Anime Reviews: Little Witch Academia
Some Basic Information About the Series
Title: Little Witch Academia
Series Length: 2 OVA + 25 episodes
Air Dates: 3/2/2013, 10/9/2015, and 1/9/2017 to 6/26/2017
Age Rating: 7+ (mild violence, mild language)
Summary: Atsuko Kagari, nicknamed "Akko," is a new student at Luna Nova academy, where the finest witches in the world are trained. Inspired at a young age by a marvelous magic show from witch celebrity Shiny Chariot, Akko harbors a burning ambition to be just like her idol. Unfortunately, Akko knows nothing about magic and doesn't come from a family bearing mage lineage, so she doesn't even know how to find Luna Nova Academy. Along with her fellow new students and roommates, the shy and bookish Lotte Jansson and mischievous mushroom fanatic Sucy Manbavaran, Akko will face all kinds of trials and tests (in and out of the classroom) to achieve her dream: to be like Shiny Chariot and show the world a spectacle that will make them see how wonderful magic truly is!
The Good: Vivacious visuals; immensely lovable cast bolstered by stand-alone character development episodes
The Bad: The TV series starts off awkwardly; the actual overarching plot is a bit too silly
The Ugly: Having to be those poor professors that actually have to teach Akko...
How did I come across--oh, who am I kidding?
It's Studio Trigger. Specifically, it's the Gainax alumni wing of Studio Trigger. This was on my radar the moment the original short came out, and I was bound to come across it sooner or later. I already knew I was going to enjoy Little Witch Academia before I even hit the Play button, so we can dispel any notions about me not liking the series. The question then becomes "How good is the series?" Well, I suppose we'll have to do the usual thing where I go over the individual strengths and weaknesses before arbitrarily deciding--er, I mean, find out.
Where does the series shine brightest?
First of all, it wouldn't be a Studio Trigger anime if the visuals weren't off-the-wall crazy and full of verve and life. Little Witch Academia doesn't break this tradition. While the fluidity of the animation is of merely average quality, the expressiveness of the characters and the bombast of the cinematography helps to make most scenes visually compelling to behold. Fast cuts and creative use of limited animation have always been a staple of the studio, and these tools are also put to good use, giving the series an anarchic, unpredictable feel. The two pilot episodes that pre-date the TV series have more solid animation, but if you ask me, the TV series makes better use of its animation, so comparing the OVAs to the TV episodes is a bit of a wash.
As for the character designs, lemme just say that everyone looks great. When you do these kinds of shows where everyone wears a uniform of some kind, it gets increasingly difficult to make your characters distinct, especially when the amount of named characters numbers over three dozen, and the fact that every single solitary character is easily definable is truly a feat. Whether it's Akko's half-bangs, Lotte's oversized glasses, Sucy's bloodshot eyes, Amanda's neon hair, Constanze's stern eyebrows, Jasminka's vacant expression, or any number of visual quirks unique to each character, you'll have no issue keeping track of who's who. As someone who has tried his hand at art before, I can tell you this is a herculean task. And that's not even including all the visual cues and references to other media, of which there are way too many to list!
Of course, a Trigger anime needs a ragtag cast of lovable weirdos to coincide with the bombastic visuals, and Little Witch Academia delivers on that front, as well. With so many named characters to get accustomed to, it's only natural that you'll find someone you can relate to, but I can guarantee that you'll find the vast majority of them to be incredibly lovable--their personalities are just so quirky and off-the-walls that picking a favorite is nigh impossible. Personally, if I had to choose, any episode that features Sucy, Constanze, or Amanda is an episode well worth its runtime. I do wish we got more Professor Finneran and Jasminka, though, but we can't always get what we want, I suppose.
Now, of course, the characters wouldn't make any impact if we didn't know anything about them, right? So what better way than to have entire episodes and plotlines dedicated to fleshing them out, right? In my opinion, these episodes where we just set the plot on the back-burner and just enjoy Akko following around a different character or two for 25 minutes are the best episodes in the series and are also an absolute joy to watch. Some of my favorites include Akko having to go inside Sucy's mind while she's comatose to wake her up (best episode in the series by far, if you ask me), Lotte's obsession with a Twilight-like book series causing the group to sneak into town, Akko's attempt to get to know Constanze on the eve of the Wild Hunt, and there's just so many of them, you guys. These individual, one-shot, dare we call them "filler" episodes just work so well to bring the characters to life, and I could've sat through 20 more of them, easily.
The OVAs fall in this category, as well. Both episodes are just chock-full of fun times, and that's my final word on those.
...And where does the series fall flatter than Akko trying to learn how to fly?
Of course, by singling out the "filler" episodes as the series' highlight, that should be a decent indication of the quality of the other episodes. You'd be kinda-sorta right, but the situation is not as dire as that would imply. My first main problem with the series lies in the TV series' first two or three episodes being a little awkward to sit through, especially if you're already familiar with the OVAs. The pacing is off and the dialogue feels a little too exposition-y, is all I'm sayin'. First few episodes just require a little patience.
The bigger problem I have with Little Witch Academia is its main storyline, which really starts kicking off at the halfway point. Namely, it's a little too simple and a little too silly. Yes, I know that simple and silly are Trigger's bread and butter, but these guys usually know how to keep on the good side of simple and silly, whereas this series' plot tends towards being nothing more than just simple and silly. Without travelling too far into spoiler territory, Akko gets her hands on a magic staff--the Shiny Rod that once belonged to Shiny Chariot--and she sets off to find the seven mystical words to revive its emerald orbs, which will supposedly revive the power of magic throughout the world (it's kinda deteriorated over the centuries, after all). And then an antagonist appears who doesn't really do much to antagonize our heroes and is just kinda doing her own thing which just so happens to cause some minor problems...well, okay, those minor problems devolve into a magical nuclear cruise missile in the final act, so that's a pretty big freakin' problem, but nevertheless, the antagonist doesn't do much actual antagonizing. That's basically all the main storyline involves, and it's rather underwhelming on its own.
Now, to contrast, Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill, two of the staff's biggest titles prior to this, knew to add some underlying themes and at least the veneer of complexity in order to offset their bare-bones storylines, but not so much here. The plot is just the plot, and a cigar is just a cigar. Now, that's not to say there are zero themes to this series--the idea of having fun and spreading cheer, Akko's secondary motivation (the first obviously being to meet Shiny Chariot), is an idea the series itself seems to be propelled by--I'm just saying that, when Little Witch Academia wandered into Overarching Plot Depot to purchase a storyline, it really should've bought some stronger spices to accentuate the flavor rather than allowing the main dish to be completely outshone by the side dishes (in this strangled metaphor, the side dishes are the stand-alone character episodes, by the way). I'm really good with metaphors, you guys.
Is Little Witch Academia worth its pedigree?
Although Little Witch Academia is among the staff's lesser works, having its pants kicked thoroughly by those two classics mentioned above, and despite my griping from a few minutes ago, I would confidently say yes, the studio's and the staff's legacies have only been bolstered by the inclusion of this particular title. The mission statement was clear from the beginning: Just like Akko, the series was concerned primarily with delivering fun and joy to the audience. While I would have appreciated some more effort into making the A-plot matter more than it did, as well as some tighter writing to add more depth and complexity to the narrative, I can't exactly say the mission was a failure. I had fun, I laughed copiously at times, I felt some feels when the feels were appropriate, and there was plenty of joy to be found. Now then, who would I recommend this series to, you might be asking? Naturally, if you're a fan of Studio Trigger's anime and you haven't seen this yet, you most definitely should, and the same holds true for fans of comedy or for those who want a light-hearted urban fantasy series. If you're new to the world of anime, this title also functions quite well as an entry-level series. Basically, if some light fun and laughs are what you're looking for, checking out Little Witch Academia is a wise decision.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Little Witch Academia is a bright and vibrant anime bursting with memorable characters and fast-paced action laced with humor that should whet the appetite of anime fans both old and new, even if the plain-but-functional main storyline isn't quite as inspired as one might have hoped for.