#1 Incompetent elites
In the world of Witch Hunter Robin, the practice of ancient witchcraft has persisted well into the modern day. Even though the governments does all it can to eliminate magic and its practitioners. To this end, an organization known as STNJ acts as modern-day witch hunters. They have to track down problematic witches and captures them, all without alarming the general populace. An important task, sadly entrusted to people who are all wildly incompetent.
From the very first scene, it becomes evident that none of the STNJ members can work together. Characters are tied up in their own ego; always ready to rush off on their own and cut comms when anybody raises objections. This could be fine, if any of them were actually good at their work. With the exception of edgy lone wolf Amon and newcomer Robin, none of these elite hunters can even deal with the most basic of witches. They fail to recognize obvious traps or signs of magic, they panic, and can’t shoot to save their lives. They get into trouble constantly, forcing Robin to swoop in and fix it instead.
They can’t even investigate anything properly. They just sit around in the office, doing literally nothing until a clue is tossed their way. When the plot references historical, mythological, or religious themes, none of them ever catch any of it. Nobody ever knows anything. Even when someone does miraculously find something, their coworkers get weirdly defensive about it or instantly try to pass it off as a waste of time.
Any time I thought that Witch Hunter Robin had hit its lowest point, the STNJ found new ways to be infuriating. I could write 3 more paragraphs about how idiotic its unlikeable staff are or all the other ways in which the organization sucks at what it has to do. And what makes this frustrating is that there are never consequences for any of this. Everybody treats the STNJ as a force to be reckoned with and its members are held up as infallible experts.
#2 Censored violence
Witch Hunter Robin looks like a grim show on the surface. The artstyle goes for a mature look, the characters look like adults, and its get likened to some fairly mature shows. It was airing at the same time as Ghost in the Shell SAC, but also gets brought up alongside Psycho Pass, Monster, and Ergo Proxy. Yeah… it really isn’t like those shows at all.
Firstly, the “mature characters” are all improbably-skilled teenagers. Secondly, the show is afraid to show anything more violent than a painful fall down the stairs. You’d think that an anime about witch hunters—historically a macabre business—would have at least have some edge to it. Instead, it goes out of its way to keep everything fairly tame.
Everybody always uses special guns with ammo that doesn’t kill or even leave any kind of mark. Even when the people involved are absolutely out to do harm, they conveniently use non-lethal weapons. Even the witches themselves with their magical powers and hate-boners for society keep their violence to a minimum—often with unintentionally hilarious results. There is one guy with a power that lets him crush people, which is pretty hardcore. Except him “crushing” people just has them disappear into a poof of fairy dust particles. See the screenshot above for an example.
All other deaths—bar one strange exception—are kept off-screen or happen so instantly that it’s actually confusing. I was convinced that one guy just teleported away because he just vanished the moment something hit him. The same *POOF* approach to death, but without the sparkles this time.
#3 Drab visuals
Speaking off the “mature” look, that’s another thing I hated. Witch Hunter Robin looks thoroughly lifeless. 90% of the anime is just greys and browns all over, complimented by greyish-white skin tones. It’s sleep-inducing to look at.
Promo art for the series is actually a lot more vibrant. For example, Robin is depicted as having yellow or orange hair and a red coat. In the anime she has light-brown hair to match her brown coat, brown accessories, brown sweater, and brown gloves. Miho also has red hair in promo materials, instead of the dark-brown she ended up with.
Lighting is also a problem across the entire anime. Scenes are constantly underlit and a lot of the show takes place at night, further limiting visibility. Combined with the muted colors, a lot of scenes end up being barely legible and certainly not entertaining to look at. Not that it matters, because even during daytime scenes it’s just more browns and greys all the way through.
#4 Boring lore
I don’t hate urban fantasy itself, but it’s certainly a genre prone to tropes that annoy me. Pretentious references to mythology and religion, rebranding things like magic to “cool-sounding” alternatives, and dumping out lore in bulk. All of them obnoxious and all of them feature heavily in Witch Hunter Robin.
Right from the get-go, I couldn’t buy into the distinctions between witches. The witches are evil because they use magic, while the hunters are good because they… also use magic. They call it a “craft” when the hunters use it, but it’s so obviously the same power that future plot twists are easy to predict.
Initially, Witch Hunter Robin mostly revolves around episodic adventures. Until Robin meets a person that exists exclusively for plot exposition. The show dumps out all its lore in the span of 2 episodes; of course featuring plenty of mythological buzzwords to make it all sound super smart. In a display of exquisite writing, all this lore is then immediately cast aside again. Very little is done with it until the finale and even then it’s largely insignificant.
The story is actually quite simple, so a lot of this lore just acts as convoluted fluff. There are definitely ways in which they could have done the same twists with only a fraction of the exposition. If the story focused more on the characters learning things naturally, it’d make their arcs feel a lot more genuine as well.
I realize that I haven’t really talked about Robin herself throughout this review. Even though the show is called Witch Hunter Robin. While she is undeniably the main character of the show, she is so unremarkable that I have little to even talk about.
Robin is the youngest member of the cast at only 15-years-old, while also being the smartest, most skilled, and powerful member of STNJ. She is generally agreeable and sympathetic, but that’s really about it for her. Robin reacts so passively to everything and expresses so few opinions, that it’s hard to tell what her personality is supposed to be. She feels neutral, which is not ideal for a protagonist through which we’re supposed to experience this story.
I disliked the other STNJ employees, but Robin I just didn’t care for entirely. She evokes no feelings and leaves no impressions whatsoever. The story is entirely about her, yet she feels uninvolved in it. I am incredibly curious what the 50 people that listed Robin as a favorite on AniList saw in her.
More like this…
Baccano: Crime drama with a “realistic” aesthetic.
Ghost in the Shell: Action series about a specialized law enforcement unit.
Witch Craft Works: Ancient magical traditions persist into the modern day.