What They Say:
Traditionally, when a witch turns 15, she’s supposed to go out into the world alone to study magic. Makoto’s parents, however, believe that their directionally-challenged daughter should get a high school degree. Instead of being sent out on her own, Makoto and her cat Chito find themselves traveling from the bustling city of Yokohama to Aomori Prefecture, where they’ll stay with relatives until Makoto finishes school. It’s going to be a big adjustment, and it only gets more complicated since “normal” people aren’t supposed to know that witches exist… something that she tends to forget. In the meantime, Makoto, her cousins, and her new friends will have to work a just little harder to adapt to a whole new way of life when the new girl in town is a FLYING WITCH!
The audio presentation for this release is refreshingly delightful and available in both English or Japanese subtitled Dolby Stereo 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. There is a delicate balance between each seiyus’ performances to carry the weight of the show and allowing the ambiance of a rural setting to reflect on the tranquility of a pastoral feeling, whereby civilization does not intrude on the calmness of living in the country. While there are occasional sounds of nature such as birds chirping or the gurgling melody of a stream, you will not forget there are people who exist within this farming community, but the anime does not overburden the audience with constant chatter of students carrying on within the classroom. There is even an absence of the accepted classical orchestral score, with their presence only known when a brief yet sweet tune is needed to spice up a moment in which Makoto stirs up trouble. Silence is predominant but that does not mean the voice actors can relax as the scenery passes by, on the contrary, within this show their role is much more essential communicating the essence of each character, allowing us to delve into each personality as we laugh at daily mischief.
As such the accompanying themes of the show are monumentally important in serving as an introduction, helping to establish the full emotional vigor with melodies which set the mood and general attitude for an expectant audience. It is the charmingly upbeat opening song Sharanran featuring 96 Neko and sung by miwa which uses Makoto’s point of view as she flies on her broom overlooking the town as a backdrop; even within this amusing tune we are shown she does not take herself seriously, poking fun at her own mistakes, while thanking her friends for not leaving her behind due to her own inadequacies. It is this song which helps the audience understand Makoto’s warm and caring attitude, all while taking each day one step at a time. Then to end each episode, we are bid goodbye with a melodic song which cannot but make you smile, Nichijo no Mahou, sung by the seiyus of Makoto (Minami Shinoda) and Chinatsu (Eri Suzuki). It almost feels as if they are answering each other in loving kindness like sisters who bring happiness to anyone they pass, as if nature itself is becoming magical after a storm. It is this kind of song which summarizes their relationship, with the little one looking up to an older sibling asking to be taught how to be more like her, both in life and being a witch. Both songs surround us with a sense of calmness within the animation showing how even a gentle existence can hold wonder within the simplest of things.
This wonderful series is broken down into three disks spanning the breadth of twelve episodes, encoded in standard MPEG-1/2 DVD media format and 720×480 anamorphic resolution. The 16×9 aspect ratio playback helps to expand the panoramic views of this series with magnificent landscapes painted in light pastels as needed which help to extenuate the complexity of nature. It is nice how they started Makoto’s journey from the barren and harsh aspects of Yokohama paved over for antiseptic progress and then transition into the rural aspects of Hirosaki. While we do still see the influence of man with their concrete buildings and asphalt roads, when you look out the window you are reminded of the beauty of a farming community. Nothing has changed much since the Edo period, with old fashion buildings lining narrow streets, red terra cotta pavers topping roofs, overgrown fields, archaic wooden bridges spanning trickling rivers and torii gates leading to Buddhist shrines. You cannot but feel nostalgic in this setting, as if time forgot this town in some places while it progressed within the modernization of civic buildings. And yet all around, the splendor of nature shines with isolated pockets for crops, small rice paddies and sprawling orchards dot the landscape all splashed with the brightness of the sun.
However if I did have a criticism for this show it would be that last component: the brashness of light sources. Sometimes the animation studio compensates for the sun too much, all to remind the audience this show is set in a rural farming community, with nothing to interfere with the shining illumination which beams down from all angles. I can understand the need to keep the simplicity of pastoral living at the forefront, embracing nature while sharing its richness, but at the same time, they don’t need to be so harsh. Makoto came to this town since she depends on the bounty and openness of the setting, but at times it seems as if that same beauty wants to chase out the inhabitants. There are times in which faces are sickly with muted colors, all to the point where they are almost ghostly white, if not for a blush of pink; strangely clothes are unaffected and the environment thrives from the overexposure which shines with brilliance, making us gasp in wonder to the splendor. It is only the skin tone of certain characters which is abnormally bleached, though at times but this washed out flesh works, especially with Makoto’s piercing emerald green eyes – it makes them even more pronounced and allows us to gaze into her mysteriousness all the more happily with each episode.
Sentai Filmworks uses the same joy found within the series to depict the exterior decoration, reflecting serenity, but at the same time allowing each character’s personality to speak out within a singular image. The enticing front image encompasses the fun they have with each other, the gang relaxing on the back porch of the house as Kei serves them tea; Makoto, Chinatsu, Akane are sitting comfortably together joking around as Nao looks up as if wanting to help serve the refreshments. Then to tie everything together, we have familiar Chito looking into the camera and our favorite witch’s broom sitting idly by, ready at a moments notice, all surrounded by the gentleness of nature with a forest green border to accent the top edge of the box.
This same design motif is wonderfully carried over to the interior, allowing for this wondrous display of simplicity and gentleness to carry on within the packaging. Each disk is bordered by a rich forest green edge framing a snapshot from the series on the top half of the disk, with pastel green decorating the bottom, dotted by minute white mystical symbols. But to break up the repetition from the front cover, we have the logo splashed across the lower half and a golden star denoting the disk number in white, all relying on recollection of that premier image we saw on the exterior to tie everything together, as we ready ourselves for a memorable journey.
The menus themselves are rather simple and plain, using a flora motif of vines and ferns decorating a pastel background, with chapter titles delineated within a white frame and the show’s logo dancing atop of all other items. But this serenity does not take away from the charm due to the use of a screen shot from the anime or images based on it, occupying the right side of the selection area. While the menus themselves are rather straightforward, allowing for selection of the episode by name or number, the use of a sun and stars cursor stays with the witch theme of the show, tying everything together.
However, as with many other collections from Sentai Filmworks, they continue to repeat the same flaw on these screens by repeating the first minute of opening theme Sharanran in the background for the primary menu; though this may have been done to get the viewer ready for the show with the upbeat rhythms, it quickly gets tiresome once it restarts at the end of the cycle. Sentai should have given us an option to turn off the music, but they might not anticipated the viewer to spend much time in these areas since they are driving us away with the endless, if however apropos, cacophony.
As with most of the Extras from Sentai Filmworks’ various collections, I was not expecting much from this set, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. While we still have the same general trailers for their other properties, Japanese commercials and promos used for advertisement and clean Opening/Closing animations, the best part of this section is what they call Flying Witch Petit Shorts. These eight computer generated OVAs were originally shown on the official YouTube channel of distributor VAP to advertise the main anime’s first Japanese DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases. Although they are all under two minutes long, they still retain the charm and comedy of the show, now multiplied even more by showing all of the characters in chibi form, making you smile even before the action begins.
However, as in previous menus, the one continuity we do have is the first minute of closing theme Nichijo no Mahou, echoing in the background. Although I can fathom the appropriateness for the music in the main, why put it in a side section when all other shows have silence? While the melody is pleasing enough, I still don’t understand why put it in a place where most will only spend a few seconds before making a choice – seems like a waste of a wonderfully charming tune.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Makoto seems to be your average fifteen year old girl from Yokohama who is moving to the rural town of Aomori for high school, but this ordinary girl is a practitioner of magic. While it is tradition in the witch world that children of this age are considered adults, her parents are not ones to stick to the old ways, and insisted she finish her education before going out into the world, just in case things didn’t work out. Their other condition for her living alone was to move in with cousin Kei and his sister Chinatsu, this way family could look after her, due to her various excentricities. With her black cat familiar Chito accompanying her, they made their way from the packed city and via transfers from train to bus, finally arrived at their destination. Although she insisted she could find her way to the house, her feline friend knew better, instantly recognizing they were in trouble once she became preoccupied by piles of fluffy snow piled on the side of the road.
Wondering if it is edible, she does not notice a young boy approaching until he greets and stops her before doing anything foolish. This is Kei, her cousin and now guide through his hometown, knowing full well his relations’ penchant of thinking she can find something, only to become hopelessly lost. Once they arrive home, she is introduced to his sister and begins to unpack, not realizing a curious sibling has dropped off a futon and overhears a strange exchange – human having a conversation with feline. She is shocked to say the least, and alerts her brother who is preparing lunch, but does not ensue any reaction. While they eat, the forewarned girl keeps an eye on the stranger, ever diligent for more suspicious behavior. With the meal finished, Makoto asks if there is a store nearby so she can buy some necessities, but of course Kei is wary of her becoming lost so volunteers Chinatsu to accompany her, much to his sibling’s chagrin.
After an uneventful trip around the shopping center and an obligatory donut reward, the young girl is caught unaware of any further strange behavior, until Makoto spots a display of brooms. Taking up one of the bamboo shafts and testing the stiff bristles, the confident black haired student grasps the handle … and begins to rise. It is only the low overhead ceiling which stops her ascent and now makes her young companion stare at the event in stunned awe. Even as this situation unfolds, Kei is meeting his friend Nao at the former family’s liquor store, trying to explain the new addition to his household. While he struggles trying to describe his relation’s unusual quirks, as if in answer to the uneasiness in this dialogue, a strange shadow appears above their heads; it is not a cloud or large flocks of birds, but the same girl he was describing previously with his sister – flying on the broomstick. As if life in this small village couldn’t become any more interesting … now they have a witch living amongst them. How could things get any stranger?
When I first heard about this series and read the manga, of course any serious otaku would immediately identify this property with Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. While the two titles may have similarities of young girls going out into the world to prove themselves, that is where the resemblances end. It is immediately apparent that Flying Witch is a completely separate entity and unto its own right – a simplistic look at the world of witches and how Makoto hopes to interact with her family, friends and ultimately nature. I love how mangaka Chihiro Ishizuka has created a world in which everything is not as it appears to be, with the normality of humans interacting with subtleties of magic, hidden just beyond their sight. And yet with the guidance of a fledgling sorceress, hopefully Kei and Chinatsu will be able to realize that there are more things in this world beyond their clouded vision, and their cousin will open that window for them.
And it within this new and wondrous realm of insight, with the unknown and mysteries beyond their ken, in by which this title unfolds with the delight of a child seeing a snowy day for the first time. Ishizuka-sensei creates such a heart warming sense of openness and thankfully the animation studio was able to duplicate a world which embraces nature and friendship equally. I also love how the honesty of the characters’ expressions interact with their actions in such a way that dialogue is unnecessary, but by using the seiyus’ talents to the fullest, they are able to bring out personality traits which make them seem all the more real; but when you add this essential factor, that component multiplies the hilarity ever more, on top of the joke of Makoto constantly getting lost, by such that even cultural boundaries are crossed, making this series all the more pleasing to Western audiences.
But the most sincere theme for this show, aside from her cooperation with nature and the magic within, is the relationship between Makoto and Chinatsu. From the first episode we saw how her new big sister’s unusual quirks made her wary of this stranger, but as time passed and she was shown the hidden world, their friendship opened up. No matter how many times the fledgling witch drags her into her hilarious or fascinating lessons, plus those thanks to older sister Akane, the young girl is never frustrated or shies from these new adventures. In fact, with each new day she becomes ever more bolder, in so much as wanting to become an apprentice and learning more. They become closer as if they were actually born of the same mother, not caring that age may set them apart, but in fact it only draws them nearer.
Flying Witch is a delight to watch and a pleasure to absorb the directness of such a straight forward series of companionship and honesty. The beauty of the rural countryside and intrigue of magic lures the audience into the tale, displaying the innocence of an old fashion witch trying to live within a modern world. Finally it is the purity of her personality which makes this show so satisfying and yet the sincerity of the story is what will make you return for more of her adventures.
Features: Japanese Commercials, Japanese Promos, Clean Opening/Closing Animations, Sentai Trailers & Flying Witch Petit Shorts
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Microsoft Xbox One S Blu-ray player via HDMI connection to 1080p