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Anime / Earwig and the Witch

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Earwig and the Witch (アーヤと魔女: Hepburn: Āya to Majo, 2021) is Studio Ghibli's 22nd film, and the third film directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of studio founder Hayao Miyazaki. Adapted from Diana Wynne Jones' novel of the same name, it tells the story of a little orphan girl who is adopted by the Wicked Witch Bella Yaga. She is taken into her home where she meets a talking cat and the silent, yet ill-tempered Mandrake and from there she experiences magic.

A co-production between Studio Ghibli, NHK and NHK Enterprises, the film originally aired on television on December 30, 2020 on NHK General TV, and was scheduled to be released in theaters by Toho on April 29, 2021 before the release date was postponed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Of note, it is Studio Ghibli's first All-CGI Cartoon, and their first Made-for-TV film since Ocean Waves in 1993.

Earwig and the Witch contains the following tropes:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Erica's first spell is a complicated concoction that makes her and Thomas immune to other witches' magic. Despite having no formal training, being a first attempt and Thomas forgetting most of the words (replacing them with swears he learned), the spell works, rendering Bella's worm-spell ineffectual. The second spell is one that gives Bella extra hands and Erica manages to pull that off, too.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Zig-Zagged. She goes by Erica/Earwig in the original novel, however, her name was changed to "Āya" when the film was released in Japan. They would revert back to her original name for the international release.
  • All Witches Have Cats: Bella Yaga has Thomas, a black cat who serves as her familiar.
  • Ambiguously Related: Flashbacks show The Mandrake dating Earwig's mother, implying he might be her father.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: On top of all her other jerkassery, Bella Yaga's favorite way to punish her familiar Thomas is by infesting him with magical worms.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Invoked. Bella Yaga repeatedly mentions that she only has Erica around for the "extra hands", eventually leading to Erica putting a spell on her to grow extra hands on her waist and head.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: The orphans sneak out near the start and walk around a graveyard dressed like this to scare the locals.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Erica herself, who deviates a bit from the usual Ghibli Plucky Girl by wrapping everyone in the orphanage around her little finger and makes it her mission to do the same to her magical foster family the minute she walks in the door.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The Assistant Matron quickly decides that if someone's running from a witch, they probably are one, and so would the random child they leave at the orphanage.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The fact that Bella Yaga and Mandrake wound up choosing their old friend and bandmate's daughter out of a literal line-up of children was just one giant coincidence. Maybe.
  • Covers Always Lie: One of the posters showed Erica singing and performing with a band (Earwig to be specific). Yeah, that never actually happens at all in the film. Erica doesn't really sing much at all in the film.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: About everything but the ghosts.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Of the Cute Witch. Erica's adorable, funny, and an amoral, manipulative brat. When Bella Yaga adopts her, Erica even whines it's the first time she's ever had to do something she didn't want to.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: When Erica meets her foster family, they are both distant and unwelcoming, Bella Yaga an abusive bitch that only has her around to work for them and the Mandrake preferring to avoid her all together. While the Mandrake slowly warms up to her, it takes the entire movie before Bella loosens up, both of them accepting Erica as a member of the family.
  • Domain Holder: The Mandrake seems to possess some level of control over the physical make-up of the house, routinely moving doors and phasing through walls. He's shown phasing through the walls of the orphanage in his first appearance, however, so this may simply be one of his demonic powers.
  • The Dreaded: Bella Yaga is terrified of Mandrake, and for good reason. When he finally hits his Rage Breaking Point towards the end of the movie, he transforms into a giant, fiery demon!
  • Feet-First Introduction: Mandrake and Bella Yaga both get this.
  • Giftedly Bad: While the Mandrake has a passion for writing, he really sucks at it, repeatedly destroying newspapers due to the poor reviews. He's especially angry when Erica's book, written under his name, is hailed as a masterpiece.
  • Guile Hero: Erica, though it's possible she's using More than Mind Control to make everyone follow her commands.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It's very easy to get Mandrake and, to a lesser extent, Bella Yaga angry at the slightest inconvenience.
  • The Hermit: Mandrake, the demonic master of the house who insists on never being disturbed.
  • Hero of Another Story: Erica's mother flees a coven of witches after breaking their rules, spending the better part of a decade hiding from them, but visibly doesn't age (while even Mandrake does). All of that is just an undetailed Noodle Incident that has no real bearing on the story.
  • Hair Antennae: Erica's horns resemble insect antennae, but her personality and magic still tie them to this. The Mandrake sometimes has them, too. It's one of the hints he's her father.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Earwig was at its height when Erica's mother suddenly left without warning, presumably having to do with her then unborn daughter. It becomes clear that her bandmates never got over it, her absence why they are both so bitter.
  • Ironic Echo: Bella Yaga constantly remarks that Erica is "an extra pair of hands" and nothing more. Erica retaliates by giving her just that.
  • Karma Houdini: Erica gets everything she wants, without any price for her behavior.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: It's heavily implied that Mandrake is Erica's father.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never clear how much of Erica's persuasive ability is simply her natural talent for manipulation, or how much of it is her enchanting people.
  • Meaningful Name: Bella Yaga's name is a reference to Russian witch Baba Yaga.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: Erica starts out as this, being an orphan girl who is adopted by the Wicked Witch Bella Yaga. Downplayed, since she does learn magic later on, and eventually overpowers her master.
  • No Name Given: Erica's mother.
  • Noodle Implements: Bella Yaga threatens to unleash worms as a punishment, but we never see the worms do anything. Taylor and Mandrake both have startling reactions, however, suggesting it's no idle threat.
  • Noodle Incident: Almost everything about Erica's mother goes without real explanation.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: One plays as Erica explores the Mandrake's house unsupervised at the beginning of the film. And, while he doesn't play the pipe organ, the Mandrake used to be the organist for the band Earwig.
  • Only Sane Woman: The Matron dismisses all supernatural happenings as ludicrous, and aside from Erica manipulating her with ease, the Matron's not shown to be particularly clueless.
  • Our Demons Are Different: It is implied that the Mandrake is a demon, a shapeshifting beast that has magical control over the house, has pyromantic capabilities and has control over a legion of bat/bird-like lesser demons. He also apparently sometimes has horns.
  • The Runt at the End: When The Mandrake shows his true demonic appearance near the end, he's followed by his small army of lesser demons. The last one is slower that the others and still has a piece of egg on its head, implying that it just hatched.
  • Shout-Out: Small nods to other Studio Ghibli films. One toddler at the orphanage has a doll looking like one of the lesser Totoro. During the hand-drawn ending credits, Erica is seen trying to fly on Bella Yaga's broom (reminding of Kiki's Delivery Service) and watching Howl's Moving Castle on a TV that she got as a gift from Bella Yaga.
  • Stealth Pun: While making a potion, we see Erica prepare a variety of ingredients, among which is clearly an actual mandrake root.
  • Stop Faux-tion: As Studio Ghibli's very first All-CGI Cartoon, they specifically went to look at Aardman Animations and Laika for inspiration on how the film would look in CGI. The end result ends up looking like a blend of Studio Ghibli's signature 2D style and Laika's stop-motion films but with fluidly animated CGI.
  • A True Story in My Universe: A newspaper article at the end implies The Mandrake ended up writing the original book that the movie is based on.
  • Unfortunate Names: Erica was born with the name "Earwig", her mother having named her after her band. When she leaves her at the orphanage, the orphanage's Matron changes it to "Erica Wigg" under the assumption that she was named after the bug.
  • Utility Magic: Bella makes her living selling prepared spells and potions for mundane things like good luck and little acts of revenge, something Erica finds rather disappointing.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Well, Wicked Adoptive Mother. Bella Yaga is not a nice woman.