It’s time for Phanora’s showdown with the rogue necromancer and his harem of gangrenous redheads. The Witch and the Beast doesn’t have a ton of surprises for us this week, but it does tack a solid conclusion onto this corpse-ridden cul-de-sac away from our main couple.
The least interesting part of this arc is its villain. We spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time on his motivations and menace when he’s just a medical examiner with an extra-crispy corpse wife. Unless I missed it, he isn’t even given a name. I suppose maybe he’s supposed to be a foil for Jeff, but their characters are too one-dimensional to sustain any thematic heft. This dude’s defining characteristic is his refusal to buy ChapStick. The storyboards’ early avoidance of the necromancer’s full face is a bizarre decision that only gets funnier as the episode progresses. Considering how long the dinner table discussion drags on, I was expecting some kind of payoff, but his eyes end up being the most typical part of his otherwise lumpy mug. This strange anticlimax aligns with the series’ odd sense of humor, so I think it was intentional. Either way, it made me laugh, so that’s a point in the episode’s favor.
The Witch and the Beast can be a macabre hoot if you dig around for its jokes. For example, I think it’s hilarious that Jeff spends the final four minutes of this episode holding his fiancée’s limp body in his arms. Let me explain. In another context, this image could inspire grief by persuading the audience to imagine themselves in Jeff’s position. However, TWATB doesn’t care about his emotional arc. It pays some lip service to his inner conflict, but truthfully, he’s stoked about having his fiancée again, so he loiters around the area while Phanora and Johan wrap things up. He’s not wracked with torment. He’s hanging out until the scene ends, and he happens to be cradling a dead person while he does so. That dissonance is funny to me. If my sense of humor is broken, then so be it.
The most interesting part of this arc is its version of necromancy. Last week, I wrote about how much I liked the detached and bureaucratic way these characters approached it, and this week, we learn why that is. Resurrecting a corpse comes at the high cost of condemning the person’s soul to drift through Limbo for the rest of eternity. They are plucked irrevocably from the cycle of reincarnation to get another limited go at their old life. Thus, legal necromancy’s complicated stipulations dissuade all but the most dedicated soon-to-be corpses from embracing the undead un-lifestyle. Personally, I’d probably be in the “necromancy should be flat-out illegal” camp, but this is a neat way of following through the logic of how one might ethically spit in the face of the natural order. It also adds a ton of gravity to the necromancer’s crimes, which makes his comeuppance all the sweeter.
The plot resolves about how I expected it to. Johan is indeed undead, the necromancer is indeed outwitted, and the Order of Magical Resonance gains another notch in their crime-solving belt. The one decent surprise is Phanora’s true nature as a witch. While our perspective on witches has so far been colored primarily by Guideau’s somewhat biased opinions, Phanora’s willingness to work within the Order means there’s more to these magic ladies than megalomania and genderswap hexes. Her relationship with Johan is cute as well. Phanora brutally tortures the necromancer for Johan’s sake, and Johan more or less admits he’s cool with being Phanora’s sub. That right there is true happiness.
Her grand reveal is also incredible, provided you’re receptive to the show’s edgelord milieu. I happen to think it’s rad that she summons a gaggle of Dark Souls enemies and commands them to rip every warm (and cold) body in the room to shreds. The adaptation’s limited resources work in this scene’s favor, too. Rather than languish in an extended action sequence, the creatures do their grisly deeds in a matter of seconds. It’s a flash of carnage that paints the entire dining room crimson. That blunt impact could have been softened had the scene taken any longer. This isn’t me excusing the anime’s stiffness and ugliness—it’s still pretty bad to look at—but a compromised adaptation can still make smart decisions. Last week, the dynamic storyboards compensated for a lot. This week, the pace of the editing draws out more of the black comedy.
What can I say? The Witch and the Beast has yet to disappoint me. It may have the palette of puke, but it has cool characters, neat ideas, and an aversion to good taste. For the time being, that’s still good enough for me.
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