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It is said that most stereotypes have at least a grain of truth to them, and cartoons are certainly no exception. Widely panned as being purely a children's medium, far too many seem to have fully embraced the label. Poor plot setup and pacing, inconsistent characterization, hackneyed dialogue, cheap and lazy animation, and even cliched music of all things - these are but a sample of the symptoms of the common adage, "kids will watch anything".
But imagine if a Western animated series made a strict commitment to continuity, where even the occasional "filler" episode carries important plot details. Imagine if a cartoon made a similar commitment to strictly avoid deus ex machinas, and consistently foreshadowed critical twists throughout.
Imagine a show filled to the brim with clever dialogue, even to the point that much of it must be fought over by the screenwriters because executives think it will go over kids' heads. Imagine a series full of humor but without so much as a hint of feeling forced, and having characters be almost too intelligent for adults let alone children, yet still so realistic they almost seem real.
Imagine if such a show presented characters - even multiple female leads - with genuinely diverse personalities, yet not one of whom filled a stereotypical cartoon role (except in lazy summaries). Imagine if it had all the characters who were stated to be friends actually be just that, truly always there for each other without even needing to say it explicitly (including to the audience!), with potentially hurtful comments quickly shut down by the rest of the group - and when the extremely rare rift does develop between them it only ever does so with very good reason, to the point that even the audience feels the emotional pain of fraying fictional friendships.
Imagine if a Western animated series presented not 1, not 2, not 3, but as many as 4 genuine, incredibly healthy romantic relationships, in all of which both characters are fully rounded individuals, even those with relatively little screen time, and in all of which it is crystal clear that both parties truly want to be in them. Imagine if said show went so far as to not just show said relationships from a female perspective, but actually have female characters take most of the initiative.
Imagine if a show like this went above and beyond expectations even on a production level, and decided to imitate high-quality anime in its art design and animation techniques, and surpass most movies (to say nothing of TV) with its soundtrack.
Now imagine if a series that did all of the above actually existed... but was virtually unknown in the English-speaking world due to horrible distribution and marketing, widely despised in the rest of the West just for daring to be slightly different from its source material, and only somewhat popular in central and eastern Europe (one of the few parts of the world that had nothing to do with its production, as irony would have it).
While all adaptations of books can't be exactly the same as the books they're based on, the whole point of an adaptation is to be like the book it's based on. While WITCH is still enjoyable, there's just so many differences between it and the source material. For starters, the design of the characters makes them look different than their comic counterparts. They also gave the girls different outfits than the ones they wear in the comic and they had the same ones for most of the first season, which is a shame because they had different outfits in almost every issue. They made Will wear the Heart like a necklace instead of it being in her body, and they made them have their secondary powers in the second season instead of almost right away like in the comics, and Will didn't even have elemental powers in the first season!
Some of the changes were good, like making Elyon go to Meridian because she felt excluded and she found out that her friends hid the truth from her, not to mention that Phobos did a ceremony to weaken her will, but most of the changes were completely unnecessary. There are also the same questions like there were in the comics, like why is Phobos evil, and did he kill his parents?
Like I said before, WITCH is still enjoyable, but it's so different from the comics that it feels like a different universe.
As an action-adventure show, W.I.T.C.H's biggest strengths are its humor, wit, character chemistry, and well-rounded portrayal of middle school-age girls. Although I'm way older than the target demographic and the characters, I seldom found the show to be too childish. The characters themselves are dressed with enough outward traits and relatable family/school conflicts to feel down to earth. The show also periodically explores the personal foibles tied to their prominent traits (like Taranee rebelling to break her nerdy image). Still, they never grow past being likable, relatable school girl characters to leave a bigger impression. Where the characters really shine is as a group, owing to their palpable chemistry, witty banter, and strong friendships. Outside the main cast, nearly everyone is bland, including the villains. The blandness of the boyfriend characters makes it hard to get invested in the romance, especially since in this show if you like a guy he's bound to like you back and start dating you after a few awkward encounters.
The blandness of the villains ties into the overall lack of creative flair in the worldbuilding. As far as guardians chosen to save the world stories and fantasy settings go, W.I.T.C.H does little to innovate. Little effort is made to flesh out the established fantasy world and its inhabitants, though the guardian powers were put to creative uses at times.
This would be a minor problem if the antagonists had posed enough of a threat to keep me engaged, because I'm still interested in following the main characters. However, W.I.T.C.H elects to delegate the action and overarching narrative to its B-plot and the slice-of-life drama to its A-plot, which is uncommon for action-adventures. This creates tonal dissonance and undermines the dramatic tension in the overarching narrative. What should be tense events like the kingdom being invaded or someone's best friend being captured are treated nonchalantly by the girls, as they continue to worry about a school competition for half the episode. In general, the show is reluctant to dip its toes into darker territory; the girls never feel like they're in any danger during the fights and their relationships and personal conflicts seldom get remotely bad enough to hook the viewer before being resolved. Because the show doesn't bring the viewer low enough, it doesn't have any room to go up and achieve catharsis from the resolution of its conflicts, besides not being very engaging, at least for me.
I like to think of WITCH as the antithesis of Young Justice; one has a lot of character likability and chemistry but low tension, whereas the other has high tension but not a lot of character chemistry.
This isn't damning criticism; you can still greatly enjoy the show as lighthearted stories coated with great humor and spiced with some fantasy action, so maybe I'm just too old for this.
While watching this series, I couldn't stop thinking about Totally Spies, despite the two being very different shows. Perhaps a comparison will bring to light why one of these shows is good, while the other one sucks. Both are shows about a team of teenaged girls who kick ass and save the world on a regular basis. However, that does not make Totally Spies a feminist show: its main characters are airheaded bimbos obsessed with fashion and boys and have all the personality of a cardboard cutout. They may kick ass, but they do not transcend stereotypes.
This is where WITCH succeeds: credible heroines who break stereotypes. Boys? Oh yes, four out of the five girls eventually acquire a boyfriend, but they never become the center of their lives. Fashion? Doesn't come up very often. Personality? You bet. It must be admitted that the series takes a while to find its feet - arguably the entire first season, because the second season sees a noticeable increase in quality, when a new villain with fiendish plans is introduced. However, that doesn't mean that the first season can't be enjoyed, just that season two is so much better.
Any downsides? Well, I wasn't overly fond of the school scenes, especially when the bullies were involved. But that's really all I can think of. Alright, and I didn't care a lot for Blunk. As for the rest, this is a fun and genuinely feminist slice of fantasy. It's just a shame I've never been able to get my hands on the original comic books.
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