Halloween hijinks: Japan’s best witch media

With seemingly everyone gearing up for Halloween, a blog dedicated to monster media really ought to join the celebration, shouldn’t it? To that end, we’ll be having a series of articles posted during the weeks leading up to Halloween focusing on appropriate seasonal subjects.

For this installment: Witches. So far in this series we’ve talked about Japanese media centering on werewolves, vampires, and Frankensteins with relative ease, but while witches are another essential ingredient for a Halloween monster mash, the subject can be a hazy one, especially when it comes to Japanese media. You see, the categorization is semantic: just what is a witch, anyway?

A popular genre in Japan is the magical girl, another somewhat nebulous term with varying definitions depending on who you ask. The line between “magical girl” and “witch” sometimes gets blurry (that’s sort of the point of Puella Magi Madoka Magica), and some people use the terms interchangeably. Personally, I think of magical girls as a subset of transforming super heroes, while witches are female characters with supernatural powers in the popularized European fantasy motif. For example, Sailor Moon is a magical girl, not a witch (even if she does perform incantations by moonlight with the help of her black cat), and Sasami could be either, depending on which show you’re watching:

sasami

So, for the sake of clarification, I’m talking about witch characters, not magical girls, but there’s still quite a list, and trying to address them all is rather daunting. My personal top five favorites are as follows, though:

5)  Witch Hunter Robin, unlike the majority of Japanese witch media, is not very cute, and the title heroine doesn’t spend her time hanging out around at school. It’s a procedural monster-of-the-week show where the main characters hunt down malicious witches (a genre I can get behind), and was quite the hit on [adult swim] back in the day.

4) Little Witch Academia is a short anime movie that served as the debut for Studio Trigger, and the animation’s pretty nice. Just like the title implies, it’s about the adventures of some students at a witching school, with more story on the way now that a second installment has been successfully crowdfunded.

3) Eko Eko Azarak is the only title on this list that really focuses on the nasty stuff that can be summoned through magical rituals, and the protagonist of the manga/anime/TV drama/series of films is a schoolgirl sorceress who deals with the various spirits, demons, and gods that find their way into our world though cult and black magic ceremonies. It’s a huge franchise with large chunks untranslated, but I like what I’ve seen so far.

2) Tweeny Witches is a show about a normal schoolgirl who travels to a fantastic magical world, joins a school for witches, and goes on a hunt to collect fairies while learning about her own family history. The series is from Keita Amemiya, so you know that the denizens of the alternate realm are pretty bizarre and stylized.

1) Kiki’s Delivery Service started as a Japanese children’s book, but it really took off internationally with the film adaptation by Hayao Miyazaki. A new, live-action movie has just come out from director Takashi Shimizu, and while I’ve yet to see that version, the significance of the anime movie alone is enough to secure Kiki in the top slot. I feel like everyone’s seen it, so I don’t really need to go into much detail.

Like I said, there’s a lot more examples: Jack and the WitchMagic Users Club, Omajo Doremi, Yadamon, Bayonetta, the list goes on. Have your own thoughts about what the best Japanese witch media is? By all means, leave a comment!

Also, with Halloween fast approaching, there are only a few more of these articles I can write. What seasonal subject(s) would you like to see reviewed?

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