It's 2018, and 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 ever licensed barrister, having aimed 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, who's primarily known for the undeservedly popular Kite, is basically 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 shows are hard to watch (at best) because he has a disturbingly complacent attitude towards pedophilia and rape...as if that weren't bad enough, the guy simply doesn't know how to write a screenplay. It's amazing to me that he even still gets work, since his career's been such a high-profile series of disappointments, but given the sheer number of key animation jobs he's taken for other studios, I guess 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 (which Stig didn't have nice things to say about) and Wizard Barristers, the topic of this review. It's an ambitious series that manages to spit out a few potentially interesting ideas along the way, but it's still a big mess. Unless you absolutely can't get enough of his art, I'd say that this is one to skip.
Wizard Barristers tries way too hard to be serious legal drama, but it fails because the court scenes, which dominate the show, feel so removed from reality that they end up being farcical. A court drama that 100% accurately depicted real-life proceedings would probably be boring (if you've ever been on a jury, you know what I'm talking about), and it's true that this genre doesn't tend to be very realistic, but even with that concession aside the sheer amount of cases won via emotional appeals in this show is just laughable. It's true that the show exhibits a bit of self-awareness by having other lawyers attack Cecile as being inexperienced and naive, but Wizard Barristers pretty much 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 is utterly awesome), but these sequences take up too little space to save the show.
It's a shame, because at the beginning of this show, 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 the wizarding world being secret, which is absolutely not the case here. More so than in some other anime 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, since the show hardly bothers to develop her personality outside of one trait. 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. The worst part, I'd say, is the wizards' "familiars," who look like mutant prostitute Muppets more than anything: they have o clear function within this universe beyond occasionally cooking or cleaning for their masters, their origin is never explained, and they spend most of the show trying to fondle their (usually) female companions. Wizard Barristers also 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. It's a telltale sign of a director who has no clear idea of how to make a compelling series. The beautiful art in this show doesn't amount to anything because it doesn't accompany a show that has any consistency or purpose, at all, and the show just doesn't know what it wants to be.
But the worst is saved for the very end, sadly....
The two screencaps above should give a decent impression of what to expect in the show's final two episodes, where the production quality and plot both take a dive in the septic tank. Throughout the show, the visuals are already hampered by distracting cinematography and bad CGI, but it gets even worse here, as we're treated to an episode largely consisting of stills, with the character art frequently going really, really off-model in what few animated scenes we have left. These last two episodes also have a ridiculous plot twist involving a cult's attempt to make use of Cecile's special powers, whatever precisely those were meant to be, in addition to some members of the cast....apparently secretly being evil vampires (hence the second picture). It's all drivel, and episode eleven, which is where those two pictures are from, is one of the worst individual episodes of any anime I've ever watched. It's an awful example of a show tacking on new plot elements to cover up the fact that it has no idea how to wrap up everything else.
My advice is to skip Wizard Barristers and check out the concept art on the internet if you're really that interested in the drawings. Maybe there's some potential in here, but it's not worth the headache of watching it.
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....IF there's even a next time. — Nicoletta Christina 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: Streaming on Crunchyroll.com (Japanese with subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Wizard Barristers © 2014 Nitroplus/Soni Ani Project
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