Dec 11, 2020
deadoptimist (All reviews)
Ugh, well, maybe burn it for real. I have noticed it with other old timers returning to work on new shounen series – they often just can’t or don’t want to grow the story properly, they want to jump right into profitable “coolness”. But the coolness comes from a well-built world, without the foundation it falls flat. Burn the Witch feels way too superficial to properly magic and soar in the sky on its broom.

The story is set in an alternative modern world again – this time it’s Reverse London. I have read several mangas with a fantasy London, and none of them were good – neither the mangas themselves, nor the versions of London in them. The same here. The London in this work is postcard-garish and paper thin, like pages of a cheap tourist guide. Some red phone booths, some castle wall textures, a random skyscraper and a coat of arms... Can’t give you more because the backgrounds don’t form a coherent picture – they aren’t even filled on most pages, it’s all just characters striking a pose or cheap action effects. The author tries to play with the characteristic British “cool weird” names – I think – but the end result is Wooly Wally “dragons” eating grass on Ninebrook Pastures, an organization named Wing Bind, and a character called Bang Knife (fine, “Bangnyfe”, doesn’t help) saving the day in a skull bandana.

Speaking about characters, they probably could have worked if they had not shouted and bickered constantly. We have a duo of girls, one red haired, abrasive and loud, the other a black haired ideal Yamato Nadeshiko with Japanese roots. They serve as Pipers – a two person squad of witches tasked with handling dragons, the mystical creatures that inhabit the reverse world. The premise doesn’t sound bad, but the thing is these two lines are it all, the rest is shouting and making faces. The red haired lead is also not endearingly annoying – rude, spiteful, and destructively envious.

The series drops the ball hard with misplaced preemptive humor and bad fanservice. Misplaced humor is, for example, the protags’ lazy boss, who uses them, but can’t do anything without them. I call it preemptive, because I believe you must build your fictional world before subverting anything or replacing important details with jokes, yet here not so good jokes come before the meat, and cream roses before the main dish is a bad dining experience.

The fanservice is ceaseless and corrosive. The third mainstay character, who moves the overall plot in fact, is a human perverted guy, who the witch girls have to keep on a leash and look after because reasons. He has exactly three features: he is creepily obsessed with the Yamato Nadeshiko girl, he is sort of unlucky in their world, he has a cute-dog-with-a-secret he dotes on all the time when he doesn’t beg to see the protag’s panties. And he is on screen a lot, a dated trashy gag, who should’ve left in the very chapter, at maximum in the very arc when he first appeared, but stays for god knows why. There’s also a female character, whose costume is cut out at the crotch in the shape of a heart to show panties, a scarf knotted above and below he giant rack, while everybody else in her group is dressed sensibly. This level of in your face randomness with fanservice is annoying and breaks the little immersion this manga manages to muster.

If I am very honest – I don’t think Kubo is cutting it with Burn the Witch. Bleach dissolved in its later stages, but early on it had a fascinating otherworld full of beauty, strong characters, and symbolism, thriving on Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, spiced up with a bit of Spanish/Latinx detail. And here he thinks he is clever when he shows a bland animal form with a propeller in it and says that witches use dragons for energy or when he adds some flowers on the horns of an otherwise regular poorly drawn deer.

I was stoked for a female-led shounen about witches in a European setting from a mangaka who once shone, but this is a boring mess. The world feels stale and low effort. You can’t just slap the word “dragon” with cookie cutter monster designs on top of a bad caricature of one of the most recognizable and vibrant cities in the world and expect it to work. The action is nonsensical because of the lack of context and because it is random mumbo-jumbo "spells" causing cabooms with no proper system behind it. And the only sympathetic character is the quiet female lead, but she has the worst case of a side kick tied to her hip, quite literally, salivating, blushing, and bleeting “panties” all the time.

They say that the movie adaptation was ok because of its high energy, fun designs, and, mainly, the quality of the animation, thanks to the studio behind it. Maybe this series can thrive as an anime, I dunno. But as a manga Burn The Witch is a bit worse than bland, and unless there’re plenty of people who are very into the specific type of fanservice that plagues it so badly (which I doubt), once the bosses milk Kubo’s name for what it is worth now, I fully expect it to get the axe like Jack the Ripper’s victims and burn down like London in 1666.