How much leeway should I give Burn the Witch for basically functioning as a sneak preview towards a more epic story that is not guaranteed to deliver? Very little is the obvious answer. I wouldn’t give the same pass to all of those Marvel movies that were just cockteases for Infinity War – and for the record, when you remove the audience participation, it’s really easy to dislike that epic conclusion.
At the same time though, I understand why the movie adaptation of Kubo’s latest series is as lacking as it is. It’s well-documented that working on Bleach affected the guy’s health very badly and he wants to test the waters before he commits to anything long-term again. Apparently said experiment paid off because Burn the Witch was actually a decent hit in Japan with lots of people looking forward to its “second season”. Yeah, the series is apparently going to be released in the same seasonal vein as a television show instead of within a set weekly/monthly/bi-weekly schedule, which is definitely a format I support because of how taxing making a manga is in general, but I understand that you can only afford to do something like that if you are already an established author with enough money to support yourself in the downtime. It’s a similar logic to why most Youtubers have to grind out daily content rather than release once a week and get millions of views for it like Scott the Woz.
With all that said, Burn the Witch’s anime adaptation is still a standalone movie, let alone a standalone season, and it’ll take a long time for another installment to come out, so I can’t give it special treatment. As such, the only thing I can really praise it for is that it’s a decent commercial if you’re into getting cock-teased, which I know a lot of anime fans are. The anime is centered on two witches named Noelle and Ninny, who do work for the Soul Society from Bleach in an alternate version of London hidden from the public eye. I’m not sure if the entire series is going to be like this, but all of the assignments they deal with in this movie concern handling dragons that have gone berserk. There’s also the token normal male friend, Balgo Parks, and the division of the Soul Society that wants to kill him because of a complicated plan from one asshole member of the organization named Bruno to get up in the world. And then there’s Macy, the crazy lesbian normie who ends up wandering into alt London when she discovers a dragon.
The thing with Burn the Witch is that even if you take into account that this is a sneak preview of something much bigger like the first seasons of Land of the Lustrous or Made in Abyss, the world-building and characterization is not substantial enough to put it on their level. A lot of the lore in alternate London is mostly just that there are rules regarding dragons and the Soul Society exists here, but you can also be comedically destructive if you want. And the main girls in this movie have the same issue that a lot of anime waifus tend to have is that while we get to know a lot about their personality and they have cute designs, we don’t get to know much about them personally.
Noelle is spacy and draws the male gaze while Ninny is an actress who acts more fiery when she’s flying on a broom, but that’s literally all we know about them. Their light-hearted behavior is fun to watch, but that’s pretty much all it is. While most of the successful Shonen Jump series take ages to really go somewhere, one thing you could always rely on them for was to establish the main characters with motivations and background within the first long chapter. So I have no idea why Burn the Witch decided to adopt a more “in medias res” method of storytelling for its first season. Maybe Kubo and whatever team he was working with just didn’t want to commit to anything until they were sure people wanted what they offered. Maybe he saw how badly Kishimoto’s Samurai 8 manga failed to entice people and wanted to take extra precautions that he didn’t end up like that.
Personally, I think he took too many precautions if that’s the case, because he could have at least provided a standalone story that wasn’t just “things happen, get resolved, and nothing really changes in the status quo”. I have taken a glance at the manga and it’s no different from the movie in terms of plot, so you can’t even say that the anime was a bad adaptation of Kubo’s vision. Burn the Witch might become a great manga when it returns, but as of right now, this movie is nothing more than a time-waster that will maybe get you excited for more. Or you just want to watch it so you can drool over Noelle’s and Ninny’s designs for an hour.