“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” —Arnold H. Glasow
Proceeding past the third episode, Flying Witch earns its place as one of the most solid anime of the Spring 2016 seasons, and even as a contender for one of the best-executed slice-of-life anime I’ve seen. Continuing to following Makoto’s everyday adventures in Aomori with Chinatsu, Kei and Nao, everyone experiences together the different facets of Makoto’s witch training. Along the way, they meet Inukai, a girl who develops dog-like features during day hours undr the influence of a powerful spell she inadvertently invoked. As time wears on, Chinatsu, Kei and Nao join on Makoto’s adventures in greater frequency’ after Chinatsu follows Makoto’s cat, Chito, on a mini-adventure, she watches as Makoto learns to fly more effectively and volunteers herself in a magic experiment after wanting to become a witch herself. Together with Kei, Makoto and Chinatsu later visit a special café, read fortunes together, pick apples, fly to visit a sky whale and in the season finale, Makoto crafts a high-grade witches’ robe for Chinatsu before viewing land-fish gathering in anticipation of an upcoming festival.
Flying Witch presents a novel take on magic that sets this anime as being quite distinct from J.R.R. Tolkien and also, more similar to that of J.K. Rowling. Commonplace in Western fiction as a powerful supernatural force, magic is portrayed differently according to the narrative’s requirements. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, magic is an abstract power that higher beings such as the Maiar and Valar can wield to control natural forces or the will of beings. In his novels, magic wielders are oftentimes limited in how much of their power they can wield to avoid cataclysm in the physical world; Gandalf is forbidden from using his raw power against Sauron during the War of the Ring, and likewise abstains from taking the One Ring. Instead, he uses his magic sparingly to assist Frodo and the others in their quest, influencing Middle Earth’s history in a positive direction to release it from the threat of Sauron. Conversely, in Harry Potter, magic is regarded as a highly versatile utility for carrying out tasks, both everyday (cooking and cleaning) to practical (potions making, transfiguration, charms) or even combative (Defense Against the Dark Arts and the Unforgivable Curses). Witches and Wizards train to master these spells and other magical utilities in order to maintain their livelihoods, rather similar to how Muggles create technology of increasing complexity (household utilities such as microwaves or vacuums, concepts such as the scientific method, law, ethics and military hardware, ranging from assault rifles to cruise missiles, fulfil similar roles for us Muggles). As with Tolkien, the magic in Rowling’s writings are subject to different limitations and laws: Hermione mentions that food cannot be created freely as one of the exceptions in Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration, and similarly, Voldemort’s demise arises from him exploiting magic without understanding its implications. It becomes clear that magic in any fictional context can be quite cumbersome, but both Tolkien and Rowling do a fantastic job of crafting their own rules to ensure things remain plausible. In Flying Witch, the magic that witches such as Makoto and Akane wield are likewise subject to limitations and laws. Compared to the abstractions of Tolkien’s magic, or the more commonplace, tangible usage of magic in Rowling’s writings, the magic in Flying Witch appears to be a low-key and subtle variation of Rowling’s magic: there are potions that can induce partial transfiguration (such as in Inukai’s case) or different emotions (such as one that causes Chinatsu to find everything hilarious), and spells that can summon crows. Brooms also exist, but for transportation alone rather than encompassing sport. However, in Flying Witch, magic is not quite so commonplace or as flashy as seen in Harry Potter.
Makoto’s activites never draw too much attention, and in fact, magic is only one facet of her training. Despite being a witch, Makoto engages in a wide range of different activities; Akane notes that Makoto’s spellcraft is weaker and also helps Makoto learn about potions. The nature of Makoto’s witch training suggests that to be an effective witch is to be multi-disciplinary and well-connected with the nature in the world around one, far beyond simply just possessing a high proficiency with spells and potions as the stereotypical images of witches typically portray. This attention to subtleties in one’s surroundings to observe wondrous things often going missed by others is shown time and time again in Flying Witch: Makoto points out various supernatural and uncommon occurrences to Kei, Chinatsu and Nao. These events are typically found right in their backyard or locally, showing that there can be interesting things nearby. Because familiarity breeds complacency, individuals often miss things in the areas they know well simply because they’ve grown accustomed to the scenery. In showing the different aspects of the world that witches know, Makoto’s role is meant to evoke the idea that beauty, splendour and novelty can be seen quite close to home: ranging from creating robes and picking apples to visiting a hidden café or welcoming the Harbinger of Spring, mandrakes and sky whales, with her around, Chinatsu, Kei and Nao experience truly spectacular things, as well as simpler but equally meaningful moments together with Akane, Makoto’s older sister.
Screenshots and Commentary
- This Flying Witch review is a bit longer than the usual format: this is a series I can whole-heartedly and easily recommend to viewers of all sorts. As such, there’s a bit more space to talk about things, although even in this extended format, I nonetheless had to pick thirty screenshots from seventy (otherwise, writing this would take at least six hours). Here, Kei, Chinatsu and Makoto get their photograph taken at a temple by spring.
- Inukai is a full-fledged witch like Akane, and is proficient at card-based divinitation. She appears with dog-like features by day because she ingested some chocolates that Akane had made while drunk. Her condition only persists during the day, and she is restored to her human appearance by night. These features are said to wear off over time, and until then, Inukai dresses in a heavy coat to hide her appearance to avoid dissuading customers seeking fortunes.
- Despite being a traveller, Akane begins dropping by with increasing frequency as the series continues. Here, she shares a morning meal with Makoto and Kei’s family: despite the presence of magic and supernatural elements, Kei’s family take things in stride. Various dishes are depicted in loving detail, and I recall sitting down to poutine perogies while watching Flying Witch back during May.
- Chito is Makoto’s familiar: these are spirits that, in medieval folklore, would aid witches in carrying out their magic. Seen as both malevolent and benevolent, they can take on different animal forms. Cats, dogs, mice and frogs are common, with a familiar entering a magically binding pact of sorts with a witch under most cases. In Flying Witch, witches can understand what their familiars are saying, and here, Chito leads Makoto to an locale where cherry blossoms are fluttering about.
- Both Kei and Chinatsu are probably intended to represent the reactions of ordinary folk, or Muggles, to magic. Although both are initially surprised by the existence of magic, Kei accepts it quite quickly and Chinatsu becomes very keen to become a witch herself, exhibiting a great deal of excitement after Akane considers taking Chinatsu as a trainee. Chinatsu is absolutely adorable throughout the whole of Flying Witch‘s run and mirrors the boundless energy and curiosity in children.
- During one experiment, Akane gives Makoto candies that will induce crying. Chinatsu ends up trying candies that make her laugh uncontrollably. In Harry Potter, various potions and charms have similar effects on their recipients; Harry and Ron mention Cheering Charms in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phornix, and later in the novel, a calming draught is used to help students recover from the stress of taking the OWLs.
- However, magic is never shown as a force taking the forefront of all events in Flying Witch. In most episodes, Makoto also has opportunities to experience life in the Aomori region. Far from being a snow-covered, desolate region of Japan where secret weapon development programmes are carried out (as with Terror in Resonance), Flying Witch presents Aomori as a charming rural region that offers a completely different vibe than the well-travelled paths of Tokyo and Kyoto.
- After spending an afternoon picking Fiddleheads, Makoto and Kei prepare them for consumption. These sprouts of the Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, can be consumed after cooking; they’re supposed to have antioxidant properties, as well as omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids, iron and fibre. They’re known as kogomi (コゴミ) in Japan and enjoyed during the spring.
- Café Concurio is a quaint establishment located a short ways from the Kuramoto residence. Like magical locations in Harry Potter, it appears as a decrepit ruin to a Muggle, but a simple spell transforms it into its proper glory. I’m not sure if there have been any instances of Muggles entering magical places such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley in Harry Potter or its supplemental works, but in Flying Witch, being in the presence of a witch familiar with the area is sufficient to gain access to these special places.
- Upon learning their waitress, Hina, at Café Concurio is a ghost, Makoto places a spell to render her visible. Born during the Meiji Era, Hina has been around for quite some time and is quite shy, immediately retreating into the shadows upon learning that she’s now visible. The equivalent of a full episode is spent at the café, and despite this being a seemingly normal activity, Flying Witch transforms it into a very relaxing experience for the viewers, to reflect on how we visit such places to relax.
- The patronage at Café Concurio is a wonderfully diverse one, and here, everyone strokes a fox who’s attempting to enjoy his fare in peace. Earlier, a ladybug couple visit and order some nectar from thistles. They’re rumoured to bring fortune to whoever’s fingers they land on, so Makoto and Chinatsu spend a bit of time chasing them around.
- Inukai later returns to read fortunes for Makoto and Chinatsu. It’s a style that I’ve never heard of before, and I’m more familiar with Chinese fortune telling (which is not saying much, since I have no idea how it works). In the context of reality, fortune-telling is totally useless, being presented as vague and general enough to capture most events. In fiction, however, they can become rather more fun, as viewers can observe situational irony in some fortunes that are given.
- Inukai returns to a human form by nightfall, and bids everyone a good evening. Yesterday was Canada Day, and in previous years, I wrote dedicated posts for those events. This time, I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow, so I’ve decided to push that reflection in with the Flying Witch reflection: yesterday was quite pleasant, despite an unreal traffic jam on the Trans Canada highway leading into Banff National Park.
- Makoto and Chinatsu pick radishes for Nao; it appears that Makoto’s herbology skills are reasonably good, as they’ve got a surplus of radishes. By the time we arrived, it was noon hour, but fortuitously, parking spaces were still plentiful. We parked, stopped for lunch (an Angus burger with hickory-smoked bacon and a smoky sauce for me) and then walked around the Banff townsite. The Banff Park Museum National Historic Site of Canada had free admissions and we stopped in there to take in the exhibits, before walking around the Bow River and stopping for maple-walnut ice-cream while waiting for the Canada Day parade to begin.
- After the Canada Day parade ended, we walked to Bumper’s Beefhouse for dinner to celebrate my defense’s outcome. It’s been eleven years since we last went, and they’ve moved since then. Their steaks remain as delicious as I remember: I ordered the 12 ounce rib-eye steak with a baked potato and prawn skewer. Every bite of the steak was tender, flavourful and juicy, and the salad bar was quite nice, too. Later that evening, Akane returns to the Kuramoto residence with souvenirs in tow for Chinatsu and Makoto, showing that Inukai’s fortunes turned out to be true.
- I’ve not taken a home economics course since my days as a high school student, but the activities I’ve participated in were fun and the skills and have made me more comfortable with cooking. I will definitely need to master the art of making simple but nutritious and delicious meals in the very near future, now that I’m nearly graduated and are seeking to move out within the next few years.
- The Kuramotos, Makoto and Akane help with pruning the flowers on an apple tree to ensure the apples are of good quality. Back in 2007 October, I took a short trip to Kamloops during the Thanksgiving Long Weekend to watch the salmon runs, and one of the destinations on our itinerary was an apple farm, where we picked apples. At the time, I had braces, so I couldn’t eat the apples directly, but apple juice was an option, so I had some of the freshest apple juice of all time in lieu of apples.
- After climbing onto a step ladder to reach the higher flowers, Makoto is treated to a spectacular view of the landscape above the apple trees. The artwork depicting the landscapes in Flying Witch is spectacular and brings to mind the stills that were seen in Non Non Biyori.
- On a foggy morning, the
Slenderman paperman drops by to deliver a newspaper. Chinatsu is no longer frightened by the wonderous things of Makoto and Akane’s world and here, wonders if the paperman is related to the Harbinger of Spring in any way owing to their similarities. According to Akane, the witches’ newspaper is packed with useful information ordinary newspapers lack (it’s probably better than the Daily Prophet), and I’m reminded of how electronic news in the Muggle world is rendering traditional papers obsolete. The paper that we subscribe to has shrunk over the years, and there are ads letting readers know that the full deal can be accessed via app or website.
- The news reveals that a sky whale will be observed overhead in Makoto’s AO, so with Akane and Chinatsu, they decide to see if they can spot it during the penultimate episode. A large construct, the sky whale is reminiscent of Laputa in Miyazaki’s 1986 film, Castle in the Sky (itself inspired by Laputa of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels). Unlike those castles, where technological superiority led citizens to distance itself from society, the sky whales of Flying Witch serve a different purpose.
- This episode is one of the most beautifully animated among all the Flying Witch episodes; the landscapes of Aomori prefecture are shown in incredible detailed and coloured well to give the sense of an unending peacefulness. They explore some of the old structures in the sky whale and encounter Anzu Shiina (seen earlier at Café Concurio): she has a fascination with history and explains the sky whales were once homes for people and appeared more frequently.
- Voiced by Yuka Iguchi (Mako Reizi of Girls und Panzer and Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki), Anzu’s voice has a similar attribute as that of Yuki Nagato’s in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. It turns out that Anzu’s knowledge extends well beyond archeology, and she’s also familiar with the histories of a variety of things. Here is another shot of the tranquil skies above Amori: the penultimate episode was delayed by a week for reasons unknown, and some viewers have speculated that the incredible animation quality in this episode might be the contributing factor.
- After viewing the whale, everyone returns to the Kuramoto residence for breakfast. Apparently, pancakes are perhaps one of the oldest known cereal-based food items, pre-dating even the ancient Egyptians and Greeks; the nomenclature “pancake” is more recent, being used in Middle English of the 15th century. Pancakes breakfasts are a staple of the Calgary Stampede, and around this time of year, they’re held by large organisations and retail shops in the days leading up to the Calgary Stampede.
- The finale returns to a quieter, lower key events that characterise Flying Witch: the penultimate episode’s events are more exciting in a relative sense. Here, while Makoto is maintaining her broomstick, Chito finds one of her old robes. Realising that she’d likely need a new one, Makoto decides to take the broom and visit a local fabric store.
- Although the acceleration and handling on Makoto’s broom is probably not comparable to that of a Firebolt or Nimbus 2001, by this point in Flying Witch, she’s gotten the hang of flying and can do so without too much difficulty, lending the anime its name. The brooms of Harry Potter are bewitched for flight, while in Flying Witch, the broom acts as a conduit of sorts for a witch’s power.
- After floating about in the sky and landing, Makoto runs into Nao, who’s out delivering liquor to her customers. Makoto asks her for directions and manages to arrive at her destination. While she’s generally got a poor sense of direction, this aspect of Makoto’s character is lessened over time as she becomes accustomed to life in Aomori, and here, the interior of the fabric store is beautifully rendered, feeling very much like a fabric store in the real world.
- While Makoto does her best to surprise Chinatsu with a robe of her own, the latter’s curiosity leads her to persuade Makoto to let her know what’s going on. Makoto relents and allows Chinatsu to watch her craft the robe. With the robe completed, Chinatsu is thrilled and here, imagines herself casting spells as a witch.
- With Akane drunk from consuming so much alcohol and Chinatsu falling a sleep, Makoto shares a quiet moment in the evening prior to stepping out with Kei and Nao for a festival. She mentions that with the time that’s passed by, she’ll be required to do a progress report of sorts, akin to those that I’ve completed in the past two years for graduate school. I’m not sure what the contents of a report for witches would be, but mine entails my research’s directions, teaching and professional development, such as conferences.
- Before falling asleep, Akane explains to Makoto that these land fishes aggregate whenever a festival is about to occur. These fish seem fond of sake and behave similarly to conventional fish, but also begin glowing red and take to the skies, creating yet another beautiful sight for Makoto to behold. It’s the perfect ending to Flying Witch, and brings to mind the fireworks show I saw for Canada Day yesterday evening.
- This marks the end of the review for Flying Witch, and now that I’m packed, I’m set to board my flight tomorrow for Mexico. There’s been a minor hiccough with the online system, so I’ll try again later this evening before turning in, and failing that, I’ll get it sorted out at the airport. Other than that, I’m rather excited. Regular programming will resume when I return, and as I settle in to a new schedule, posting patterns may become a little erratic or sporadic.
The verdict on Flying Witch is an easy one: it earns a strong recommend for all audiences for being able to capture the beauty and joy of the subtle, simpler things in life. Coupled with the peaceful setting of Aomori and its depiction in great detail, character dynamics that are warming and amicable, and a beautiful soundtrack that accentuates the atmosphere surrounding Aomori and Makoto’s everyday life, these elements combine to create a truly unique anime that appears to illustrate the interface between Non Non Biyori and Harry Potter in a completely new and welcome direction. Dispensing with typical anime tropes, Flying Witch chooses to intricately construct and present an incredibly detailed and noteworthy world that captures the audience’s interest. Then, the interactions among the characters allow Flying Witch to hold the audience’s interest. There are not many negatives that can count against Flying Witch, except perhaps that there isn’t a second season; all of these elements culminate to result in my final decision. Flying Witch is easily worth watching, and I note that for Minami Shinoda, her role as Makoto Kowata is her first. In spite of being new, she delivers a solid, consistently good performance in Flying Witch that does much to bring Makoto’s character to life.
Thank you for a wonderful review of Flying Witch. I think you have described its charm well. I also think that your final selection of screenshots does a job of highlighting the charm, though this may a biased opinion because I enjoyed the series so much that I am immediately reminded of the context behind each screenshot.
Your brief discussion of how magic portrayed in Flying Witch compares against portrayals in other popular fiction is a nice touch. I haven’t read Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, and I usually don’t read fantasy books, so I can’t contribute to your discussion there. I am aware that those series have more depth to their lore than most series so I can understand why you referred to them.
By the way, what anime are you planning to write about this season? It’s a little sad to hear that your schedule may not allow you to publish posts at least weekly in the near future, but that’s how life is.
Have a good conference and an enjoyable stay in Mexico.
I’m a little sad to see Flying Witch end; it’s a series where the real magic was presenting an incredibly relaxing environment. The magic was a nice touch 🙂
I’m concentrating my efforts towards Amanchu! for the summer 2016 season, as well as Planetarian: I know I will be writing about these shows in some form, and the trickier question is “when?”.
The conference in Cancún was absolutely amazing; thanks! (More details are in the new post that I’d pushed out before I forgot all the details)