#1 World War-era witchcraft
It is 1940. Countries all across Europe live in fear of the mighty Germanian Empire, which invades its neighbors as it pleases. Among these neighbors is the independent duchy of Eylstadt, whose princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, is on a desperate mission to gain allies for the coming war.
When one of her plans falls apart, Finé is captured and put on a Germanian transport plane. There she finds a strange container: a lifepod of sorts with a red-haired girl inside. This is Izetta, a powerful witch captured by Germania for “scientific purposes”. The girls escape from their captors and Izetta swears that she’ll use her powers in the defense of Eylstadt. But against the overpowering military might of Germania, how much difference can one girl possibly make?
Izetta: The Last Witch has a brilliant concept. Its premise of a witch fighting in World War II immediately clicks when you first see Izetta fly around on a rifle as if it were a broomstick. It’s no simple gimmick either, as the entire story ends up revolving around how the existence of magic changes the course of the war. Izetta alone can maybe aid Eylstadt, but magic itself is a whole new resource for the superpowers of the world to fight over.
It also just looks really cool. Battles turn even more chaotic than normal, as Izetta swoops in and casually flips tanks over with her magic. Anti-air guns take on a whole different meaning and magical explosions rock the battlefield.
#2 Political intrigue
While Izetta provides a lot of the action scenes, Finé is not idle either. She may be powerless in the magical sense, but she is a cunning diplomat with a keen understanding of world politics. While Izetta fights on the frontlines, Finé wages war in conference rooms.
Izetta: The Last Witch covers a lot of different angles. For example, Eylstadt ends up engaging in a heavy propaganda campaign around Izetta. Something that proves difficult, because Izetta is very shy and lacks self-confidence. She is made to perform in these elaborate shows for the sole purpose of impressing journalists, which forces Germania to engage in its own propaganda. It becomes a whole back-and-forth between the two sides in the war; swaying public opinion through newspapers and microfilms.
The anime also deals with espionage and counter-intelligence, partisan activity, and other backroom affairs. One major hurdle in the story, for example, is that the Atlantic Federation will not join the war in Europe until their people are sufficiently convinced of the threat that Germania poses. They have to convince their politicians that joining an overseas war is a good plan, but they also have interests of their own that run counter to the goals of the allied forces.
Of course, 12 episodes isn’t enough to capture the whole wide complexity of wartime politics. Even so I found the story to be cleverly-written and far more in-depth than I had presumed going into it.
#3 Humanity in wartime
The anime also never loses sight of the human aspect in war. Finé and Izetta are both are likeable, sympathetic characters. Through them we get to meet many different people with their own stories and views on the conflict.
Effort is put into making all the characters as 3-dimensional as possible. I was particularly fond of Müller, Eylstadt’s spymaster of sorts. He is in charge of managing Eylstadt’s intelligence and spy network, which means he often has to make morally dubious decisions. He has his own beliefs to rationalize his actions, but you can see it eat away at him as the war proceeds.
I also appreciated the effort to characterize the people on Germania’s side. There’s an arc where we follow a young Germanian officer on a mission in Eylstadt, who begins to feel regretful over the harm that his actions will bring to ordinary people.
What also helps the characterization is that the show sometimes dabbles in a bit of comedy. There is a whole short side-story where Izetta and Finé sneak off to go eat pastries together, just to name an example. The energetic maid Lotte is also mainly around for comedic relief and I found her to be quite endearing.
#4 Curious soundtrack
Michiru is an artist I hadn’t heard about before, though apparently she is also handling the soundtrack for Ascendance of a Bookworm. I still need to get around to watching that show. Lack of prior experience aside, I was very impressed with her work on Izetta.
There are a wide range of tracks in this OST and a lot of them utilize unique sounds. Like bells and mysterious chants layered over orchestra music. It feels enchanting, while also having enough power to carry the action scenes. Izetta’s own theme, Shuumatsu no Izetta, is especially amazing. It would rank high if I ever get around to doing a list of the best character themes in anime.
Then there are tracks like Dai Dasshutsu, which start off sounding like someone is doing their best to completely ruin a string instrument. Or how about the weirdly unsettling song “In The Air“. It’s all so out there, I honestly can’t compare it to any other series I’ve seen. And damn do I like it.
#5 Yuri vibes
Though it could be argued to be out-of-place in a 1940s setting, I welcomed Izetta‘s yuri ambitions. From their first meeting, there is a romantic tension between Finé and Izetta that the anime likes to explore. Something that leads to a number of sweet moments, topped off with a helping of fanservice.
While it doesn’t outright confirm a romance between the two, the anime loves to frequently suggest one. Izetta especially can rarely keep her affections for the princess hidden. The two have a very strong bond already, but there are a number of scenes where this feels like more than just friendship. One particularly blatant example being a party where Finé shows up in male dress so that Izetta can be her partner for the night. It’s all very cute and made the dynamic between the two protagonists even more interesting.
The fanservice, meanwhile, comes in healthy moderation. There are some bathing scenes or jokes like Izetta panicking when she is being measured for a new outfit. The camera also has some suspicious priorities at times. It looks pretty darn good, thanks in large part to the strong character designs. It’s also not too overbearing and knows to stay away whenever a more serious tone is needed.
More like this…
Apfelland Monogatari: A small alpine nation resists the invasion of a European superpower.
Saga of Tanya the Evil: World War-era conflict meets devastating magic.
Valkyria Chronicles: World War-era story revolving around a small, independent nation.