The Witch and the Beast #4 – Beauty and Death: Opening Act



Staff List:

Screenplay: Yuuichirou Momose
Storyboard: Shinji Itadaki
Episode Direction: Hae-Jeong Gim, Shinya Kawabe
Chief Episode Direction: Makoto Tamagawa
Chief Animation Direction: Hiroya Iijima
Animation Direction: Yun-Jeong Kim, O-Sik Kwon, Chang-Hee Won
Key Animation:
Su-Jin Oh, Hae-Jeong Gim, Heung-Seok Ju, Momoko, Sun-Yeong Seong
Young-Chan Kim, Jae-Yeong Jang, Chang-Hee Won

The 4th episode of The Witch and the Beast is perhaps its most consistent experience throughout the episodes released so far. The Witch and the Beast is a show with rather detailed designs that the animators due to the production seem to have a bit of trouble keeping on model with. However, this particular episode shines in maintaining fidelity to the character designs. The characters are depicted with remarkable detail throughout the entire episode.

I’ve observed a recurring pattern in which the Korean animators on this show excel in maintaining the character designs way better than their Japanese counterparts. While this comes with some caveats, like less expressive animation in comparison to top animators like Guonian Wang (whom I’ll delve into further in the Episode 5 discussion). They were the perfect fit for this episode, where the focus is more around the environments and introducing new characters. The scenes that did require animation were also done to a satisfactory level while keeping the characters looking great.

This episode introduces two new characters, Johan and Phanora, who stand as the most significant figures in the manga, second only to our main duo. The storyboard for this episode was entrusted to Shinji Itadaki, and I believe he executed an exceptional job. I was somewhat concerned about the scenes in this arc taking place in the morning. This is mainly because the previous episodes were able to capture a much higher level of the gothic yet classy aesthetic that the manga often embodies better at night. In the morning, although the aesthetic is still present, it feels a bit washed out, admittedly.

However, I believe that Shinji Itadaki and probably Takayuki Hamana himself (given that this aesthetic continues into the next episode) made a wise decision not to stick with the more yellow morning worldview we had become accustomed to. Instead, they opted for a much cooler, green tint throughout. The cooler style of lighting complements the theme of death and the chilly atmosphere surrounding Phanora. It’s somewhat challenging to articulate, but its effectiveness harmonizes perfectly with the well drawn characters and, of course, the superb backgrounds by Hirotsugu Kakoi within this luminous yet somewhat somber setting.

While I might be the odd one out, I often associate colors like blues and greens with distance and depth. This is probably because of how I view light sources; warmer colors typically stem from lights near the subject, appearing warmer to me. On the other hand, objects in the distance are more influenced by ambient lighting conditions, imparting a cooler quality, again to me.

This approach works great with the shots Itadaki used for this episode. The distant shots imbue a great sense of depth, while the close-ups are further heightened by the cool colors, particularly impactful for someone as pale as Phanora. It generates a very uncanny appearance, intensifying the mysterious aura around our new duo. It also proves to be a significant asset in introducing the villain for this arc, who also comes off as rather lifeless in appearance. I think this is all on purpose just due to the increased details in the designs themselves and also what they chose to emphasize. Phanora’s paleness and the cold atmosphere, the sharply defined features of Johan being emphasized to the max in certain shots. These are features meant to make you a bit more wary and subconsciously feel the otherworldliness of the duo, even more so than Guideau and Ashaf, who have been more humanized to us. For example, most scenes of Guideau and Ashaf, especially in the morning, tends to be in a warmer environment with more, well, human-like interactions. This is very unlike our necromancer duo here, who have so far felt like they’ve been distanced from us on purpose.

One of the best close-ups for Phanora in the whole episode, it really emphasizes her otherworldly pale skin and demeanor.
Example of a great distant shots from the episode that works well in cohesion with the cooler colors.

I’m delving more into the visuals than the narrative, primarily because it’s my preference when discussing this on my blog. But there’s more to it than that; visuals play a pivotal role in this show, and unlike the well-adapted story, they haven’t maintained the same level of consistency. The narrative isn’t really trying to go for an intricate storytelling. Similar to how this episode introduces us to the intriguing duo and the unique necromancy system, the series leans heavily towards world-building and aesthetics. Its goal is to cultivate a specific vibe and a distinctive sense of style to captivate the audience. This approach worked remarkably well in the manga due to its exceptional art, placing a considerable burden on the anime adaptation. I believe the decision to prioritize close-ups and detailed shots over complex movements is a fair trade-off, given their crucial role in enhancing the show’s essence.

Before episode 5, which has been out for a bit now as I write this review (sorry that I am so late), it was probably my favorite episode so far. While it wasn’t as grandiose as episode 1, to me, it felt like such a consistent experience that I just love it. Especially with Phanora and Johan being such a great duo to me, and they’re my favorite characters from the manga. They were able to introduce the premise and the characters in a very true way to the manga while maintaining the style and details that this arc, and honestly every arc, should rightfully exude.

While the weakest part of this episode is perhaps the animation, I still feel that, while there weren’t any “sakuga” moments truly, I love the fact, for example, that they still animated Johan fighting the zombies while Phanora was talking. The number of zombies in the episode, in many other shows, would have likely been in CG just due to how many of them there are, but they chose to draw them, as they have chosen to impressively draw most of the show’s monsters and creatures. I think this is a great example of how the hardworking individuals at this production are really putting in their greatest effort, which I just can’t help but appreciate.

Who knows what’s going on at Yokohama Animation Lab; their animes lately, especially, tend to feel very inconsistent. This series, especially in episode 2, gives off the same vibe. However, the individuals like the art director, the specific designers for the monster/prop, the storyboarder/directors, they just feel like they are giving this everything they’ve got to bring the aesthetic of the Witch and the Beast to anime form, even with less than ideal working conditions (which we’ll talk about even more with how much work Guonian Wang did in episode 5).

If you’re not sold on the aesthetic of the Witch and the Beast by this or the next episode, it’s probably not the show for you. But if you even fell a little bit in love with certain characters or worldbuilding elements, I really do encourage you to give the manga a try after watching the anime.

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