Content warning: blood, nudity, non-consensual kissing
What’s it about? Guideau has a witch’s curse on her neck and a thirst for violence. Ashaf has a coffin on his back and a perpetual cigarette in his mouth. These two are hunters for the Order of Magical Resonance—if you need a witch’s ass kicked, you call them.
The Witch and the Beast is playing with a host of themes and ideas that are going to make it, well, a beast to deal with. There’s already a lot to unpack from just the first episode of this gritty and stylish fantasy. Witch burnings! Ritual sacrifice! Complicated questions of gender! A shark kaiju!
Let’s take this apart gently and first talk about what I enjoyed about this premiere—because honestly, as much as it makes me a bit dizzy, I did find parts of this pretty entertaining. It’s got a strong aesthetic. Its pacing is nice and clipped, and it largely relies on “showing” rather than “telling,” leaving a compelling sense of mystery around its own protagonists. There’s a fun spectrum of characterization in the female characters: Guideau is rowdy, loud, and ready to fistfight God at any given moment, and has the physical power to back this attitude up. The episode’s antagonist, Ione, is a scheming, vengeful witch, arrogant and dangerous in a different way to Guideau; while her assistant is golden-hearted and naïve.
It’s neat to see this kind of range, and it’s also refreshing to have a boy-girl team where she’s the brawn. The camera also doesn’t leer at the women, not even when there’s nudity for ritual sacrifice purposes. Guideau’s clothes get shredded when she’s fighting, but the effect is more “fashionably pre-torn skinny jeans circa 2007” than “ooh, sexy battle damage.”
Though… I’m left with a couple of questions about Guideau and gender, and am unsure if it’s even accurate or appropriate to describe or analyse Guideau as a “female character.” In the climactic battle, her body gets wrecked and her “true form” emerges from Ashaf’s coffin. Her beastly form is humanoid, though buff and monstrous, and notably looks and sounds much more masculine. The character is still referred to as “her” throughout this scene, but it may transpire that Guideau doesn’t necessarily identify that way and is simply using the blonde, woman-shaped human body as a proxy for practical reasons. It’s unclear at this stage. I’m intrigued to find out what exactly is going on in that regard—I’m always cautiously interested by a story that uses its fantasy elements to play around with gender. It’s also entirely possible that the details of this are never going to come up, or the whole thing could be handled in a wildly tasteless way, but hey, we’ll see.
We’ll also have to see how The Witch and the Beast handles its seemingly central themes of prejudice and power. The icon of the witch has a lot of different pop culture applications and can be used to play with a lot of different threads of social critique. Witches being typically women in a social role stigmatized under patriarchal societies, this is always a somewhat dicey subject matter that benefits from being addressed with nuance in terms of both the characterization and the worldbuilding surrounding these characters.
If all the villains/targets in this show are witches, is the whole series going to be about our protagonists kicking the crap out of maligned women? Or is there going to be a deeper vein of critique that troubles this presumption that witches are universally evil? Maybe not all witches are alike, maybe the Order is a shady organization—the moral ambiguity of our bounty hunter protagonists lends me a little hope that the storytelling here won’t be wholly black and white. But again, it’s hard to say for sure right now.
The creators have made the decision that “kissing a witch” is one of the three clauses that can reverse a curse, which means that Guideau’s finishing move (before she shifts over into her monster body) is forcibly planting a smooch on Ione. Are we going to see that in every fight scene? Is non-consensual kissing going to be the way our all-female villains are defeated every week? What are the deeper implications of this if Guideau is in fact only “pretending” to be a woman and is going around forcing herself on women? I said I was interested in fantasy with a case of the genders, but I am not here for fantasy that builds transphobic stereotypes, however metaphorical, into its story and magic system.
Again, there is room for all this to turn into something fascinating, and there is room for all this to turn into a godawful offensive mess. I’m tentatively interested in giving this one the three-episode check since I have a soft spot for stylish urban fantasy, but I remain deeply wary about the precarious way it’s balancing a bunch of heavy topics and themes.