Izetta: The Last Witch and the Death of a Fairytale

Izetta the Last Witch is a fairytale. Now the anime is filled with many of the trappings of a modern story: the story always attempts to provide a logical justification for an action in the world, the visuals adhere to an extreme fidelity to actual WWII equipment, and the anime attempts to subvert and deconstruct its very nature as a fairytale. This form contrasts with a fairytale that has much older conventions, and those modern trappings on an older story form is what I believe causes most of the problems the anime suffers. However, with analyzing this story as a fairytale helps to find what this anime is actually about.

 

Understanding this anime requires a broader understanding of myths and fairytales. To quote Joseph Campbell, the preeminent authority on myths and fairytales, “Modern literature is devoted, in great measure, to a courageous, open-eyed observation of the sickeningly broken figurations that abound before us, around us, and within.” To contrast, a fairytale serves a much more basic and transcendent truth. While modern literature works by wallowing in the tragedy of mankind, the fairytale works by transcending the universal tragedy of man. This issue facing Izetta: The Last Witch is that a postmodern world has nothing for a person to transcend to. Faced with no place to go, the anime’s only option is to deconstruct a fairytale and see what pieces remain.

 

Myths and fairytales also carry certain story conventions that run contrary to more modern conventions. The prime example in Izetta are the characters. In a contemporary story a character grows and develops. You see how their various trials and adventures shapes them into the person they’ll eventually become. A fairytale or myth does not concern itself with growth and development, and instead has the journey be about the character learning what they always were. Izetta was always a hero who was gifted with tremendous magical power. The Duchess Fine was always fair and just ruler and shows what a just king is. The Emperor Otto was always a tyrant who corrupts and destroys everything he touches. The story ends with the characters suffering a fate in line with the role they played and the actions they took while in their role. It is through observing this that Izetta the Last Witch communicates its message.

 

The most important character to understand the anime was also easily the worst handled character; the original White Witch, Sophie. She is in the story because her character completes the themes and message, but the creators wrote an extremely convoluted and asinine reason for why it was logical for her to be in the story. The idea that she’s a clone from a demented science project and was able to regain her memories and personality by biting Izetta’s lip and drinking her blood is extremely hokey and ridiculously convenient. This convoluted backstory makes even less sense when the anime had already established that magic exists and it can allow a teenage girl to fly around on an anti-material rifle and toss Panzer IV tanks around like rag dolls. There was no need to have science assume the role of magic because the anime had the misplaced desire to appear more believable and realistic. While this is a bad mark on the anime, it does not mean there isn’t anything interesting learn from it.

 

Notwithstanding how poorly Sophie’s character was handled, she is a very interesting character to analyze. Conceptually, she is one of the most interesting characters I have seen in anime. The myth of the White Witch served as powerful force within the story. The myth served as a unifying story for the people of Eylstadt and a source of hope in their most dire times. The power of the myth was such that that the main characters did what they could to recreate the story with Izetta as the White Witch. They used Hollywood knowhow, outright deception, and even murder to maintain the myth for as long as possible. They knew the power of myths and fairytales and attempted to use that power to save their country. For as powerful as Izetta was, she was never as powerful as Izetta the White Witch.

 

Once this new myth around Izetta is established the story does what it can to destroy it, and the main vehicle for that destruction is Sophie. In the story she is clearly a monster. She is a world destroy force more akin to a god than to a human, but her tragic past provides some justification for why she became a monster. The anime first reveals that the real history involved Sophie being betrayed by the Queen once the King was dead. This serves the dual function of showing that Eylstadt is capable of committing evil like any of the other countries, and to provide Sophie with a just reason for her anger and desire for revenge. The fact the anime doesn’t stop here is why Sophie is such a great character conceptually. The big reveal as the end was that Sophie was always a monster, even while she was the White Witch. The anime hinted at this fact by showing her complete disregard for the wellbeing of the soldiers on her own side, but it was not confirmed until her own admission. She may recognize all the killing she did in the past was wrong, but that didn’t stop her then and it didn’t stop her now. As with the other characters, her being a monster wasn’t something she became but something she always was. She desecrated the laws of the witches and used her power to achieve what she wanted. The ultimate reason for her prince betraying her was because her loyalties were so selfish. She had no loyalty or love to Eylstadt, only to her prince and he knew that with his death there will be nothing to keep her chained. Her destruction was just as Machiavellian a decision as was using her to preserve the kingdom in the first place. The irony is that she the fact she was remembered as an angel couldn’t hide the fact she was more like a demon.

 

Sophie also serves the critical role as a foil for Izetta. If Izetta as a character cannot grow, then contrasting her with another is the best way to understand who she is. In the last fight, Sophie proves herself to be a demon, while Izetta proves herself to be an angel. However, the problem with such an idea can be seen in one image.izetta-spirit-bombs In the eyes of a mortal, there is no difference between the power of an angel and the power of a demon. In a theological sense, angels and demons (assuming they are fallen angels) are the same kind of being, with their choices providing the only distinction. Such a comparison works quite well for Izetta and Sophie. It is impossible to tell who is the good guy or bad guy in this image. Both are wielding massive spirit bombs which look to contain world ending power. Even their more conventional fighting is barely distinguishable. Sophie does show some subtle cruelty in her actions, but that can’t hide the fact that Izetta’s fighting is also extremely brutal. Izetta easily killed hundreds of people in the anime; possibly thousands. Her power is entirely destructive and all the help she can give is through destructive means. It is Sophie’s presence that we see how difficult or even impossible it is to tell how good a person is if all we see are destructive actions.

 

A major lesson of the story is that such power is never good no matter the context. This fact was known from the beginning, but both Sophie and Izetta were determined to prove it. Both were taught to never use their magic for such personal reasons, and both were taught never to use the magic stone. Both disregarded all those teachings when they felt strongly enough about an issue. What is striking is how little either achieved using their power, regardless of their intentions for using it. The areas they were able to succeed were quickly countered by personal tragedy. Sophie protected Eylstadt, but couldn’t prevent her prince from dying a natural death nor prevent herself from burning at the stake. Izetta did save Fine twice, but she couldn’t prevent Eylstadt from falling and it is unlikely she achieved her desire for everlasting peace. Izetta’s presence actually allowed Germania to gain magic capabilities themselves that caused even more death, and had the potential for even greater tragedy to come. The actions of Izetta and Sophie resulted in magic being forever destroyed, and Izetta was maimed in process while Sophie died a second death. In the end, it wasn’t even magic that defeated Germania, but as Emperor Otto said, “blood and iron.”

 

However, I stated that the anime was a fairytale so that means there is a transcendent truth. The challenge with Izetta the Last Witch is this truth is achieved through deconstruction. The story works by taking apart and subverting all the aspects of a fairytale. It denies the fanciful and replaces it with cynical reality. It destroys magic and replaces it with science. In a myth or fairytale, the hero transcends the world. In Izetta: The Last Witch the world consumes and destroys the hero, only leaving a maimed girl. The final line of the anime concludes that at the very end, the appearance of Izetta as the White Witch left an undefined something in the hearts of everyone.

 

I see this this undefined something as a vague concept of fate. A central theme in Izetta: The Last Witch is that there is some kind of cosmic justice. Every character has a role, and every character’s fate is directly caused by the actions they take while in their role. Fine’s counselor, Sieg Muller, is killed by a Germainian soldier who looked just like the Eylstadt soldier he killed earlier to keep Izetta’s secret safe. Emperor Otto dies by his own hands after bringing his empire to ruin. The Germainian ace Basler remains loyal till the end and flies off alone on a mission with no hope for success. Even though the cunning Germainian officer Berkmann survived the war, he lost his eye in the process. The lines Fine is speaking at the time the anime shows the fate of Berkmann makes it clear that he is still well within the cycle of war and is most likely unable to escape from it, though it is doubtful he wants to. The anime asserts that there is some intelligible justice in an unintelligible world.

 

The real tragedy of this anime is how it can’t really find an answer to the hard questions it asks. Izetta: The Last Witch directly confronts the horrors of wars, but what answers it provides are extremely lacking. An undefined something in people’s hearts is almost no answer at all. Even a vague notion of fate is a pretty poor answer, yet Izetta: The Last Witch provides the answers that our contemporary world is able to give.

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