The Good Witch of the West Astraea Testament
Firiel Dee has spent a pretty uneventful life being taken care of by Tabitha and Bo Holy. Her father Gideon spends all of his time in the astrological observatory with his student Roux/Rune/Rumpelsti (pick one), which is why she gets taken care of by the Holy couple. On her 15th birthday, she can attend a ball at the Roland Castle and is thrilled to go. Before heading off, Roux brings a birthday present from her father: her deceased mother's necklace. She heads to the ball while wearing it, and finds out during the ball that the necklace is the late queen's touchstone, thus making Firiel a queen's candidate. This sets a chain of events that will change the lives of her and all around her.
The Good Witch of the West Astraea Testament can hardly be called a series that doesn't try. And wow does it try! With only two gripes I have about the series, it can easily be one of the better experiences I've had with an anime, but sadly, those two gripes keep it away from the pinnacle. One's minor and only sometimes becomes an issue, but the other is an issue that hurts the show in the long run. I'll touch on both of these while writing.
First of all, the art in this is insane. The views and landscape is well done and enthralling, not to mention amazing to look at. It's easy to watch some of the better shots of the locations and feel like you want to take a trip to visit. If the mission, ultimately, was captivation through the design of the countries visited during the series, then it was pretty soundly accomplished. And the art design even carries onto the characters, who are very fluid and animate very well (although not all of the animation is up to high standard). The art of the characters brings to mind shows like Pretear and Princess Tutu, which is unsurprising considering all three were done by the same studio. It's a feat that the characters and environment art styles work so well together, and it produces scenes of great wonder, all of which is watched down upon by the Mahiru Star (which bears slight resemblance to the Kirby Super Star entity Nova, although later in the plot it decides to imitate the moon from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask).
Perhaps, sadly, that's why the first issue with this series is such a bother. You see, while it's good to have some good lighting in the scenes to illustrate the brilliance, the issue is that some scenes are just too bright or too dim. And not "sunlight and nightfall" bright and dim, but "halogen and coal" bright and dim. Some of the bright shots can actually be a bit disorienting and the darker scenes have you squinting a bit to get the details. It's upsetting because the two tend to show up at points where the art really does shine. For instance, some of the scenes at the high-class castle where Firiel and Adle/Adale (one of the two queen's candidates, and the one on Firiel's side from the beginning) are staying for a society ball are so oversaturated that it, at times, actually hurt to watch them.
The story, which doesn't need any lighting, also shines through a great deal. I got a good grip on the home country, its history, and its customs. While some are a bit eyebrow raising (who knew an all-girl's school with vaguely nun-based school uniforms teaches a class on seduction?), some of them are interesting. The school, called Tauras Academy (the source of the series title "The Good Witch of the West", it seems) is a bit cobbled together from several sources, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena (the idea that if you disagree with the summer production, you can duel to take control), Strawberry Panic (the mere idea of a most popular student decided through a contest), and the old idea of schoolgirl lesbians (although this is only shown in passing, as very few scenes even alluded to it, plus it's not a major plot point). The general worldview and main plot are also not too shabby, keeping interest until the end of the story well enough. Finally, the characterization of Firiel goes through several phases between her country origins, her suddenly coming into the picture of the royal throne, and her education and travels.
Which, honestly, can be quite a good thing, considering that the characters here do play very well together. Firiel and Roux make for a very nice couple and have good chemistry in the story. Adale plays the role of the princess to a watchable extent (she also, apparently, is the principal of the Tauras Academy and that school's most popular alumni, although this gets somewhat played in the back after the school arc). Eusis and Lot are decent for knights, and it's hard to ignore the contributions made later by Firiel's sword trainer, Ingraine. Even the foils to Adale (Leandra and her trio of Student Council peeps) play their roles well enough to care, although the whole "care" part came pretty late in. The show lacks a full time villain, although the closest it has is Count Riez. Several characters (Roux, Riez, and Gideon) also are given a story involving the idea of them being "Heretics" (more a science standpoint, although astrology is also considered heretical), and while not the most well-established part of the plot, at least is played to a good extent so that by the end, there isn't much left wanting. Also played with are several love triangle plots (although the way they strengthen the main couple is fair enough, and does get me behind them pretty well), and Adale loves her some coupling.
The anime also brings the characters together in many scenes with a good soundtrack which goes very well with the mood. The dramatic scores do the dramatic scenes a great service, while the more relaxed scenes get a good touch up. The opening is pretty decent for a fantasy anime of this type, and the lullaby-esque ending eases out of the show with good effort. It's, all around, a pretty good soundtrack done by Masumi Ito, who was pretty busy in 2006, although two of the anime from this year she did, namely Kagihime Monogatari: Eikyuu Alice Rondo and Tactical Roar, are pretty firmly in my "Most Hated Anime" list. I guess all is forgiven, huh?
And while the story is decent, the characters done well, and the worldview good, the biggest issue of the show is, simply put, is that it manages to be a bit of an odd mover. There are times when the show moves too slow (some of the early episodes are full of exposition, slowing the pace) and others too fast (this tends to occur in later episodes). What ends up happening is that some of the plot twists are so ill-defined that they are more similar to deux ex machina than convincingly done. To offer an example: during the school arc, the Student Council does a lot of things against the message of the school and tend to get away with them. Firiel then duels their leader (Ravenna, one of the "peeps" I mentioned earlier) and wins, thanks to a distraction by the crossdressing Roux. Afterward, Adale makes an entrance after an assassination attempt made by another student on Firiel (she had already killed a student who was watching over Firiel under the idea she was a spy) and abolishes the Student Council. While the reasoning is sound, the twist comes so far out of left field that it's hard, if not impossible, to see it coming in the way it did. If the twist came slower or had more time, it'd be better, but because of the main plot of the arc (somebody is out to kill the "contract breakers" who defiled the Goddess's wisdom, which is the reason why Roux and Marie, Firiel's friend, are here), the screentime got eaten up. The signals get shown too soon before they get used, which is a major part of why the faster pacing is not good, because development time is a lot of the reason why good plot devices go bad.
Perhaps the best method of dealing with this problem would have been a slight increase in episode spread (add a few more episodes, and spread them out to, say, two more to the school arc, one to the beginning, and two to the plots at the end including the queen's candidate test). The additional load would help the spread better, and cut down on the pace problem, giving more time to explore the issues at hand. Unfortunately, that spread doesn't exist, and the show suffers a bit for the problem.
But this is, in no way, a condemnation against the way the show goes. It has majestic art, good character design, a decent story with fair romance plotting even in the face of a lack of help from the pacing, and accomplishes making me feeling like I'm better for having viewed it. Hal Film Maker, the studio behind this, has had massive failures (Angel Sanctuary, Uta Kata) and massive successes (Aria and Princess Tutu, among others). So is this slight obscurity from 2006 a juice well worth the squeeze like those two?
Even with its pacing problems in the story and the fact that I need to be given an eye exam after watching it, I'd say this is pretty good juice.
If it took a little more time in fixing the plot issues and making sure viewers don't need sunglasses or flashlights, it would easily be in the five-star group, but it's enjoyable even with the issues. Enjoyable enough that giving it a four doesn't seem like a bad idea. — Jake L Godek
Recommended Audience: There are scenes of a somewhat violent nature (let's put it this way: a man gets stepped on by a dragon, with blood) and some questionable content (Roux crossdressing to go undercover at the academy), but the majority of the show has some pretty dramatic moments at key points. I'd say if you're over 12, nothing here will be much of an issue.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (13/13)
The Good Witch of the West Astraea Testament © 2006 Noriko Ogiwara / Haruhiko Kasuga / Project West Witch
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