“If I can persuade a German to throw down his rifle, I have deprived Germany of a soldier, without also having to kill the man.” –Lord Northcliffe
People in the present understand the past through the framework of present times. Considering that, perhaps it is to be expected that the alternate history anime Izetta, the Last Witch, produced in an era of intense growth of communications and information technologies, brought its focus to the role of propaganda in modern warfare.
Izetta, the Last Witch takes place in a world more or less similar to our own in World War II (specifically in the 1940). The Empire of Germania (based on Nazi Germany but is a monarchy like the preceding German Empire) has launched a war to dominate the continent, and is advancing south to invade the small country of Eylstadt (geographically located in the same region as North Tyrol and Vorarlberg), Princess Finé of Eylstadt goes on a diplomatic mission to request assistance from the Allied Powers to resist the invasion. The journey, though, brings her to meet again with her old friend Izetta, a young witch with immense supernatural power. Feeling indebted to the princess for her aid in the past, the homeless witch offers her powers to fight against the Germanians and defend the princess’ homeland.
Relation to Technology
Interestingly enough, although the premise has a witch fighting in a World War-like setting, Izetta does not present a simple conflict between magic and modern technology. Izetta herself is shown to use her magic to operate modern military technologies. But where men operate their military technologies through physical, mechanical controls, the witch Izetta operates such technologies through remote, psychic controls.
In this way, to some extent the anime recalls Hayao Miyazaki’s scenario on the relations between human and technology, such as the one depicted in Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky. As Thomas Lamarre (2009) describes, such scenario distinguishes between depiction of men’s mechanical means of relating to technology with girls’ magical means of relating to technology, in order to rethink possibilities for human’s relationship with technology. Both Izetta and Castle in the Sky even choose the time period that is a critical point in the technological development of the modern world; that is, around the 19th to mid-20th century.
However, Izetta takes a different turn from Castle in the Sky that seems to reflect the different situations between the periods in which both works were made. Miyazaki made Castle in the Sky on the backdrop of Japan’s industrial and economic rise and the Cold War’s looming threat of nuclear warfare; producing a focus on the consequences of physical technologies. Izetta, on the other hand, emerges in an era of intense growth in communications and information technologies. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that the anime takes a turn to the topic of propaganda, and thinks about its consequences.
Sorcery of Propaganda
Having demonstrated her powers against the Germanian troops in the defense of Coenenberg, Izetta is brought to Eylstadt’s capital and the advisors discuss about using her powers in further confrontations against the invaders. However, Izetta regrettably informs them that witches rely on the presence of “ley lines” to use their powers. Meaning, even if Izetta continue to be deployed against the Germanians, she could only fight in select locations.
One of the advisors, Sieghart Müller, has a different idea in mind, however. He proposes to promote Izetta to the world as an all-powerful witch who can and will defeat the Germanian troops anywhere, anytime, while keeping her weakness a secret. Müller’s intention with this is to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies, inspire hope among Eylstadt’s people, and incite the Allies to take action to support their cause.
Here, Müller understands the value of propaganda. Propaganda may have the pejorative connotation of being lies used by authoritarian regimes to maintain control of their people. But Philip M. Taylor (1997) posits that propaganda as a tool of persuasion is value-neutral. It is only “good” or “bad” depending on who uses it for what purpose. And Müller is willing to use this tool for the cause of maintaining the freedom of his beloved homeland.
Through Müller’s character and his strategy, the show rightfully recognizes that modern war, even as early as the time of the world wars, is fought not only on the physical battlefields, but also in the hearts and minds. As wars increasingly take place in an environment where people perceive the world through the media, inevitably there is a need to manage the production and spread of media contents regarding the war.
That is not to say the actual battles become unimportant. Izetta still conducts actual assaults against Germanian positions. But the anime shows how these, along with the rest of her appearances, are staged and framed to produce appealing contents for the media, to the point where a battle that was won through an ordinary scorched earth tactics need to be staged and framed as Izetta’s doing too. And the media, provided with something unusual about the war, enthusiastically reproduced those contents (getting caught in the frenzy of excitement, some even embellish the contents on their own). Izetta may be able to lift and hurl tanks with her magic, but beyond that, the bewitchment of the minds of the masses through media contents is really, the most sophisticated sorcery in the war.
To be continued on the next page