“With this magic I have, I can show you what’s possible.”
-“Sweet Witches,” f(x)
The basic premise of Witch Craft Works is similar to that of a shounen harem comedy, where the generic male lead, Honoka Takamiya, is surrounded by females all wanting him for reasons we cannot possibly fathom because he is so bland in character. Naturally, his fan club includes the most popular, beautiful, and intelligent girl in school – Ayaka Kagari, called “Princess” by her classmates – along with a group of new female transfer students. All of the females in question are witches, making them even more special than self-described “ordinary high school student” Takamiya.
That being said, it’s hardly a harem, and my own experience with Witch Craft Works has been more similar to watching a shoujo romance with the genders of the lead characters reversed than a shounen comedy. It is through this lens that the true magic of the series blossoms.
The most obvious clue that Takemiya is our would-be heroine lies in the fact that Kagari calls him her princess, swearing to protect him from harm. However, the series drops a few hints prior to this event, including the visual cue of flowers and sparkles that surround Kagari above. Traditionally, this type of visual direction is used in shoujo romance. More specifically, it is implemented when the heroine of the series is looking at her male love interest. For an example, another recent series, Engaged to the Unidentified, applies the same visual cue for comedic purposes, with the heroine yelling that such trappings make her preferences too obvious.
Additionally, Witch Craft Works positions its two leads similarly, with Kagari taking what is typically the male position, while the blushing Takamiya is shown to be under her protection, cradled in her arms. Standing a full head taller than him, Kagari carts Takamiya around bridal-style at least once per episode, much like a storybook prince would carry a princess. Takamiya is also bullied in the same way that a shoujo heroine would when they dare to get close to the school idol. Much like the girls surrounding Kazehaya in Kimi ni Todoke agree that he is so perfect that he belongs to everyone, Kagari is “everyone’s Kagari,” deemed too perfect to be in a relationship with any one person. Kagari arrives at school with a cooing entourage of females, rivaling the fanfare in an episode of Hanazakari no Kimitachi e. Each of these choices further cement Kagari’s role as a pretty boy school idol.
Most importantly, all of these visual or dialogue cues are not played up for fanservice or laughs as much as they set a standard for Kagari and Takamiya’s relationship. As shown above, Takamiya is firmly in awe of Kagari, often blushing in her arms like a shoujo heroine in the arms of her designated prince. Yes, Takamiya is “special” in that everyone wants a piece of him for his suddenly-relevant hidden power, but he gains none of the control that a shounen harem lead does, with girls throwing themselves at him for whatever reason. He is dependent on Kagari, his protector and knight, while the other female characters in the series take no romantic interest in him – save for, unfortunately, his sister – and would rather him dead than in their beds. In fact, they express more romantic interest in Kagari than Takamiya, which makes sense due to how powerful she is.
Returning to the character of Takamiya, it’s interesting to note how one could change a few details and suddenly the series becomes a harem romance. Add a bit more fanservice, make the Tower Witches more interested in sleeping with him than killing him, and Witch Craft Works is Infinite Stratos with witches instead of robot pilots. In this scenario, one barely has to change Takamiya’s character. He could have the same exact characterization with slightly different positioning – falling into Kagari’s breasts instead of her arms – in relation to the female characters within the series. In both cases, as a would-be shoujo heroine or harem protagonist, his character would remain the same. Presumably, both archetypes are designed to be relatable audience insert, making it easier for the reader to immerse themselves in the narrative. However, as that article notes, Takamiya asks the more self-deprecating questions rather than more pertinent ones, framing his relationship with Kagari with his awe that one such as her would be drawn to an average guy like himself.
It’s frustrating because so many shoujo heroines are like this. Similarly, albeit spiced up with a dash of perversion, harem protagonists are like this as well. In swapping the genders but keeping the same roles, Witch Craft Works highlights just how obnoxious this thought process can be.
Witch Craft Works was initially meant to be a yuri manga, with Takamiya as a female along with Kagari. Additionally, it is hinted that Kagari and Takamiya’s mothers had a romantic relationship with each other and, as they could not marry, decided to marry their respective daughter and son to each other. Witch Craft Works is hardly revolutionary in its swapping of gender roles; however, it does invite discussion, especially with its many shoujo trappings. My hope is that, along with being a fun and colorful ride, Witch Craft Works will show us the magic of what is possible when one plays with established tropes.