So, normally I say that I don't really have a tsundoku but given the sheer number of things I'm watching at any one time it usually takes me quite a while to get around to watching older things. Like this show which I picked up during a Right Stuf sale last Christmas, considering how unsteady Media Blasters has been over the past few years I didn't want to risk not picking up a show I was sure I'd like and did a semi-blind buy on it. Funny enough, one of the few other times I've done that was for another Media Blasters show, Moribito, although that one I enjoyed more than this one it turns out. And I'll note that while I have the last DVD with the extra episodes on it I did not have a chance to watch those before the review, I've heard they don't really change the story but if it turns out they do I shall edit the review accordingly at a later date.
Tweeny Witches (Mahou Shojo Tai Arusu)
Summary: Arusu is a normal human girl who can do a bit of slight of hand yet wants to be able to use real magic and sees the book her father once gave her as the way to do so. In a way she's right as she discovers one day as she falls down the rabbit hole into the magical world where witches and warlocks reside but they're nothing like she expected, meaner and more hidebound, and Arusu decides to stick around for a little bit to learn magic and to try and teach everyone that anyone can do magic if they believe.
The Good: Well that ended up going in quite a different direction than I expected, the show does use one of my favorite story-telling structures (start with one problem/quest and have it become part of an even larger story by the end, to the point where it's odd to look back from afar and see how small the story really was in the beginning) so I ended up enjoying the second half much more than I enjoyed the first half. From there the world just built and built and managed to introduce new characters easily, more factions, and keep the story on a good pace as well. Amazingly enough the show was not aired in a half hour format, much like the second half of Princess Tutu each "episode" is only about 12 minutes long which were then stitched together on the DVDs to make regular sized ones. I have no idea if the show was created with that format in mind or if it was merely another obstacle the writers had to deal with but I think it was managed as well as it could be and except early on when the show it clearly finding it's ground it all flows together well.
The Bad: It's rather rare for me to say this but I wish that Arusu had encountered a few more set-backs in regards to her overly cheerful worldview (since this does involve some end of series spoilers I'm putting the rest in a footnote*). I did also say I enjoyed the second half more than the first half, however since in a way that story doesn't truly reveal itself until the halfway point that's not exactly a good thing. I don't recall seeing any foreshadowing earlier on, if there was enough to show there was intentional preluding to what would happen that would change my feelings on the show more than a bit. And the ending itself is a little bit of a mess, suddenly characters are traveling great distances in a fraction of the time it took earlier, some logistical details are never even handwaved away, and as I mentioned in the footnote, I'm still not entirely sure HOW the resolution was brought about, I really feel like the story just forgot to show an entire step (either that or it's exactly as it appears and it was an amazingly silly, in character with Arusu but not in character with the setting, solution).
The Production Values: Visually this show runs the whole gamit from pretty, nicely animated scenes to some rather crappy looking ones. We've all seen screenshots where a background character with a silly, simplified face is blown up but here you sometimes don't even have to look for the background characters, I don't want to know what the schedule for this show much have been like. Heck, there are even a couple of episodes where they make a rather determined attempt to never show any of the characters actually talking and cut away every time they would have to open their mouth (some people might call that an artistic choice but having seen it in context it wasn't). The art designs never quite clicked with me but I still thought some of the designs were quite creative (although there was also some rather conspicuous CGI in the show, I must image the show had a rushed schedule and practically no money since again, in context these weren't stylistic choices). Music wise the only piece that stood out to me was the piece that was also used as the main theme (erm, the second theme, not the very first piece played in each episode but the other one) which had a bit of a reedy, Celtic sound to it so of course I liked it.
In the end I'm a bit conflicted, I liked parts of the show and thought a lot of it had flaws, at this point I'm not even sure if I'll keep my DVD box in the long run or if I'll sell it off to buy something I enjoy more and free up shelf space for it. I feel like a 3.5 out of 5 rating for the show is fair however, for becoming much more than I could have expected when I first started watching but taking a bumpy road with potholes as large as the one my bus hits everyday on the way.
*so by the end of the show Arusu is literally supposed to be the savior of the magical world, although I'm not exactly sure how it was saved since it seemed more like bad stuff stopped happening, and she's the only human (that they know of) who could use magic and is able to inspire other people to use magic by believing in it. One could make a case that the societies in the show treated magic so differently than how Arusu viewed it that that's why they had so many people who failed, that they were scared of failure and then perpetuated it, so when Arusu gave them hope of course it worked since that's how their magic actually worked all along. I feel like that argument is on rather shaky ground. I'd like to compare Arusu to Hajime of the currently airing Gatchaman Crowds for a moment, since this was on my mind the entire time I saw the show; in Crowds we have a character who lives in a world much like ours with good bits and bad bits and Hajime both questions why the world works as it does (why does she have to have a secret identity as a superhero after all) yet seems to understand the world's limits and rules (people bad-mouthing her online? Turn off your phone, don't spend your time arguing). In the long run what she's trying to do is both logical and actually for the betterment of the world, create more communication between different crowds of people, whether it's government officials or warning the public about a bat-shit alien on the loose. Arusu however challenges years of traditions with no other explanation of "but magic should make people happy!" and somehow it works. In Crowds we see a flawed world, and see both why it needs to change and why it hasn't yet. In TW we see an another world which probably needs to change yet no reason that it hasn't yet, the fact that it was so easy in the end for Arusu to do magic and to convince others to believe made it really hard for me to take a lot of the show seriously (especially since it's even twisted against another character in the end and I'm still not 100% sure why it was different in her case, if the show had just done a few things differently I probably wouldn't even have this setting-breaking problem).