What They Say:
When the laws of magic are broken, it’s the duty of the Police Department’s deadly Section 1 to enforce them. But, since even craven maven mages and nefarious necromancers have the right to a fair trial, the job of defending them belongs to the Benmashi, the Wizard Barristers! It’s a tricky profession, requiring both arcane ability and a judicious sense of jurisprudence, and at just seventeen, Cecil Sudo is the youngest Benmashi that Butterfly Law has ever employed. That means a lot of late nights burning the midnight brimstone, summoning up summaries, parsing phrases with paranormal paralegals and cutting deals with opposing counsels from hell. And when a young Benmashi starts to discover that her own charm may be more magically-based than she realized, there’ll be a hex-tra incentive to work wonders outside the courtroom as well! Every trial is a witch trial as the most enchantingly Adept Attorney ever becomes a Master of the Art of Defensive Spells in WIZARD BARRISTERS!
The Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0 audio tracks are encoded at 48 kHz at 224 Kbps. The English track offers clear playback with a good balance in action sequences. Voice acting seems better than average for most of the scenes I sampled. I watched the entire series in Japanese, and while the majority of the show sounds great, action scenes often had a muddy sound as the voices, sound effects, and background music lacked separation.
As originally released in 1.78:1, the video is encoded for anamorphic playback. Playback is variable bitrate. Colors remained clear throughout, and special effects had appropriate contrast. Even though I only noticed a few artifacts from a normal viewing distance, these discs had more noise than I’m used to seeing at a closer than normal distance.
Three discs are enclosed in a standard size keepcase. Discs 1 and 2 are on opposite sides of a hinged leaf, and disc 3 fits in a hub on the inside back cover. Each disc has been printed with original art of Cecil in different costumes. Disc 1 she stands on the street in a sundress with earth tone flowers printed on it, and she holds a wicker bag. Disc 2, she stands on the street at night wearing denim overall shorts with a light short sleeve shirt and carrying a heart shaped purse. Disc 3 finds her standing against a cloudy sky with the wind blowing her frilled white blouse and purple checked skirt. The cover shows Cecil upside down in the sky over the city as she produces magic in a battle. The spine has the title taking up the top two thirds and Cecil in her sundress looks out in the bottom third. The back has a very clean look with the top two thirds dominated by white text on variable blue backgrounds. A large image of Cecil and her familiar border the text on the left, and five small scenes from the series border the top and bottom. The bottom third has a pink field with the special features clearly listed in white font. Credits and copyright information surround the technical grid in black font.
Each menu features a different office girl posed on the right side and looking at the viewer. On the left side, episode numbers and a decorative graphic set off the episode titles which appear in white font. Under the episode titles, “Languages” and either “Special Features (disc 1)” or “Web Previews (disc 2 and 3)” appear below the titles. The vertical menu overlays the pentagram-like logo used throughout the series.
Extras include web previews and a clean opening and ending.
Yasuomi Umetsu designed and directed one of the more controversial anime to get released in the U.S. Kite raised the bar for action, girls and guns, and the potentials for an adult narrative. Sometimes forgotten because of the hentai content added to that movie, his characters conveyed both stylized femininity and a sincere focus that made the transitions to violence feel natural. Wizard Barristers not only manages to recapture that balance between cute girls and grotesque violence, it softens the sexuality to make his style work for a mainstream audience.
In Umetsu’s new world, a human majority lives beside wizards called wuds. Using magic will cause a wizard to be fined, and if a crime has been committed, a wud is tried in a magic court by a human judge and prosecutor. Wuds must depend on wizard barristers to defend them against the prejudiced legal system.
Cecil Sudo, a 17-year-old wud, has become the youngest wizard barrister ever. On her first day at her new practice, she sees a crime being carried out by a diaboloid, a magically-produced giant robot creature piloted by a wud. At the scene of the crime, she sees a man being questioned by the police, and she steps in to explain she will represent him. This sets up the basic premise of the show. Wuds have the ability to use limited magic that gives them some control of their environment, and they have the ability to create a creature from elements in their environment they can control.
When the story begins, the show appears to be a detective procedural as Cecil tries to find the real robbers and win her first case. We meet a pair of detectives, a man and woman, who seem to be very anti-wud, a competing wizard barrister practice tries to entice Cecil to come work for them, and slowly, the viewer becomes aware that unseen forces seem to have a plan for Cecil to awaken more types of magic.
Since the drama works to create tension, I will not ruin the experience by giving away the twists and major plot points. Instead I will talk about the dynamics that drive the show. First, we have the office family. Cecil comes to work in a place where everyone is older than she, and the only other barrister without experience speaks openly about Cecil’s shortcomings. Most of the characters in the office have at least one episode where they get to know and love Cecil, and we find out some of their back stories that explain their personality and quirks.
While in no way an ecchi, there are some mild sexual elements as might be expected in an Umetsu designed show. We have an adult female with a dirty mind who would be fired for sexual harassment if she worked in this world. Each of the wuds has a familiar. These are short, funny animals who also seem to have sexual appetites and offer some fan service moments. Some viewers, like me, might find the interaction between the frog who is Cecil’s familiar and the 17-year-old girl a bit creepy.
Beyond the story, the element that works best in the series is the action sequences. Cecil’s cuteness easily shifts to deadly focus. Magic battles can range from dirt being propelled at another wud, bullets stopped in mid air, or simple forces animated in almost a video game aesthetic. Some magic can have cartoon humor, but other times, the forces cause violent and gory death. These battles can be held on the ground, or if a diaboloid gets created, it can turn into a mecha street fight with two giants flying between skyscrapers, sending trains flying from rails, and destroying walls. To be clear, much of the violence has a traumatic edge and consequences, and the creators have purposely used it to create suspense and a sense of danger.
One weakness of the series is the concept of bigotry and discrimination seems to be a trope and never gets unpacked. We only see criminals or accused wuds interacting in the world of the series. This attribute is similar to only seeing people of a particular race on the news as the accused or convicted. Still when the barristers engage in mundane things like eating in a restaurant or enjoying a public beach, we do not see any hesitation from them or negative social reactions from humans. Because discrimination acts as agency and reason for the main story, a viewer may be left with a hollow feeling that something did not get fully resolved.
Wizard Barristers offers a developing story over 12 tight episodes. Artwork and direction create a series that can swing from heartwarming character interactions to epic violence, in fun and engaging ways. With many of the attributes of Kite watered down for broadcast TV, a fan of Yauomi Umetsu may feel a little cheated. Still, a mainstream fan of suspense and fantasy action may find this series a treasure chest of cool fight scenes and surprising twists as Cecil learns about herself and her world.
Japanese 2.0 language with forced English subtitles, English 2.0 language, Clean Opening and Closing, Web Previews, and Sentai trailers.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 1st, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.