WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Burn The Witch, now streaming on Crunchyroll.
Unlike Dragon Ball and Naruto, Bleach -- a former member of Shonen Jump's hallowed Big Three -- hasn't exactly been a spinoff machine. That changed, however, with the release of Tite Kubo's Burn the Witch one-shot manga in 2018. The story was soon spun into a limited series, which was recently translated and simulpublished by Viz Media. Now, an anime adaptation is upon us -- released as a movie for a special theatrical showing in Japan, and divided into a miniseries for wide digital release elsewhere.
The first episode of Burn the Witch doesn't lean on its shared universe credentials with Kubo's main series. In fact, viewers unaware that it takes place in the same world as Bleach will probably leave none the wiser. And, actually, Burn the Witch is all the better for it, delivering a bright and bold debut episode helmed by two functionally dysfunctional heroines that works perfectly well for both existing fans and newcomers alike.
Aside from Kubo's distinctive facial designs, the spinoff exists -- quite literally -- in its own pocket universe: Reverse London, where an astounding amount of the folk living in the U.K's capital are being offed regularly by dragons. 72 percent of them, to be oddly exact. Luckily, the British dragon-hunting equivalent of Soul Society's Gotei 13, Wing Bind, exists to conserve and manage the creatures, as well as protect humans from falling foul of them.
Our central protagonists are two of WB's finest: the hot-shot witch duo of Noel Niihashi and Ninny Spangcole. Dressed in school uniforms and zooming around on their own dragon versions of broomsticks, the pair very much fit the young, fun spin that audiences weaned on Sabrina and Charmed have come to expect from modern-day witches in the media. They work for the Piper division of WB, who are essentially dragon Shepards/wranglers. This makes the tools they use to subdue rogue dragons a little more interesting than your standard sword, energy beam or just plain fists. As their designation suggests, they use pipes infused with sonic magic, which may sound tame, but take it from the beast they encounter causing havoc in the city center -- one blast of Noel's horn is powerful enough.
The competence and devil-may-care attitude of Noel and Ninny is counterbalanced by Balgo, a blonde-haired baffoon whose dragonclad status makes him a magnet for the creatures. Like most of the WB staff and citizens that the witches encounter, Balgo is enamored by Noel, the cooler, more collected counterpart to Ninny, who fulfills the brash little sister role. Both are distinct but equally engaging personalities, and it's a rare treat to watch a shonen offshoot starring not one but two female characters. Equally distinctive is the series' dragons, who come in various shapes, sizes and temperaments -- one near the start that Noel engages in the countryside looks like a deer, while the huge, white one that goes on the rampage as a Dark Dragon in Reverse London bears a resemblance to How to Train Your Dragon's Night Furies.
As Noel and Ninny rescue the hapless Balgo, the watching Powers That Be (WB's controlling council) identifies the dragonclad's allure to the not-so-mythical beasts as being too high a price to pay for his freedom, and place a bounty on his head. Hopefully, Balgo's importance won't overshadow Burn the Witch's bold leading ladies in the episodes to come.