Shuumatsu no Izetta – 05-11 Review
That’s just a given in this series. Nobody looks closer at why exactly Eylstadt is supposed to be this idyllic paradise. Instead, it’s just assumed that everyone in Eylstadt is a good guy.
Shuumatsu no Izetta 05-11: The war goes swimmingly for Eylstadt and the rest of not-Europe. Izetta has become the most powerful person in the world (which naturally prompts not-US to start thinking about invading Eylstadt themselves).
But before that, Germania unveils its secret weapon: A clone of the White Witch!
And just to make matters worse, there’s suddenly something like a Witchstone which allows a Witch to be even more of a badass.
Except it turns out, things can get even worse than THAT. Because now Germania has a nuke as well!
With Eylstadt-soldiers dying left and right, it seems like Izetta has to prepare herself for a hard battle.
The things you (have to) do for your country, right?
That’s one of the more interesting scenes of this series. But I’m not sure what the series’ thinking on this pairing is. Are these characters truly the same or can be Sieghard’s actions be excused because he did it for his country?
As a series, Shuumatsu no Izetta isn’t impressive on the surface. Based on some sort of pseudo-WWII in some alternate universe, Germania are the obvious bad guys while Eylstadt is the virtuous underdog fighting for its life against an aggressive invasion. And it’s in those fights figures like Fine and Izetta emerge as heroes who mount a heroic defense against the evil invaders. The hook for the whole story, though, is that while Eylstadt has no hope of winning the war by itself Izetta is a witch with powers that make it easy for her to turn the war around and protect Eylstadt as well as her beloved Fine. The entire thing is presented with clarity and stakes as well as characterization make it easy to get involved in the dramatic ups and downs of their adventures. But one thing keeps bugging me about this series: Why does any of this matter?
Surprisingly it’s nationalism. The historical disconnect is obvious, of course. You have a series with pseudo-Nazis as bad guys, so how could the good guys be fighting for nationalism? But it’s certainly the most important question to ask as it relates to how you think about this series. It’s relevant because independent of whatever your attitude towards nationalism may be, this show has some of the best thematic storytelling of this Fall-season. On one hand the series’ approach to nationalism is indeed multifaceted as it’s presenting a rigid moral codex that is based on nationalism and on the other hand, all characterizations in the series deal with their attitude towards their respective nation. And following that framing the big sin of the pseudo-Nazis in this series isn’t racism, xenophobia, antisemitism or some other kind of inhumane injustice. What makes Germania the bad guys are their disregard for national sovereignty.
Aside from the warmongering as an obvious indication of Germania’s evil, the series’ characters all operate under a rather rigid moral guideline. Less than a set of rules, character-wise it starts with a single goal that all characters share (with one exception): The responsibility to the country. What I mean with “responsibility” is the mindset to do whatever’s beneficial to the well-being of the country. When you listen to the characters talk, it’s unbelievable just how often they talk about “protecting all the good citizens of Eylstadt” (in the case of the good guys) or “serving the country” (in the case of the bad guys). Sometimes it even feels like every second word out of Fine’s mouth is about this. It’s her especially who pushes this goal but the way everyone behaved in episode 08 for example shows off this thinking as well. There Rickert ultimately died for the good of his country and despite his affections for Bianca.
But Rickert’s death is also a good example of the next aspect of this show’s moral guideline towards nationalism: It’s the whole “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”-Spock-thing. Selflessness and above all sacrifice are the path past danger or whatever might keep a character from acting responsibly. Whenever a character may stray from that path, one of two reasons is always used to steer this character back to the “right path”. One is “think of the country” and the other is “think of the people”. Now the latter is exclusively used by the good guys as an indication of their moral righteousness. This is where Shuumatsu no Izetta’s nationalism is at its worst.
Both Izetta and Fine mention multiple times how they want to protect all the nice and friendly people of Eylstadt. What makes this so nationalistic is the way the series moralizes nations. In the world of this series, it isn’t certain characters who are good or bad, it’s nations who are good or bad. And depending on the nation, that makes a character good or bad. Basler, for example, isn’t a totally evil character but he’s outraged as he finds out in episode 11 that Berkmann has switched sides. It isn’t ideals the characters are fighting for because it’s taken for granted that characters simply are defined by the nation they’re fighting for. The real good or bad guys of the series are the nations and by association a character’s either good or evil. And it’s no coincidence that the only character so far that has switched sides is portrayed as duplicitous and amoral.
Well, for a series that evokes WWII-imagery, warmongering and a hunger for world domination seem like rather tame sins.
But there’s an inversion of that in the series as well which is guilt. Characters who stray from their path towards responsible behavior or start to act out of self-interest usually die in this series (with Berkmann and everyone who dies in battle as exceptions). Both Rickert and Jonas waver in their loyalties to their nation and then end up dying for it (maybe not literally because of that but it’s certainly far from coincidental). Just to make that point even clearer, Eylstadt’s guilt gets manifested in the form of Sophie, the White Witch. Naturally, the princess who orchestrated her death acted selfishly out of jealousy and this is how you know that she’s guilty rather than responsible. And Sophie’s selfish revenge naturally has nothing to do with the responsibility most other characters are striving for
I have to talk a little about the elephant in the room, of course: The show’s title. Now in my first review I joked that it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that Izetta isn’t actually the last witch. Well, I clearly have overestimated the intelligence of the writers of this show. Now it’s obvious why there’s another witch in this show: One, stakes. Two, story. And three, lack of imagination. It’s simple laziness that has led to this dumb mistake. Imagine a series called “The Ocean” and in the second half the series is like “And now we go to the desert.”. It’s this kind of obvious contradiction. Actually, it reminds me of the second Rambo-film which is called “Rambo: First Blood – Part II”. That name’s only a little less dumb than having a series called “The Last Witch” with two witches in it.
Whenever the series can turn its attention away from all its nationalistic moralizing, the series presents a lot of thrilling action. The high points of the series are certainly whenever we can see Izetta fight and struggle to use her magic powers against opponents who are increasingly getting more aware of her weaknesses. It’s when Izetta’s powers aren’t enough and the action becomes more or less a battle of wits that the series is at its best. The tension in those scenes coupled with the well-done animation is a good thrill-ride. Sadly these moments have been rare in the series thus far and have completely disappeared now that the war is about two witches having supernatural battles in the air. While it’s still nicely animated, the witch-fights clearly follow the usual battle-shounen-patterns of simplistic competitions of strength disguised with fancy visuals and the presence of power-ups. Instead of using wits to work within a certain set of rules (as they did in previous episodes of the show), the witchstone negates all that and has turned the battles into supernatural arm-wrestling.
Personally, I dislike the nationalistic philosophy at the root of this series and the introduction of the witch has taken whatever good points the series has had. While the series has consistently embraced its themes of nationalism and responsibility in both story and characterization, the plot has suffered from the writers’ incapability to raise the stakes for Izetta and Fine without requiring the use of some very cheap plot-devices that are taken way too serious. Introducing a cloned witch and a nuke to the story are naturally very campy ideas but rather than playing them up for stylishness, the series creates serious melodrama with the witch and uses the nuke as a shorthand for raising the stakes in a very obvious fashion. What makes it so cheap isn’t the presence but the idea that their presence is enough. The witch doesn’t have an impact on Fine & Co aside from being a powerful enemy and the nuke is nothing more than a big threat. With this type of obliviousness, it isn’t surprising that both things have fallen flat as dramatic story-beats. This way the series has sadly become a very obvious and flat story with a very questionable theme.
- The series clearly has an encoded yuri-subtext in the relationship between Izetta and Fine (after episode 11 it might as well have become text even). Aside from the fanservice, I wonder why it was decided to choose two girls for these roles. After all, the series has dropped multiple hints about how Fine’s and Izetta’s story is the nice version of the White Witch tale. The parallels between what Izetta and the White Witch have been going through are obvious. For example, remember the first episode where Fine is talking with the Britannian foreign secretary and she’s talking about marrying a Britannian prince in order to build an alliance. But this political marriage never happens as Fine comes to rely on Izetta. In addition to that, Bianca praises the happy version of the White Witch tale in episode 08 which is actually closer to Izetta’s story than the White Witch’s.
- Personally, I hope the series ends with its 12th episode. I don’t want to imagine what the writers would do to make a second season with not-US as enemy “interesting”.
- All the silly stuff from episode 06 really wasn’t necessary. That whole bit with the cake and its portrayal of wartime-rationing was ridiculous.