This is a discussion of the plot and my detailed overall thoughts on the show. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, you can refer to this post. This post will absolutely contain spoilers! Lots of them! This is something a bit experimental for me, as I thought that both versions may be beneficial to different readers. I’m not sure how often I will create paired posts like this, but it is possible that I may do it for other seasonal anime if there’s some things I’d like to unpack and speak about.
Izetta is a show which I felt was pretty good all around except for where it really counted; the story.
There was a good sense of time and place created in the visuals, with plenty of mostly period-accurate fashions and vehicles, the animation was pretty sound, the OST was thrilling, but to me it doesn’t matter how good these factors are if a show doesn’t tell a compelling story. This is probably a weird thing to say as someone who is unabashed about my love for slice-of-life shows and comedy shorts, but even in there, I’d still consider myself to be story-oriented, it’s just that good jokes or a charming focus on the everyday can tell their own story. Just because a story is plot-light in the conventional sense doesn’t mean it suffers from poor pacing or has characters that feel wasted.
The show introduced a fairly broad cast of characters, but the only ones who really got any focus were the protagonists, Izetta and Finé. Finé was shown to be idealistic and insanely devoted to her country and those she cared about. She wanted to put others first in all circumstances, everything from contemplating an arranged marriage in exchange for a political alliance to her reluctance to use Izetta to fight in spite of Izetta being highly competent. Izetta was pretty much just shown to have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to Finé, wanting to do anything she could for her sake. I don’t know how Izetta’s life was prior to being kidnapped by the Germanians, we only get tiny hints of her past, but it really felt like she was so lonely and had such low self-confidence that Finé being kind to her and helping her meant that she would go to ridiculous lengths for her sake. She doesn’t develop much as a character in spite of the months that this story is supposed to span. In spite of her meeting many other people who are kind and caring and clearly place high value on her (as a witch who is Eylstadt’s only hope of surviving the Germanian invasion, this makes sense), it doesn’t seem to imbue her with any sense of self. She doesn’t gain in self-confidence at all and just remains desperate to do what she can for the sake of others. I feel like if the creators wished to create a story which shows the value of self-sacrifice, that it would have felt more compelling if the characters doing the sacrificing were more than just ‘nice, self-sacrificing people’. To do what you can for others instead of being self-interested is something which I would consider to be of value, but honestly, it’s a struggle to put self-interest to death.
The only other character I felt really got much interesting screen time was Berkmann, the Germanian intelligence officer. He was shown time and again to only be interested in himself, he worked for the country because it was advantageous during war time, he switched sides to help Eyldstadt when his life was threatened, he ran away at the end when he no longer felt safe, but at least he didn’t feel like his only trait was being ‘nice’ in a show which was ostensibly supposed to be focused around character drama. Basler the pilot felt as though he was supposed to be a counterpart to Berkmann, but he never really ended up doing much of note aside from flying a plane that one time. Even his shooting of Berkmann at the end didn’t do anything (which was weird, as if you fired at such close range and missed, surely you’d try again?) It’s almost as though there was some sort of major moment involving him that got cut from the show owing to time constraints.
The fact that they brought Sophie (the White Witch) into the story made sense, pretty much any story which is titled ‘The Last ___’ means that it’s likely that there’s actually more than one of the thing mentioned, but her motives felt misplaced. To have a character full of regret and bitterness from being betrayed made sense, but why did she hate Izetta so much? Shouldn’t her hatred have been directed against the country who had let her down? I felt it would have made more sense for her to make more of an effort to get Izetta to turn aside from her path instead of going all out to destroy her at the expense of not being able to get her revenge against the country she hated so much. It would have made more sense I feel in light of the revelations at the end of the series to have portrayed her as a more tragic figure. Still perhaps crazed by grief, but not actually crazy.
The story very much lost its way in the middle episodes, moving away from the things it did well (battle scenes and tense underdog moments) to focus on daily happenings which didn’t actually give us any real character development. It was nice to see some European countryside, the backgrounds didn’t disappoint, but as the conclusion of the show felt rather rushed, it would have been better in my opinion to have taken a bit more time working on the action.
The ending was disappointing as much as I expected, the show didn’t have the strength to actually kill Izetta, which I felt defeated the whole point of the themes and the plot. If you want to give a message along the lines of ‘greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’, it would be better if there was some proper life laying down. It didn’t feel like there were the threads for a second season, it was just a bland happy ending which I felt destroyed the gravitas of the finale.
War is a terrible thing, and stories revolving around war I think will do best when they treat the situation with necessary gravity. It can be a great basis for tales of self-sacrifice and putting others first in spite of the circumstances, or it can also be a vehicle for expressing the terrible tragedy and the lives lost and affected by the situation. I don’t think that Izetta did either very well. I feel the need to compare this show to a similar anime which I’ve watched, Valkyria Chronicles (based on the game of the same name which I have not played). Both depict small countries at war against overwhelming odds in a world similar to our own in the early 20th Century and both focus on leaders and those around them as they try to protect their countries and involve some supernatural themes. Valkyria Chronicles is not an excellent anime, but I would call it a decent one, and I think that it did far better at conveying both the horrors of war and the fallible humanity of the characters it focused on. It had some light-hearted and peaceful moments, but they better served to contrast the dark difficulties that the protagonist faced outside of these times instead of feeling out of place. There were some character deaths which felt like they had real impact and affected the actions of those around them.
I feel like Izetta did some things very well, the depiction of the period, the place, and the battle footage were all very excellent, but the show lost track of these things trying to fit in too much other content. It may still make a fun watch for history buffs or people who are interested in military things. The historical content was great, the actual story was rather sub-par. While not as technically bad overall as say Ace Attorney, I feel reflecting on this series that I personally enjoyed it far less. I rather wish that I’d got off this train.