“What kind of disaster? Could it be something really scary like the Earth splitting in half or something?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. Could be nothing, depends on the person. But on the other hand, it could be more painful than the Earth splitting in half.”
-A conversation between Sakura Kinomoto and Keroberos, Cardcaptor Sakura, Volume 2
Disasters come in many forms.
For Sakura Kinomoto, the imminent disaster in Cardcaptor Sakura is something extremely personal. It revolves around her specifically, her friends, and her family. Sakura’s variety of magic is homegrown in every sense of the world. Literally, because it is something she inherits from a rich family tradition. Figuratively, because her use of it and “transformation sequences” are nothing more than her activating her power in a comparatively small – to other magical girl series: Precure, Sailor Moon, and the like – pocket of space prior to taking action. Although she’s classified as a magical girl, Sakura doesn’t have magical powers herself, but is able to control other elements that do. Throughout the series, especially the first season, she is far more of a summoner than one drawing upon magic. Additionally, unlike the series previously mentioned, Cardcaptor Sakura is nearly devoid of fighting, borrowing nothing from the sentai genre and, although highly formulaic, keeps the narrative focus on the main characters and their interactions.
Witch Craft Works takes the opposite approach to magic than Cardcaptor Sakura. It builds on its own ridiculousness, constantly raising the stakes before, in the final narrative arc, razing the town. It clearly gives us what is at stake – Honoka Takamiya’s normal, everyday life – and then proceeds to go about protecting it in the most ridiculous ways possible with each episode attempting to out-do that which came before it. Rather than building on itself, Witch Craft Works constantly undoes itself and subsequently decides to do something else. Wholly eschewing dramatic structure, episodes become rising action and falling action with no climaxes to be found. Situations are resolved quickly, without any semblance of productivity, and their behavior is guided by convenience to the narrative. For example, Kazane Kagari clearly states that she could have appeared a mere 20 hours following her spectacular defeat to Weekend, but chooses to stay out of a cataclysmic battle over the entirety of her town, leaving it to her underlings to take care of. Chronoire Schwarz VI’s defeats Weekend handily, but the action takes place off-screen, leaving particulars to viewers’ imaginations.
Returning to the framework that Cardcaptor Sakura provides, both series focus on their protagonists’ ordinary lives, and use magic to protect them. Sakura Kinomoto and Honoka Takamiya could both be considered trainees throughout Cardcaptor Sakura and Witch Craft Works respectively, with each of them learning how to wield magic in order to help those that they care about. However, the series are diametrically opposed in how they use magic, even as they both claim to be interested in shielding the ordinary from the magical.
Takamiya’s problems are presumably given weight by Witch Craft Works‘ incluing throughout the narrative, but all climaxes are ruined by the series’ absurdity. With a clear delineation between the magical and the real – this is summed up nicely by Kazane’s contract with the city, allowing for a magical barrier separating ordinary denizens from the magical goings-on of the witches – Takamiya’s actions are effectively neutered, in spite of the fact that they become more visually spectacular with each passing episode.
Meanwhile, Sakura’s efforts are focused on capturing the rambunctious magical cards that rampage through her town in a quirky variety of ways. While she hides her own magical abilities, and those of the cards themselves, from all but her closest friends, the actions of the cards are very much integrated with Sakura’s everyday life. When a card throws stuffed animals all over the street, Sakura and company must clean up the mess. When the slide at the local playground is turned upside-down, it’s up to Sakura to make it right again. Although she may use magic to further the status quo for the town of Tomoeda, no amount of magical hand-waving will solve Sakura’s problems. Takamiya, on the other hand, relies on increasingly larger amounts of magic to cause resets, returning the town to normal without any trace of the conflicts that have taken place.
Witch Craft Works doesn’t have any evil “big bads,” only witches fighting over power. Similarly, Cardcaptor Sakura has no good or evil, and the disaster that would befall Sakura should she fail in her card collecting will not affect the outside world. She will simply lose a great deal of what is meaningful to her and those whom she loves. This is far more disastrous than what Takamiya will face should his town be destroyed, simply due to the magical framework and narrative that each series provides. Takamiya’s efforts are meaningless, because Witch Craft Works renders them as such, making the series brilliant in its own way. Subsequently, the disaster that befalls his town is hardly a disaster at all by the end of it, and the entire setup could be perceived as an elaborate scheme to force him to kiss a girl.