Spring has officially arrived in Flying Witch, and the opening shots show a curious figure descending to earth and walking around the country; multiple shots of the landscape greet the audience, with a castle and temple as prominent locales. The tranquil scenery reminds the viewers that the winter has passed – green becomes the dominant color here, as the trees are ready to bloom. Flying Witch takes its time to establish its environment before moving into the action; like Non Non Biyori, this anime employs several shots of the surroundings, offering images of a calm, bucolic countryside that contrasts with the more hectic life of the city. This happens to take place in Aomori, capital of Aomori prefecture; the castle in one of the above shots is based upon Hirosaki Castle, found in the city of Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, so it serves as a great landmark to remind viewers of the show’s setting.
As for the mysterious figure who appears in the opening, he makes a larger appearance later; he happens to be the harbinger of spring (haru no hakobiya in the original Japanese), with the stylized mask of a bird covering his face. In Japanese poetry, one can find kigo or “season words” associated with a particular time of the year – for spring, the uguisu (Japanese bush warbler) acts as a harutsugedori, heralding the arrival of the season. Haru no Hakobiya may not be based on any specific kami or spirit, but he does represent the natural world’s close connection with kami; humans can encounter such a spirit, as they are part of the natural world (rather than supernatural, as is the case with deities in Western religions).
The first half of the episode takes place entirely in and around the Kuramoto residence; it’s probably no surprise that the ie operates as the social-cultural center of Japan, being the primary social unit. Going back to Non Non Biyori again; Biyori presents a similar construct in its narrative – Asahigaoka happens to be in the countryside, as well, and family ties became a major narrative theme (think of Natsumi and Komari, for example). Here in Flying Witch, the family as social center is strong, as we see Kuramoto Chinatsu interact with her cousin, Kowata Makoto; when Haru no Hakobiya arrives, the differences in personality between Makoto and Chinatsu become apparent, as the show illustrates the initial fear of the unknown in Chinatsu’s case. When the harbinger of spring comes to the door, Chinatsu quickly locks it – this action is shown in close-up, encapsulating her apprehension towards seeing such an unusual being at her doorstep.
Makoto, by contrast, welcomes the harbinger into the home; the shots of her with Haru no Hakobiya are more open and warm, showing Makoto welcoming a new acquaintance with a smile, while Chinatsu keeps her distance. When Haru no Hakobiya provides a gift for Chinatsu, the girl becomes more accepting of him; her initial fear dissipates as Makoto explains that he means no harm. This segment helps illustrate the nature of kami and spirits – beings such as Haru no Hakobiya are benign and helpful, and Haru only arrives to pay a visit to Makoto, in order to greet the new witch in town. Chinatsu has no experience with kami – thus her reaction to Haru – and it takes a moment for her to open up to the idea of the unusual in society; Makoto, being a witch, has first-hand experience with the unusual, and thus feels comfortable around Haru.
The second half re-introduces Ishiwatari Nao, first in a dream segment, then in school; in her dream, Makoto imagines Nao swimming to Yokohama from Aomori, then showing a mark reading “super lucky” on her neck. Notice how open and wide the shot of the park bench is – it contrasts so well with the more closed feeling of the following classroom scene, since it presents Makoto in a dream state, where she and Nao inhabit a world otherwise without any people. With the classroom, there’s now a sense of “normalcy” to everything; we’re back in the real world, and the camera first shows Makoto sitting at her desk. Makoto’s placement in the corner of the frame is likely deliberate; when she wakes up, she finds herself in the classroom, surrounded by her students, a marked contrast to the dream sequence, where she meets with a friend at an open place. Reality feels more pedestrian – the dream world has more dramatic camera angles and movement.
The show returns to the Kuramoto household after Makoto, Nao and Kei gather bakke (butterburr sprouts) along the roadside; the scene of Makoto and Kei cooking bakke tempura is a wonderful one, as the camera focuses so much on the actual cooking, providing some great imagery of the household as a place of warmth. Most of the close-ups in the cooking sequence happen to be of the bakke; the episode lingers on this part because it’s such a fundamental ie moment. I’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating – the ie (“household”) is the social center, as has been since the Meiji Period, when the concept gained a foothold in Japan, and earlier concepts (such as the eldest son adopting his father’s name) fell by the wayside with the advent of industrialization and modernization. Nowadays, the strict adherence to the ie concept seen in Meiji-era Japan isn’t quite seen, but the influence remains – people in Japan still identify with the ie as a fundamental social construct, much like how individuality became a guiding force in Western (especially U.S.) society.