Wizards, Assassins, and All the Rest: On Umetsu and Wizard Barristers

wizard barristers ep 1

I finally slunk into this season, a touch over a week late, when I picked up Wizard Barristers, having realized by that point that, when the chips were down, I curiously seemed to only have interest in that, Pupa, and Sakura Trick. And Wizard Barristers may prove to have been the wrong place to start becauseĀ I loved it. Sakura Trick? Not so much. Ditto for everything else I’ve watched; while Nobunagun is of mild interest to me (it reminds me a good deal of Phi Brain, actually, and I was only able to get through one season of that), and Reitetsu no Hozuki was itself mildly amusing, the season hasn’t impressed me much otherwise. So perhaps Wizard Barristers has ruined me for everything else (although I still have to get to Noragami and Inari, Kon kon, Koi Iroha).

But, Wizard Barristers also excited me so much because I’ve always, always, ALWAYS felt like I should enjoy Umetsu’s stuff more than I’ve really managed to. The previous exception was Galilei Donna, but I’ll admit to not feeling like that was full Umetsu there – it just isn’t Umetsu if the faces are Sword Art Online, is it? And we all know full well of the executive meddling there that hacked the thing in half, and while I did enjoy much of the ride, the end was pretty awful and I won’t even attempt to claim that the show was “good”. But for Umetsu, as I said, I’ve always felt like I should like his stuff more than I ever managed to.

Honestly, I think some of this has to do with age. When I was a young fan, Kite was still one of those OAVs everyone insisted was a must-watch. It also was an item of interest as it was not originally released uncensored, which included what people identified as a “sex scenes” and what were actually rape scenes. Kite has been released enough in North America that I won’t even attempt to unravel which release was fully uncensored versus partially censored versus fully censored, especially as a director’s cut released several years back removes some of the sexually violent scene while restoring a few others, per Umetsu, and that muddies the waters a fair bit. Is it censored if the director made specific choices, or does that just reflect artistic choice? HMMM.

But, the fact is, Kite had this sort of mythic quality to its mere existence when I was in my first years as a fan, and it was that sort where one can’t openly admit to disliking it without catching a good deal of flak. Mezzo also got brought up as this sort of recommendation from time to time, although it was never on the level that Kite was held, and often it was more a matter of someone saying you should watch it after Kite since the heroine of Kite, Sawa, made a cameo in it. Considering Mezzo got a full TV sequel, Mezzo DSA, it is a bit funny that Kite had more staying power (Kite did get a sequel, Kite Liberator, ten years after it was made).

Actually, Wizard Barristers reminds me most of Mezzo DSA. The difference, so far, is that Wizard Barristers is actually fun to watch whereas Mezzo DSA had the elements thatĀ should’ve made it fun to watch but which utterly failed to; DSA is hideously boring despite all the guns and goofy plots. But it is the same general atmosphere of the the lawful good guys versus hyper homicidal borderline-psychopaths in which both sides are fairly well-armed. And there’s a penchant for women who are badass in both, although both star the more genki and eager type, which inevitably calls for some “youthful” ineptness. I hesitate to say that Umetsu does strong women, as its hard to reconcile that idea with the rendering of female characters as fanservice delivery systems, but even his young women like Cecil are generally competent and capable of getting themselves out of jams. If that sounds like a fairly low bar to hit, it should be, but a lot of anime don’t even get within throwing distance of that, and a lot of those that smell like they do at first fuck it up later on – so I suppose there is still time for Cecil to turn out to be of that ilk! (I feel like bringing up Sawa here as she starts from a position of real weakness and subservience but is the only one in Kite who ends up being able to walk away from it all; when we meet her again in Liberator, she’s a fairly well-adjusted twenty-five year old working as a waitress, her assassin days long past. Someone let Urobuchi know that rape survivors don’t have to be pathologized, please?)

All of which, I suppose, is to say – Wizard Barristers feels like Umetsu finally bringing all his elements together into something that hits the right notes for me. If I have a bone of contention currently, its only that I wish he could vary the faces of his female characters a bit – he seems to be only capable of doing three different faces for female characters, and it gets to be pretty distracting if you’ve seen much of the stuff he’s done character designs for. I also could’ve done without the sudden random groping of Cecil by the frog familiar – sudden because usually there are some warning signs with mascot character-types if they’re going to be the perverted sort, but Nanajiinyi didn’t at all prior to that (nor after, for that matter).

(Purely an aside, but the fanservice in this also doesn’t bother me like it does in Sakura Trick. Maybe its the fact that the women here actually look their age and act it, whereas in Sakura Trick it seems to be sixteen-going-on-ten all around.)

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