This Boy is a Professional Wizard is a short anime about hard-working and shy wizard Chiharu who meets outgoing redhead Toyohi at the bar he regularly frequents. Toyohi is instantly smitten and makes no bones about declaring his feelings for Chiharu after their first meeting, and arranging a date with him at the aquarium.
Chiharu takes a little longer to realise his own feelings, particularly as his fellow wizard colleagues are questioning why he doesn’t have a wife or girlfriend. He also feels insecure about himself and thinks he has nothing to recommend him other than his magic, a career which eats up a lot of his time and energy.
This Boy is a Professional Wizard is a sweet and interesting look at insecurity and how it can damage budding relationships. For me, the real stand out feature is the animation style which has a beautiful watercolour effect and often uses many traditional Japanese motifs such as cherry blossoms, Japanese calligraphy and traditional Japanese dress. Combined with the rich and sparkling colour palette it feels like watching a traditional Japanese painting combined with anime, and is worth watching the anime alone to see.
It was also refreshing to see this anime avoid a lot of the cliché seme/uke tropes of yaoi anime – although Toyohi makes all the moves on Chiharu it’s clear he respects his boundaries, and there are no dodgy non consenual sex scenes that yaoi anime is renowned for.
The complete anime of this is only just over thirty minutes long altogether, making it an easy watch for any boy’s love fan looking to try something new but not wanting to commit to a really long anime.
As sixteen year old Naho begins eleventh grade, she receives a mysterious letter claiming to be from her twenty six year old self. Her future self warns her that a new boy will be joining their class called Kakeru, and instructs her on all the things she must do and not do to watch out for him and prevent the regrets occurring that her future self has already had to live with.
Although Naho is initially sceptical of the letter’s authenticity, when Kakeru joins the class and events begin to occur as her future self had described them, she attempts to carry out her future self’s wishes and look out for Kakeru as best she can. Naho’s future self outlines particular “key moments” to her that she wants her to either carry out or prevent such as making him lunches, or ensuring that he joins the football team.
Naho initially doesn’t understand the purpose of some requests, and is not able to carry out all of them, in particular the kind of requests that ask her to reveal her feelings to Kakeru or connect with him in a way that her natural shyness prevents her from doing. When she finds out that Kakeru’s mother committed suicide, it gradually becomes clearer to her that the requests from her future self are less about just befriending Kakeru, but more about offering him emotional support in a way that may help prevent his death that is due to unfold in the not too distant future should Naho not be able to alter the course of events.
The scenes that the manga depicts of Naho as a sixteen year old are also shown alongside her life as a twenty six year old in the world where Kakeru’s death was not prevented. In this world, Naho has a baby with Suwa, a mutual friend in their group who held a torch for her since their teenage years. In this future reality, everyone leads a relatively happy life but painfully regrets the loss of Kakeru whose death they are not entirely sure was an accident. Naho particularly regrets that she had not been more honest and open with Kakeru about her feelings for him.
Orange is a stand out manga, with wonderful characterisation. Naho is a typical shy, caring female protaganist, but her feelings for Kakeru and desire to do the right thing by him and for her future self are wonderfully realised and never come across as overly saccharine or clichéd. Kakeru is presented as a warm and kind young man carrying a huge emotional burden which is always approached by the author with great care and sensitivity and never presented as something that can be fixed overnight. Naho and Kakeru’s unfolding relationship has all the sweetness and awkwardness of two young people coming to greatly care for each other and neither wanting to hurt the other or jeopardise what they already have as good friends.
Orange has over one million copies in print in Japan, and I did not find it hard to see why. This is a story that tackles strong emotional themes of suicide and depression in a poignant, thoughtful way and overall presents a more mature and well rounded portrayal of teenage life and first love than many other manga out there. I will definitely be purchasing the second volume of this series!
When Murakami loses his beloved childhood friend Kuroneko in a freak accident, he dedicates his life to proving what she always claimed to be true – that aliens exist. Years later, a mysterious girl called Kuroha who looks just like her transfers to his school. When she saves his life with unusual powers, Murakami finds himself caught up in something bigger and more dangerous than he could have ever anticipated.
Kuroha reveals herself to be a witch who has escaped from a laboratory and dangerous organisation, along with other witches who have scattered and fled around the area. Each witch has a metal implant in the back of her neck containing three buttons, one which inhibits the witch’s unique powers, another which causes instant death and a third which causes a fate worse than death which neither Kuroha or any other witch has ever witnessed.
Murakami soon finds himself helping not just Kuroha but other escaped witches as well. Although they aren’t the most well rounded in character development, their struggle against a brutal shadowy enemy is compelling, and their ties to their creation remain ever present as each witch has to take a pill every day to stay alive or a horrific and grisly death awaits them. Since making their escape from the lab, pills are scarce and hard to get hold of, and the awareness the witches have of their own mortality adds to their urgency to get to the bottom of their origins.
To begin with, Brynhildr in the Darkness could almost pass as a fluffy anime with its clean, innocent animation style and light fanservice-y moments. While Murakami is surrounded by cute girls, his grief for Kureneko and unshakeable hope that Kuroha could be her means that he remains indifferent and oblivious to the other witches, but Brynhildr in the Darkness keeps those cleavage shots coming anyway. As this show does slow down for lighter moments between the plot progression it is disappointing that Brynhildr in the Darkness often falls back on boob jokes, fanservice and other excuses to have the girls half naked when more in depth characterisation could have better added to the show’s emotional impact.
However, the witches aren’t completely one dimensional. One example of this is pink haired witch Kazumi, for whom the lingering threat of mortality has her focused on her wish to lose her virginity. The object of her affections of course, is sole male in the harem, Murakami. This provides an extremely convenient love triangle as Murakami only has eyes for Kuroha and remains largely indifferent to Kazumi’s seduction attempts.
The cliche nature of this plot thread is softened by Kazumi’s easy likeability as a character – although she’s brash, her attempts to seem cocky and inappropriate are a cover for her vulnerability and fear of losing her life before she’s really lived. This theme is reflected in the other witches, who amid their struggle for freedom also find themselves thinking about what living really means, as opposed to just surviving.
Brynhildr in the Darkness is a slow mover, and shoehorns fanservice into episodes in the most ridiculous of ways, and some of the backing soundtrack doesn’t seem to fit the more dramatic moments (jazzy piano, anyone?). From the promotional images I had expected it to be more serious and sci fi heavy in tone, but if you have the patience to stick with its slow build up, there are some genuinely funny and heart-rending scenes along the way as our characters learn how much they can truly lose in a staggering battle to be free. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more of that and less of the over the top anime silliness.