Flying Witch Episode 1: Anime as Film, 21st Century Witches

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Has it been a month already since I first started this new blog? It’s been a while, but I think I’m doing well enough depression-wise to tackle an article; today, I’m doing something a bit different, by seeing how anime can be analyzed cinematically alongside the traditional narrative examination. Most of the time, anime reviews focus exclusively on the story and characters – after all, film is as much a storytelling medium as any other, and it’s fun to analyze what goes into a particular scene narrative-wise in order to extract some great insight into the universe of the work. Such shows as PenguindrumGalaxy Express 999 and others become all the more rewarding to the audience with in-depth analysis; they offer so much through symbolism that watching them becomes an enriching moment, a sort of cinematic mono no aware structured around animation.

But what about the actual film work that goes into a production? As any anime fan can attest, animation doesn’t utilize any sort of camerawork – when one watches a particular show, there’s the understanding that the characters aren’t actually moving, instead confined to paper (or computer, in several cases) as a series of images combined to create the illusion of movement. However, anime retains many of the cinematic devices found within their live-action counterparts; take, for example, the opening scenes of Flying Witch‘s first episode. Right off the bat, we have an establishing shot – the scene of Kowata Makoto arriving in the city by bus and train is cut in such a way to show a traveling montage, and it helps establish the location by providing glimpses of the world around Makoto as she meets her cousin after several years away.

Makoto’s joyful surprise at seeing snow in April serves to establish the fact that she hadn’t been in town for some time – she’s happy to see the snow, something unusual for her to see this time of year (she’s lived in Yokohama before moving, where snow is implicitly less common in April), and relishes the opportunity to touch it. With the entrance of Kuramoto Kei, the show uses a medium shot to emphasize the familial connection; the two speak with each other on friendly terms, since they’re family, and the medium shot shows the characters facing each other and holding a conversation. They know each other, and the structure of the shot emphasizes this – they don’t have to re-introduce themselves.

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The younger cousin, Kuramoto Chinatsu, initially becomes surprised (and a little scared) of Makoto because she overhears her talking to her pet cat, seemingly able to understand what the feline says; for Makoto, this is an everyday, normal activity, since she can hold a conversation with her cat without any problems, but Chinatsu (having never seen it before) is off-put by the seemingly sudden intrusion of Makoto into her household and expresses her concern to her brother. Within the episode, we see Chinatsu sitting rather rigidly at the table in close-up as she watches Makoto; she’s nervous, and doesn’t want to broach the subject to Makoto. This same anxiety arises when her brother Kei suggests she accompany Makoto to the hardware store; one of the above screenshots shows her in close-up, resting her head on the table, but this tired look turns to surprise upon Kei’s recommendation.

Chinatsu has her reservations, certainly, but the following montage of the trip to the hardware store clearly shows her having a wonderful time; she becomes comfortable around Makoto, realizing she has nothing to fear from her. Her initial reaction stemmed from fearful unfamiliarity with the unknown – a witch doesn’t always enter one’s life, after all, and Chinatsu’s hesitations can be understood through that encounter with someone who has legendary powers. Through bonding at the store, Makoto shows Chinatsu that there’s nothing to be afraid of – she is a regular person, even though she has access to the power of flight.

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With Ishiwatari Nao, we have a character who seems more curious about Makoto than fearful; she doesn’t exactly warm up to Makoto, but Makoto expresses her desire to become friends (even if she might cause trouble). Nao is introduced after Makoto returns from the store, and Kei can be seen excitedly talking about the time she flew on a broom; Kei is obviously happy, but Nao doesn’t share that excitement at the moment, instead being more reserved and cautious about the visitor. The first two screenshots of the above set show a bit of contrast to the two – Nao has her arms folded, standing fairly rigidly, while Makoto is shown in a diagonal composition, smiling and holding her broom as she introduces herself. That Nao doesn’t smile initially shows her reticence to accept someone new; she isn’t afraid or anything, her stance conveying curiosity more than anything. Nao’s posture becomes more relaxed however, when she and Makoto go to school – the two speak with each other, with Makoto revealing how witches don’t usually speak about themselves, and Nao has a hearty laugh during the conversation.

That laugh does a long way in helping Nao overcome her initial hurdles in meeting Makoto; her aloof demeanor eventually gives way when Makoto displays her playful side. One of the screenshots above shows Makoto greeting Nao abruptly at the window to her classroom – this combines a close-up (with Nao’s back facing the camera) with medium shot (with Makoto happily smiling), illustrating how Makoto is willing to close the social gap and greet people, even if she does so in an unconventional manner such as this. Another establishing shot rounds off the collection above; it shows some of the school’s hallways as Nao and Makoto walk towards a conference, where they talk and get to understand each other better. Such proximity is a contrast to how they initially met – when the two first met each other, they had some distance between them, but now they feel more comfortable around each other, able to converse without any trouble.

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The final scene shows Makoto and Nao walking back home; here, Makoto’s cheerful side emerges again as she tries to present a gift to Nao for her hospitality. Her choice of present, however, leaves a bit to be desired; it’s a mandrake, a legendary creature famous for its very loud scream which can apparently kill people who hear it (as explained by Makoto before she digs up the plant). Nao’s frightened reaction towards the mandrake shows that Makoto still has much to learn; even though she recognizes the value of the mandrake for witchcraft, she doesn’t quite understand that non-witches do not hold the same regard for it, and Nao’s reaction represents a typical one. Cinematically, this scene is pretty exciting – when Makoto unearths the mandrake, it’s somewhat slow, and we get a close-up of the rather scary-looking thing as it comes out of the ground and shrieks, which can be heard throughout the city. Several cutaways show other people reacting to it; the cutaway is a device wherein an action is interrupted temporarily by the insertion of another scene, usually reaction shots like those shown in the mandrake sequence. Flying Witch uses it to comedic effect here – the mandrake’s shriek carries a great distance, and the sheer wind force of its howl pushes Nao a bit, surprising her.

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