It’s finally here, among all the shows aired this season only one could reach the top and be the best. While the show started on the Winter season, it ended this week so it’s fair to compare it with others. Incidentally, the show was announced after the ending of one of my favorite shows from last year and since then I have been hyped and hoping the show could live up to my expectations. So today let’s travel and discover the magic world of Little Witch Academia.
About the show
Little Witch Academia (リトルウィッチアカデミア) is an Anime franchise produced by Studio Trigger. It began as an OVA released as part of Anime Mirai 2013, and gain popularity when it was released on NicoNico and subtitled on Youtube. Later, Studio Trigger opened a Kickstarter campaign to produce another OVA that became a short film called Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade, it was released on October 2015. The adaptation to a full length show was hinted at the end of Space Patrol Luluco last year and later confirmed on September 2016. The show consists of twenty-five episodes.
Set in a world where magic is real but in decline, the show focuses on Atsuko Kagari, a cheerful girl who enters the prestigious Luna Nova Academy to accomplish her most wanted dream: To be like her idol, Shiny Chariot, a witch whose shows captured the hearts of thousands around the world, but now she has disappeared from the public eye. Akko will not be alone in this adventure, she meets and befriends Lotte Yanson, a witch with the power to call fairies and Sucy Manbavaran, a mischievous yet kind witch who likes everything related to mushrooms and poison. Akko is in disadvantage with other students because she has no magical background and has to learn from zero everything related to magic. But destiny has something prepared to Akko as she encounters an item that once belonged to her idol, Shiny Rod, and Akko must discover how to activate it and use it to perform an ancient ritual that will change the magic world forever.
Last year, one of my praises for Space Patrol Luluco was bringing back fun to Anime. And I know that is an ambiguous concept and can mean a lot of different things, my point was that the show brought back something that seemed to be lost among the countless light novel commercials, I mean adaptations: A genuine love for animation. Little Witch Academia continues that trend and expands it by creating a fantastic world of magic, friendship and dreams. It sounds corny but that’s one of the strongest point in the show. Modern western media is getting tiresome after many soulless rehashes of the same story done by committees of executives who want to savage every penny out of their investment. Sometimes anime can be that too and one can become cynic as time goes by. But Little Witch Academia is a response for that stale state by embracing the cheesy elements and telling a compelling story where you root for the characters and sincerely feel for them.
Often times when I review a show one of the weakest points I encountered is the world building and expanding beyond the original setting. Animation allows more freedom to create new universes for stories to being set. It’s understandable why some shows don’t that, it’s expensive and time consuming for the creative team involved. Little Witch Academia is an example of a show that takes advantage of its setting and builds upon it to captivate us. Luna Nova Academy is where the main story happens and every part of it plays an important role within the story, it’s not merely a building but an active character. We explore fantastic settings like dream worlds, cursed forests, decrepit castles, hell we even go the mythical and magic place called Finland. The same can be said about the side characters, while it is not a requirement to watch the OVA and previous films to understand the story of this show, here they are given a proper background where we get to know about their dreams, hopes and their own struggles which not only help Akko to grow as a person, but also shapes the tone of the show.
Little Witch Academia has a ton of references to western works. This does not comes as a surprise, we know Trigger and the creative team are westaboos. The range is impressive given than they only not do of homage classic works like the one above, but also take from modern media and it does not restrict to cartoons. There are references to the Twilight novels, to Finnish mythology and folklore, even fucking Pawn Stars. Yes, there’s a character who resembles a member of that show and it’s a very prominent one in the story. Some can encounter these references and be disgusted by them, but I think there is a difference between annoying references and ones that work. An annoying reference is one that keeps nudging and winking the audience to be noticed as if it was saying Hey, hey, notice me, remember this? Sure you do!. A reference / homage that works is one that blends with the story and does not affect the outcome of the scene. You might have never seen or heard about Cinderella so when you reach the episode where the scene of the video happens, you know they are witches and use magical spells, so that phrase is just another part of their knowledge.
Magic and its decline is the central topic of the show. The alternative universe where magic was once held as benefit for humanity has been replaced by technology and science. The Industrial Revolution put an end to the use of magic for everyone and less and less people are impressed or marveled by the works of a few enchanted words. This is obviously a commentary on our reality, we even acknowledge it with phrases like “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”, we hear that we discover new particles, reached unknown parts of the universe and create materials that will help us in our daily life, and yet we are not impressed by them. It comes to a point where hope is a devalued currency, there’s nothing to latch on but to carry on and expect not the worst. A believing heart is magic is a phrase often said in the show and one that plays a major role for the conclusion of the story. It is corny but represents an universal feeling, hope for a better future is the fuel for us to reach that goal.
I wish Little Witch Academia was perfect because I really love it, but it is not. It is obvious from beginning of the second cour that the story changed direction on its original intention. They set up some situations that did not paid off at the end, which makes me think that along the way the creative team decided to shift the story to another conclusion and scrap those scenes. Unfortunate because we invested time and some of them were new characters that could have bring more to the story. I wish we could have more scenes where Akko learns magic through hard work and effort, when she discovers what she has to do with the Shiny Rod, she just gets those powers episode by episode. Kind of a letdown compared when she had to learn how to transform as an animal.
Is Anime saved? Not yet, but Little Witch Academia is a wonderful work of people who loves the media and is able to write and produce a story that will enchanted you and fall in love again with Anime. Little Witch Academia is also one of the rare stories you can show to others if they are interested of knowing more about what can be done with Anime. My recommendation is to all of you who haven’t watched it, even if you feel it’s your not thing, give it a chance. And don’t forget to check out the OVA and the short film. Anime is available where anime is, but not Netflix.