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Friday, June 30, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Little Witch Academia

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Little Witch Academia. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Atsuko “Akko” Kagari (voiced by Megumi Han) has always dreamed of being able to use magic. As well as meet her idol, the witch known only as Shiny Chariot. Though not from a magical family, Akko manages to enroll into the premier witch academy, Luna Nova.

From the start, it is clear Akko is the biggest fish out of water.

Akko struggles to cast even the most rudimentary of spells. Soon she is the laughing stock of the school. Frustrated, yet undeterred, she sets out to prove everyone wrong. Along the way, she meets her two best friends. The kindhearted summoner, Lotte Jansson (voiced by Fumiko Orikasa). And the sadistic potion master, Sucy Manbavaran (voiced by Michiyo Murase).

Her progress slow, Akko does have an ace up her sleeve. She possesses an item once used by Shiny Chariot herself; the Shiny Rod. With it, Akko can perform breathtaking feats of magic.

This puts Akko on a path to becoming the witch she has always hoped of being. In her quest to do so, she may even come across some of the most ancient secrets in all of witchcraft.

Series Positives

This is the moment. Almost a year has passed since learning of the announcement. Not to mention a self-imposed six-month wait after the airing of episode one. Little Witch Academia is here.

Though I had been looking forward to this series, the short films pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t wait to see how this world would expand. How much more would we learn about these characters?  How big would the action and animation get? What would become of this franchise after getting the time to grow? Would this be another gem in the Trigger library? Or would all this be a massive waste of time?

Susy and Lotte
Let me put it this way. If I ever hear Studio Trigger is involved in any way in future productions, I’m on board.

Little Witch Academia was fantastic. This show took the potential of the shorts and ran with it. This was what I was hoping would happen. A lot got established over the shorts' hour and a half runtime. And never did any of it feel overwhelming. This was beyond impressive and huge reason why the films are worth checking out. That level of world building now had the chance to breathe here in this series.

In my Impressions post, I mentioned how I imagined the Little Witch Academia anime wouldn’t be a continuation of the films. This is true. You don’t have to watch one to understand the other. So that begs the question. Which was better? I have an answer, but I’m not going to give quite yet.

The Animation

The films were no doubt crisper than the series was. I expected as much. Yet, knowing this show came from the studio that gave us Kill la Kill, I also expected a certain standard. One that was well met.

Little Witch Academia was gorgeous. It was so pretty.

For comparison, Kill la Kill takes the prize for insanity. Little Witch Academia does so with creativity. Nothing felt impossible or outlandish here. Nothing was ever too much. Never once did I say to myself, “I don’t buy this.” I never said that about Kill la Kill either. But this goes back to something I talked about in the Impressions post.

The potential for Kill la Kill hitting a limit did exist. It never got close to hitting that limit, yet it was there regardless. Little Witch Academia didn’t have that. Because magic. And the magic in this show was great.

The fantasy of this world allowed for so many possibilities. Everything could go bigger. Everything could be more colorful. Everything became faster, stronger, and more impactful. Little Witch Academia was amazing in creating scale. When something was large, it looked large. When something was mystical, it looked mystical. When something was threatening, it looked threatening.

Something Trigger has demonstrated on many occasions and did so again here, is its ability to animate faces. Whatever expression a character was making told you more than any words could. This made the humor that much funnier. This made the action that much more intense. This made the more serious moments that much more meaningful.

The animation added so much character to a series already brimming with it.

The Characters

The movies introduced so many strong characters. And the series gave us more.

I’m not sure where to start. I liked everyone. They all deserve a spin-off story of their own. And many of them could carry a whole series of their own. So why don’t we do that? Let’s only look at the characters who could star in their own show.

First is Amanda O’Neill (voiced by Arisa Shida). She was a big surprise. I liked who she was in the films, but the series gave us someone a lot more interesting. Retaining her delinquency, the show illustrated a competent witch. A theme that applies to everyone. One of my favorite episodes of the series was Amanda centered. She wasn't only good support, she was capable of landing the final blow.

Next is Diana Cavendish (voiced by Yoko Hikasa). More often than not, the word I would use to describe someone like her would be arrogant. I don’t feel right doing so this time. That’s because she could back it up. There was no disillusionment, she was the most talented witch in the series. More prideful than anything, although again, she had every reason to be. This made her come off as stern, yet never unfair. My favorite thing about Diana, though, was her hard-working nature. Sure, she had natural ability. But she put in the work to make herself better.

For this next person, I have to be careful. If you’ve seen the films you know who she is. And it’s not like the series kept it a secret. But I don’t want to be that guy in case you are unaware. That said, there could be an outstanding prequel involving Professor Ursula (voiced by Noriko Hidaka). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the series did a bad job of giving her a backstory. Quite the opposite. It’s because this show did it so well is why I want to see more.

Now, let’s talk about Lotte and Susy. And yes, they turned out to be the characters I was hoping they would be.

Lotte is an even bigger sweetheart than she was in the films. Yet like everyone else, there was more to her. For instance, if there was something she wanted, she could get rather aggressive. She could stand up for her friends. That and she wasn’t a stick in the mud. She may have voiced objections but she would take part in all the shenanigans.

Last, but not least, there was Susy. Her level of not giving a crap was beautiful. She would rather go with the entertaining decision more than she would the smart one. Much like Diana, Susy could back herself up too. She was among one of the more powerful witches of the show. To point where if she wanted to, she could pose a real problem. Yet when push came to shove, Susy would be there. In her own way, she cared about and cherished her friends. Then again, she chose to test a potion on herself rather than her usual guinea pig because the result wouldn’t have been any fun if it worked.

I’ve seen great support cast before. This is among one of the best. And for one this good, this would more than overshadow any lead. That is unless the series is Little Witch Academia and the lead is Akko.


I love Akko. Even among this quality of a cast, she is my favorite character. She was an amazing lead.

I could mention how funny she was. I could talk about how infectious her energy was. I could go over her never give up attitude. I could discuss each individual aspect of who she was. But these would all only be offshoots to who she was at her core.

Akko was imperfect.

She wasn’t a prodigy. She was well below the level of her schoolmates. Yet even if she was competent, her personality would dampen it. She couldn’t sit still. She couldn’t help getting involved in other people’s business. Even when she was trying to help, she came off as a little selfish. She didn’t like being told no. She hated being told something was impossible for her. Akko had difficulty grasping the bigger picture.

These were what made her so good though.

It took Akko a long time to learn something. Whether it was spells or life lessons. Yet the moment something clicked, she would never forget it.

Through Akko, Little Witch Academia demonstrated its biggest draw. Growth. From start to finish, Akko’s growth was gradual but apparent. There were no massive leaps in what she could or couldn’t do. Even with the magic she “mastered”, it was full of flaws.

This also allowed Akko to go for the best prize possible. Since no one expected anything, why wouldn’t she give them everything she had? Thus, she thought of solutions only she could come up with.

Did this make people angry? Yes. Did those people have the right to be angry? Often times, yes. Did her actions sometimes make things worse? Yes. Despite that, she was a shot in the arm for a society stuck in tradition.

To the world and everyone else, magic was dying. But not for Akko.

Series Negatives

If a series has issues, except you don’t care about the issues, are they really issues? Technically, yes. But anything I’m about to say doesn’t even compare to all the good in this show.

To start, I’m not sure how magic worked in this world. I get that it existed. That’s fine. Yet how it existed, maybe I missed something.

From my understanding, magic came from a relic called the Sorcerer’s Stone. Any magic user in its range was able to tap into its energy. The further someone was from the stone the weaker magic became. To the point where it stopped working if someone was far enough away. So far so good.

Question, was there only one stone? The only one mentioned in the show was at the school. The town near the school was outside the range. So, magic didn't work in the city limits. Except it did. Granted, witches were able to store some energy. But the amount they could maintain wasn’t always consistent. Never mind the fact there were witches all over the world. If the stone wouldn't work one town over, how was it reaching everyone else? This was later dealt with in the series. Although, even after it got “fixed”, I can’t say it was convincing.

Given all that was happening, it was easy to not think about this. That’s why it’s an issue I don’t care about. It didn't take away from the enjoyment of the series.

Another thing that comes to mind has to do with the characters. I’ve already said how much I liked everyone. When the show focused on them, we got to know them. The show only needed to focus on them though.

The episode with Amanda was one of my favorites. Except it was the only episode that had Amanda play a huge part in. Lotte and Susy faired better. But even they weren’t around as much as I would’ve otherwise liked them to have been.

Often when a series has great side characters and doesn’t use them, that's a problem. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a problem here. Except Little Witch Academia had Akko. And she was more than enough to make up the difference.

With that out of the way, there was something I do have a slight issue with.

The Villain

I won’t give names, but I will say this. I liked the villain as a character. If they would’ve remained an obstacle or an anti-hero, that would’ve been perfect. But as the main threat, there was something missing. I didn’t know what they were trying to achieve.

I understand the means to their ends needed to be stopped. Yet their actual end was the problem. And it was a problem because the villain was attempting to do the same thing Akko was trying to do.

The lengths this person went to was counter intuitive. This was a character who could’ve played mentor. This person could’ve been an alternative philosophy. I say that because I don’t disagree with what they were trying to do.

The villain wanted to modernize magic. They hoped to combine mysticism with science. Why was this bad? What’s wrong with adding new technology to time-tested practices? That’s what we’ve always done as a species. We make a tool. We use it for a bit. All the while, we’re searching to find how to make it better.

To be fair, the villain went to an extreme I can’t get behind. But if witch traditionalists weren’t so resistant, maybe it would’ve gotten to that point.

Of all the things within Little Witch Academia, this was the weakest.

Final Thoughts

I’m now ready to give my answer to that important question. What did I like better, the films or the anime? Let me answer that with my own question. How much free time do I have?

I love them both. I can’t pick which one I objectively like more. But I can say what I would do given the situation. After a long day and I want to relax, I’ll turn to the films long before the anime. Yet if I have a Saturday with jack all to do, I’ll go to the anime.

This series, no, this franchise is great. Amazing animation, outstanding characters, and all-around fun. It overpowers problems that would destroy other shows. This was a blast.

For those who were like me and wanted to watch it all at once, I’m happy to say this. Little Witch Academia was well worth the wait.

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