Each season, I list five anime you should be watching. Then I make it a point to review all five later on to see if they lived up to the promise of their first halves. However, I had completely forgotten about Wizard Barristers — which should tell you something about the quality of its latter half.
Good — An Interesting Concept
The root idea behind Wizard Barristers is a good one: What if there were people in the modern world with magical powers? How would society as a whole view them and, more specifically, how would the criminal justice system work when certain individuals are walking WMDs?
In this case, the answer is a world where special courts have been set up to specifically handle magic users, with humans serving as the prosecution and wizards as defence attorneys. This, as you may expect, turns out to be a case of the flawed concept of "separate but equal" where the courts are incredibly biased against the magical defendants. It all stems from the simple problem that normal people live in fear of magic users and thus oppressing magic users more and more is the only way to make the public feel secure.
Good — Intriguing Characters
Cecil is a great protagonist for this setting. She is young and idealistic, believing she can change the flawed system from within by being the best defence attorney she can be. Moreover, she has a personal stake in the whole matter as her mother is sitting on death row for a crime she didn't commit. Yet, instead of being bitter, Cecil is forgiving — believing that despite no wizard-related case ever getting a retrial, she will be able to find the evidence she needs to clear her mother's name as she helps those society has already decided are guilty.
The rest of the cast is colourful as well — each with his or her own interesting quirks and motivations — and getting to know each of them is one of the series' strongest points.
Mixed — The Animation
The animation quality of Wizard Barristers is often stunning. Like the anime Kite and Mezzo Forte, Wizard Barristers is done in the style of the series' director, Yasunomi Umetsu. Thus the animation is filled with the distinct character designs and detailed backgrounds he is known for. Moreover, the magical attacks and spells look beautiful as well and are done in such a way as to have true weight — and so seem truly threatening.
Unfortunately, there is a major downside that offsets the quality of the artwork — namely, there is not enough of it in action sequences — and no amount of clever editing can save it. This is most clearly demonstrated in the series' climatic battle where there are almost no transitional shots to tie the action together.
In most mecha anime we would see something along the lines of Cecil in her mech, moving the controls to throw a punch, then switch to a shot of the mecha throwing a punch, followed with a shot of the punch connecting, and ending with the bad guy in his mech reeling from the impact. In Wizard Barristers, we would only see the first and final shots. Nearly all complex animation with large amounts of movement — i.e., the most time consuming and costly shots — is simply absent. This has two major effects: It (1) makes the action difficult to follow and (2) makes the climatic battle seem anything but.
Bad — Consequences? What Are Those?
In theory, Wizard Barristers is a social thought experiment using our modern world as a base for exploring the idea of a magical court system. Unfortunately, when you set your story in a world that draws largely from the real world in an attempt to ground your drama and give it weight, it means you also have to have consequences similar to those of the real world.
For example, when Cecil's fellow defence attorney, Hachiya, removes the cuffs from one of his defendants to allow her to seek revenge and try and kill members of the court mid-session, basic common sense says he should at minimum get disbarred and be charged as an accomplice. Instead, however, he receives a short suspension and nothing more. Moments like this don't just stretch the suspension of disbelief, they shatter it. And frankly, there are more than a few of these.
Bad — Doesn't Know What It Wants to Be
Wizard Barristers suffers from severe identity issues. At its core, it seems to want to be taken as an action drama with intriguing life-or-death court cases and an overarching secret conspiracy plot across the series. But often times, it acts like an Ally McBeal-style law comedy, completely overwriting the serious tone — blunting the danger and peril of action scenes and dissolving any tension the series was trying to build.(After all, if the characters don't seem to be affected by the eminent danger they are facing, then why would the audience be?)
Yet while sometimes it's a courtroom drama and sometimes a law office comedy, it's just as often a mecha anime with Cecil in a giant robot fighting enemy giant robots. It also repeatedly slips into being an almost superhero story with Cecil battling magical criminals and taking them into custody — despite her being a defence attorney. Simply put, the anime lacks focus. Any of these plots would have been fine on their own in this setting; but trying to do all of them at once leaves the anime random at best and directionless at worst.
Wizard Barristers has an engaging setting and enjoyable characters. However, that solid base alone is not enough to support the anime. As a series it lacks direction and tries to do too much — and thus fails on some level at all that it tries. But while I was disappointed in how it turned out, I wouldn't go so far as to say it is unwatchable by any means. It simply doesn't live up to its own potential.
Wizard Barristers aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be watched for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.