Content Warning: Fanservice of an underage child; discussion of antiblackness
What’s it about? When witch Alissa finds a human baby on her doorstep, she has no clue how much her life is going to change. Yet she decides to take the little foundling in, names her Viola, and sets to raising her. Flashforward 16 years and now, Viola has grown beyond Alissa’s wildest imagination…
Episode 1, “The Irregular Circumstances of the Close-Knit Family/The Educational Circumstances of the Mysterious Life Form” introduces us to Alissa and her life as the mother of Viola, a human girl who very much so loves her mother. Only… no one can tell who’s the parent and who’s the child, which is an ongoing joke due to Alissa’s youth and Viola’s… everything.
That’s kind of the gist: the episode is split into two vignettes about Viola and Alissa and their antics. It’s sweet, for the most part, depicting the days of a witch who loves the human baby she found very, very much. If that was all the show was, it’d actually be the perfect cozy show for the season.
However, that’s not all this family comedy is. If only it was…
So I’m gonna be real: when you look at the splash image for this series, you’re going to mistake who’s the baby and who’s the adult because… yikes on bikes, they did it again y’all!
They sexualized a Black-coded character who’s an actual child! Sigh…
Seriously though, Viola is the bustiest 16-year-old daughter, and the show doesn’t shy away from playing up the confusion of who’s the parent (Alissa) and who’s the child (Viola) constantly. It leads to a lot of comedy that yeah, I suppose is funny, but moreso bothers me very, very much.
In our reality, Black bodies–specific Black bodies that are socially perceived as being female–are denied childhood from the moment they look any kind of developed. If they’re too tall or busty, they’re called fast. If they wear the wrong clothes or dance in a way that might tempt even the most god-fearing man, they’re fast and they’re trouble. Most times, the world settles for young woman versus child, denying any ability to receive the same protection that non-Black children receive.
That’s very much at play here. Viola’s bustiness and more mature body is frequently the center of sight gags, and her aunties readily talk about her finding a lover one day. Viola, a 16 year old. Even as a child, Viola is sexualized in a weird way when it comes to her seeing breasts in a book and subsequently being congratulated for working hard to get some serious dobanhonkeroos as a… young teen. It’s just really, really upsetting: I don’t have enough words to express just how frustrated I was.
Maybe it would be funny if Viola were blonde haired and blue eyed and had eurocentric features, but I’m not sure even that would make me laugh. And anyway, since she’s not, it’s still not funny. It’s just upsetting, and a waste of a half-decent plot that didn’t need to be sexual to be fun.
(Also, there’s definitely a masculine-leaning shop owner who the show is probably going to poke discomforting trans jokes at but, thankfully, we’re spared that for now.)
I wish I could bring myself to say that I love this premiere, because there’s a lot of parts of it that I do love. I love Alissa and Viola’s dynamic as a wise witch with a daughter who has a teenager’s inclinations. I like their simple life together. I like the animation and the music as well. I love the Phoenix Viola summons: he’s super goofy and looks like a chicken.
But I can’t bring myself to like Viola’s sexualization: I can’t bring myself to like how she’s treated as a Black-coded character, nor even as a generally non-white character.
It’s just upsetting, especially in a decade that’s already been filled with virulent anti-Black sentiment. This shit isn’t funny anymore: it never was, and more and more, having Black-coded characters be super sexualized as children sucks. It hurts, it scars, and it sucks: it’s sucks so much more than anyone can ever imagine, especially because you’re just trying to exist as a child.
I was never a child once puberty hit and I developed secondary, feminine sex markers: do you know how much that hurts, to go from being called “child” to being seen as a woman at the ripe age of eleven? Can you imagine being perceived as sexual when you’re a teenager with no understanding of what an adult man old enough to have conceived you might mean with his gaze?
That’s why I’m so deeply upset with Viola’s treatment. That’s why I think my tenure with the show is over.
I questioned whether or not I was reading too much into things, but I don’t think I am: I like this premiere a lot. I think that’s why I’m willing to take it to task for its biggest detriment. I hate that I have to be so harsh too because I think this could easily be one of the season’s most enjoyable, silly shows. But I also can’t, in good conscience, encourage you to watch without considering the more upsetting side of this show, and why it might be genuinely upsetting to see in 2023.