Burn the Witch

3 out of 5

Directed by: Tatsuro Kawano

covers 3-episode version

Burn the Witch, like a lot of fantasy-based anime / manga, frontloads you with the setup: dragons exist in London – it’s why they’re on the city’s coat of arms, duh!; but the dragons are not visible in London, rather only in a “reverse” London; and the “Wing Bind” agency exists in reverse London to manage dem dragons. Okay, got it. And then Ninny is running away from paparazzi in regular world, and uses some kind of magic to flip to reverse world – kitted out in Wing Bind gear – teaming up with the similarly outfitted Noel for an introductory action sequence of rounding up a dragon, so maybe this is some kind of isekai, magical-girl mashup. Ninny’s kind of a tsundere; Noel’s the stoic-but-smart one; the play off of eachother well, and Studio Colorido delivers recognizable character and creature designs, and fluid action. Alright. Sure.

Crunchyroll has divvied this up into 3 episodes, but it was originally a movie. Something is off, though: while the frontloading generally precludes asking a lot of questions about the Who and What and Why, ‘Burn the Witch’ goes beyond the just-deal-with-it assumptions of its setup and starts tossing characters and lore to us in a way that suggests we’ve entered in to an OVA and not a movie, but, no, this is not an OVA. Ninny and Noel are tasked with protecting Balgo – who’s a “dragonclad” who attracts dragons – and they suss out a big dragon indeed, but this isn’t presented like it’s intended to be the core plot of the “film,” rather just another in a sequence of events and characters that are rolling by as though, again, we’ve just dropped in to the middle of a show. While things do, essentially, build up to a showdown with an even bigger dragon, this is still amidst even more lore and more characters that go unexplained, and it’s never really all that clear how Balgo factors in to things the way he does, and what the exact relationship between “reverse” and “front” London is, and etcetera and etcetera. This tone might be frustrating if it was confusing, but thankfully (?), Burn the Witch isn’t especially deep – in story, in characterization – but it is well acted, and well designed and animated and pretty exciting, with well paced dollops of humor, so it’s very distractingly watchable, and if you told me it was a lead-in for a series, I’d be all for it. As is, it’s puzzling as heck that it’s structured the way it is – no real development, no real payoffs, no real sense of urgency – but, again, it’s perfectly fine entertainment.

And then in the final shots, there’s a reveal that it’s connected to Bleach – something that more in-the-know readers were already aware of, presumably – that only makes its massive gaps in explanations stranger, because it clashes with how I’ve come to understand the world of Bleach… though admittedly I’m only about 100 eps into the anime, and haven’t read the manga.

So I’m going to ignore, like, all of that. I’m going to ignore all of the pestering questions I had about how Burn the Witch “works,” and just be content in that I had a good time for 90 minutes, and have found another animation studio to check out.