During the winter, not many anime could escape the vortex of Yuri!!! On Ice, and with good reason. Along with bringing figure skating to the forefronts of fans’ minds, there was this collective release of breath that for once a series didn’t destroy a healthy gay relationship by having one of them die, making it hideously tropey, or any other manner of eye-roll-inducing bullshit that non-straight audiences are unfortunately used to. While I’m definitely forever grateful for Yuri’s existence, I won’t lie: part of me was a little bitter that lesbian couples weren’t having their renaissance as well. However, I did manage to hear about two anime series that were being touted as having lesbian relationships front and center. Though continuously dubious about anime’s relationship with, well, any sort of relationships really, but especially lesbian relationships, I sat down and watched the first of the two series, Izetta: The Last Witch. Izetta’s dip into a magic-infused version of our world’s real-life past wasn’t exactly what I would call “fun”, but despite the numerous bad/questionable aspects of the show, I do believe that in the end Izetta is worth a watch.
Izetta throws the audience right into the major conflict of the series, and it’s a huge one. After waking from a dream of her childhood, Archduchess Ortfiné Fredericka von Eylstadt (typically called Finé) of the fictional principality of Eylstadt and her two guards are discovered and pursued by several members of the Germanian army on a train ride to attend a political meeting. As the three of them are chased to the back of the train where the cargo is, for a moment Finé becomes entranced by a strange looking coffin. However, she has little time to consider the “classified military secrets” inside as she and her guards leap from the train in a daring escape. Yet this only deters the Germanian army for a short time. During her political meeting, she is ambushed once again and this time is actually captured. Aboard a plane heading for the Germanian capital, Neu-Berlin, she and the Germanians come to a head, prompting the being in the casket to come to life. Luckily for Finé—and not-so-luckily for the Germanians—the girl in the casket was Finé’s childhood friend Izetta, a powerful witch who then completely decimates the plane they were on, plus a couple fighter planes along the way, to save her friend.
At one of the bases for the Eylstadt army, both Finé and Izetta discover that the war effort to keep Germania from completely overtaking Eylstadt is going poorly; at the rate it’s going, it would not take long for the country to fall. Against Finé’s wishes and the rules of being a witch that Izetta grew up with, Izetta uses her magic to turn the tide. After constant showings of Izetta’s powers, the Eylstadt army decides to officially use Izetta as a tool in the war in an effort to gain the support of the other Allied countries. However, Germania has a secret of their own, and soon everyone discovers that Izetta may not be the last witch after all.
As you can probably gather from the above, Izetta’s twelve episodes explore a world in which the beginning days of WWII are fought not with guns and bombs alone, but alongside magic. Personally, I’m really not a fan of wartime fictional media, and if Izetta didn’t hold the promise of lesbian representation I would have passed on the series entirely. I wouldn’t even take this series as an accurate exploration of WWII. There are clear allusions to America’s eventual aid in the war, the attacks on England, and the series even goes so far as to mention concentration camps at one point. It is a little dubious, however, that Japan’s involvement was glossed over entirely, especially given Japan’s reluctance to ever speak about their part in this specific war. Still, I did appreciate some aspects of what the genre brought, such as exploring just how frustratingly good the Nazi party was at creating propaganda, which is something we need to be aware of now more than ever.
Additionally, I think it’s interesting that Izetta chose to explore Germania’s (and by extension Nazi Germany’s theoretical) relationship with the occult, and how willing they were to adapt these unknowns to their needs despite the potential danger. Due to the mystical obsessions of Germania’s ruler, Germania already has a ton of information on witches, especially the legend of the White Witch, who was said to have protected Eylstadt in the past until she was betrayed by Finé’s ancestor. Using this information, they manage to utilize the White Witch herself. The secret forces of the Germanian army bring her back to life as a clone of her former self. This feat alone doesn’t satisfy them: they continue to mass produce cloned bodies both for her to switch into when her power ruins the body she’s currently in and to replace her with should she start acting out of line.
Even though I did like this aspect of the show, it’s this knowledge that creates the most annoying aspect of the show, at least for me. About halfway in, it felt like the Germanians knew everything—it wasn’t just a feeling, they did actually know everything the Allies were about to do and everything about Izetta herself. While part of this can certainly be attributed to their secret studies on the subject of witches, I couldn’t help but feel like some of their victories were bullshit and impossible to achieve without the writers deciding that this was the way to build tension. For instance, despite having a spy in the Eylstadt army, the spy doesn’t actually learn anything. And still, somehow, the Germanians end up discovering these secrets the spy doesn’t know anyway. Not to mention the fact that apparently Germania is somehow so advanced that they have a method of cloning a perfect, functional human body for the White Witch from just a decayed piece of her burned corpse. It’s still the ’40s in a world where technology hasn’t been influenced by magic at all: how do they have this?! Izetta didn’t need to prove that the Nazis were bad; we all know this already! Showing it in increasingly unbelievable ways just makes the show unenjoyable to watch.
Where the show did shine, though, was in its female representation. While all the politicians and rulers outside of Finé were male, much of the focus was placed on the troops of Eylstadt, which were surprisingly full of women. Finé’s royal guard was comprised entirely of women, who were also badass snipers who never backed down from a mark, and Finé and Izetta’s PR manager was also a woman. Throughout the whole series, there was only one time a woman did not support another woman, and that was at the very beginning. Bianca, the head of the royal guard, was understandably extremely wary of Izetta and questioned if they should really be letting her get so close to Finé. However, after having a heart-to-heart, Bianca embraces Izetta with open arms and they become close friends. In fact, even the stereotypically tropey legend of the White Witch is proven to be a lie. The legend as some people know it ends with the jealous wife of the king ordering for the White Witch’s execution, all due to the king being madly in love with the witch. However, the White Witch herself explains that the king’s wife never ordered her death, and was, in fact, remorseful that her husband had ordered that the witch be silenced for good as his final wish before he, too, died.
Yet, for all the good in this, the writers themselves couldn’t let a good thing be. While there are countless scenes of women supporting women and being cool badasses, there are also countless unnecessary pans over Izetta’s and the other women’s breasts and hips. In bath scenes, they never miss an opportunity to show dripping wet cleavage or butts. And there’s a whole scene dedicated to the PR manager groping Izetta and Finé—both underage girls—to figure out their bust size for clothing or whatever stupid excuse the writers wrote in. This is the comic relief in Izetta, and it’s just such shitty writing compared to everything else that happens. And speaking about off-tone shitty writing, there’s a short subplot where Bianca is sent to investigate claims of a Germanian spy seeking knowledge on Izetta’s weakness. For some reason, they end up falling in love and Bianca almost doesn’t do her duty in killing him because she’s apparently such a hopeless romantic now that she’s struggling. Luckily, she does kill him, but having her so close to character suicide was extremely out of place for someone whose defining characteristic is her deep devotion to Finé and her job.
Speaking of deep devotion, if you came into Izetta looking for that lesbian romance like I did, you won’t be disappointed. Or, well, not entirely. From the first episodes it quickly becomes apparent that Finé and Izetta are extremely close, constantly worrying over the other’s safety and Izetta making the choice for Finé that yes, she will help with the war effort in order to protect the country that Finé loves. While initially one could interpret this as a very deep platonic friendship based off of Izetta’s need to pay Finé back for saving her life as a child, it’s easy to see that it’s not necessarily entirely platonic. In the latter half of the show, there are so many scenes of the girls’ foreheads touching or holding hands, and there’s even a scene where Izetta takes Finé for a nighttime broom ride with Finé sitting on her lap instead of holding on from behind. Izetta doesn’t come out and say it in the open, but it’s heavily implied that the girls think of each other as more than friends.
While I, and assuredly others, found their relationship more than the exploitative queerbait of the past, it would have been nice to have something with a little more meat to it. Using YOI as an example, while Viktor and Yuuri never say the words “I love you”, they clearly express their love through things such as calling their matching rings engagement rings and repeatedly making the promise to skate together for the rest of their lives. Izetta, for her part, promises to protect Eylstadt for the rest of her life, clearly reflecting the White Witch’s legend of her love with Eylstadt’s past ruler. Yet without more intimate moments between Izetta and Finé, it’s easy for internet fucknuggets to ignore these smaller, more subtle things and discredit any and all romantic implications. I don’t need Izetta and Finé macking on each other, but more quiet moments between them without everyone else breathing down their necks would have done wonders. I’m also disappointed that, while Izetta doesn’t end with the dead lesbian trope, it does end with Izetta in questionable condition. In order to truly bring down the White Witch, Izetta had to utilize all the magic in the world. This should have destroyed her body, and she’s shown in a wheelchair in the final episode, but we never get to see her face or what condition her body’s in or if she even remembers who Finé is. It’s difficult to say whether or not Izetta and Finé get a happy ending, but I guess at least neither of them died.
I walked into Izetta thinking that I wouldn’t like it, but would suffer through it to get that lesbian representation. In the end, though, I did end up liking aspects of the series very much. Although there was a lot of bad in it, it wasn’t enough to completely nullify its good parts. So the most I can say is that I don’t regret watching the series; in fact, I may even be glad I did. (My answer to this will become more clear after I stop being salty that the character I hated the most didn’t get his just desserts.) Izetta is on trend with Yuri!!! On Ice in that it’s less of a show about a homosexual relationship, and more of a show with a homosexual relationship in it. This is appreciated, but I really do hope that the other anime I plan to watch has its lesbians as open with their relationship as Viktor and Yuuri were.