In 2018, humans and wizards live together in Tokyo, where the latter are habitually discriminated against. While police continue to maintain order, wizards are tried according to a specific law code in a special court, where they are often given little chance to prove their innocence. Within this corrupt system, defendants are represented by so-called "Wizard Barristers", and at age seventeen, Cecile has just become the youngest, having striven for this position in order to help an incarcerated family member. While she hasn't realized it yet, she has tremendous magical potential.
Yasuomi Umetsu, primarily known for the undeservedly popular Kite, is a pervert who also happens to be a pretty good character designer. His angular style and unorthodox color schemes are always interesting to look at, but almost all of his directorial efforts are marred by a disturbingly complacent attitude towards pedophilia and non-consensual sex, in addition to subpar plotting. It's amazing to me that he still gets work given the disappointment his career has been, but given the large number of key animation jobs he's taken for other studios, I imagine the income must give him some free reign. To be honest, that's the only explanation I can think of for his being allowed to direct two messy series with little commercial viability in succession, Fall 2013's Galilei Donna and Wizard Barristers, the topic of this review. Though it's an ambitious series that manages to spit out a few potentially interesting ideas along the way, it remains a mess; I found little to recommend to anybody besides those precious few who still remain interested in his art.
I'll be blunt: Wizard Barristers tries hard to be serious legal drama, and yet if fails because its court scenes, which dominate the show, bear so little resemblance to reality that they instead become farcical. A court drama that at all resembled real-life proceedings would arguably be boring (if you've ever been on a jury, consider how long the process of selection can be), and it is true that few examples of the genre approximate reality, but with this concession aside the sheer amount of cases won via emotional appeals in this show is downright laughable. It's true that the show exhibits some self-awareness via other lawyers' criticism of Cecile as inexperienced and naive, and yet Wizard Barristers largely plays this for comic relief by having the judge mock the bizarre "cosplay" she chooses for an outfit (visible in the cover and screencaps). There are some good action scenes early on that break up this monotonous kangaroo court (the opening sequence of a pursuit down a moving train, while generic in concept, is rendered magnificently), but these sequences take up too little space to save the show.
It's a shame, because at the beginning of this series, I was genuinely interested in what this universe had to offer, even if I should have known better. Having grown up on Harry Potter and read about its magical society's uneasy coexistence with "normal" society, the idea of a similar universe where the latter had gained the upper hand, so to speak, was fascinating to me, especially since the superiority of wizards in such works as Harry Potter relies on clandestine societies that are refreshingly absent here. More so than some other anime series that toy with the idea, Wizard Barristers seemed interested in exploring the laws and infrastructure of such a society: Cecile is part of the "Butterfly Agency", essentially a law firm that exists to defend accused wizards, and the tense relationship between the civilian police and such agencies is brought up frequently. One of the few aspects of the show that I did find at all realistic was the frequent frustration of Cecile's superiors at her using magic to solve virtually all of her problems, a major liability (and potential incriminator) in a world where such acts are heavily regulated out of fear, and indeed, this was one of the few aspects of the show that explored the age gap between Cecile and her coworkers at all compellingly.
Yet basically all of this potential is lost in the show's overload of inconsequential plot elements, and the court scenes aside the problems with Wizard Barristers start piling up almost immediately after we are introduced to our Mary Sue lead character, whom I liked but found difficult to care about given her scant personality beyond her lawyer ambition. Hampered by an overlarge cast, which largely consists of the flamboyantly-dressed but underdeveloped barristers of Cecile's agency, the show adds insult to injury by having several of them (male and female alike) fondle or ogle Cecile for comic relief, adding several more entries to Yasuomi Umetsu's dishonor roll of perverted characters. Furthermore, the addition of the wizards' "familiars," who resemble mutant prostitute Muppets more than anything, severely hampers the show by giving them no clear function within this universe beyond occasionally cooking or cleaning, failing to explain their origin, and instead having them spend most of the show trying to fondle their (usually) female companions. Wizard Barristers introduces a confusing and nonsensical mecha element, meanwhile, with robots of poorly-defined origin appearing via equally poorly-defined means when Cecile is in need of extra firepower. This last aspect struck me as being telltale of a series and director with no clear roadmap to make a competent series, and indeed, there is beautiful art that, in my opinion, amounted to little because it neither served nor supported any thematic function, and potentially worthwhile plot elements are lost in a show that has no idea of what it wants to be. The very worst is saved until the end, however.
The two screencaps above should give a decent impression of what to expect in the show's final two episodes, where production quality and plot integrity both decide to take an extended vacation down the septic system. Outside of the action sequences, the quality of the visuals is already hampered by distracting cinematography choices and bad CGI, but it plummets further here as we are treated to an episode largely consisting of stills, with the character art frequently going off-model in what few animated scenes remain. These last two episodes also feature a ridiculous plot twist involving a cult's attempting to make use of Cecile's special powers, whatever precisely those were meant to be, in addition to some members of the cast apparently being demons (hence the second picture). It's all drivel, and indeed, episode eleven, from which the two pictures were taken, is in my opinion one of the most poorly-made individual episodes of any anime I've seen; it's one of the worst examples of a series attempting and failing to add new plot elements to cover its inability to wrap up what it had previously promised to resolve.
My advice is to skip Wizard Barristers and check out the concept art if you're that interested in the drawings. A confounding mess might have some potential hidden in it, but in this case it's not worth the headache.
I won't flunk this, since I stayed interested in the premise just long enough, but please don't count that as an endorsement of any sort. Better luck to Mr. Umetsu next time, I suppose. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: As tends to be the case with Umetsu's work, graphic violence is depicted on a fairly regular basis, and several episodes address occultism. Sexual harassment is, sadly, as regular as the morning papers in this show, and if you can't handle watching that played for laughs (and I certainly don't blame you) then I'd recommend you stay far, far away.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of Crunchyroll.com (Japanese with subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Wizard Barristers © 2014 Nitroplus/Soni Ani Project
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