benefit from a visit to Ninny's band to create more of a signature soundscape for the series, as I wasn't blown away by anything in this feature. While we do get an antagonist, he's not really a villain, and this takes away some of the energy you might otherwise expect. Ultimately I wasn't blown away in the manner I was expecting.
I really wanted to like this more than I did, and while I enjoyed what was on offer, the film seemed a little lacklustre, especially given the odd choices to turn the two characters you need to empathise with (Balgo and Macy) into a pair of moronic whiners. Honestly, I haven't hated someone on screen this much since Joffrey in Game of Thrones...
So ultimately, this feels like a dip into a wider world. Yes, I would be interested in more because I like the style and the implications of the ending, but it needs more depth and expansion. Let's see more Wing Bind, other witches and what those running the organisation get up to. Burn the Witch serves up an entertaining but ultimately forgettable diversion, with a killer sting that it really didn't earn.
View the official trailer:
Nice to look at and entertaining for what it is, but this is an appetiser that doesn't have me demanding another course.