Review/discussion about: Little Witch Academia (TV)
(As supplementary material for this review, please refer to my writing on themes and motifs, “Little Witch Academia and Thematic ‘Magic'”.)
I can’t recall if I’ve talked about the Harry Potter series in-depth in the past, but, even if I did, it’s too relevant to Little Witch Academia and my own interests to leave on the wayside.
Long story short, I love that universe. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are an awesome trio of protagonists. The lore is interesting and packed with lots of details. Its premise, setting, and timeline make for a neat setup over the course of its whole run. I’ve read all the books, and I’ve seen the adapted films more times than I can count. It’s simply a world that I hold dear.
Do I put Little Witch Academia on the same pedestal personally? No, it doesn’t quite earn a special place in my heart. But what it does do regardless is craft and present an anime that’s worthy of praise all the same.
Within Little Witch Academia, the audience certainly finds magic and its usage within. However, the anime brings with it much more than just a spell or two.
Admittedly, the initial direction of the show causes worry as it treads dangerously close to repetition and a lack of creativity given the films that preceded this television project. That worry disappears, though, once the show embraces its episodic format. For, rather than always relying on the power of the Shiny Rod to ultimately save the day, many of the episodes within this first half of the season build well off the setting. A high-speed broomstick race. A reanimated undead skeleton man who cannot slow down. A bee whose sting infatuates the stung.
These individualized, slice-of-life episodes invoke the best of the anime’s comedic chops thanks to their oft crazy happenings. The wholesome atmosphere throughout also gives the show a fun feel as Akko and the gang go about trying their hardest and having a blast while doing so. Perhaps most importantly, these scenes start to add to the lore of Little Witch Academia, investing in the in-universe details that bolster the fantastical nature of their wizarding world.
Episode eleven, with the blue moon and the scary abyss, marks the show’s big shift from a comedic, slice-of-life offering to a dramatic, plot-oriented tale. Not to say that the laughs and the somewhat one-off episodes completely disappear, for they do not as evidenced by the trip to Lotte’s hometown. But, even then, the content starts to serve a larger purpose beyond only having a cheerful time with the characters.
This shift occurs most readily in the emotional drive of Little Witch Academia. Intimate exchanges, such as Diana’s ordeal and Akko’s apology to Chariot, strike at the show’s dramatic side that it kept nestled beneath its comedy. Seeing the content basically mature in this manner during its run not only generates dynamism in its delivery but also argues for a stronger writing foundation as the laughing and the crying require a tighter balance.
Parts of the second half here do not go without a couple of hiccups. For instance, Croix’s whole evil subplot doesn’t coalesce very well as it strings together as a bunch of one-off, behind-the-scenes scenes.
Worse still, Professor Ursula does not say anything to anyone about Croix despite knowing of her behavior, and she gets constantly interrupted as she attempts to explain the important details that surround the plot. These two specific factors lead to an unnatural progression in the writing as it becomes less about Akko’s journey and more about the fact that the anime refuses to let Professor Ursula talk.
To combat this corralling of the narrative, Little Witch Academia incorporates other elements that free up the structure. The major twist about Akko’s nonexistent magical abilities provides some much-needed context and truly challenges her beliefs based on the (now known) source. Plus, the Grand Triskellion being nothing more than a literal twig, a red herring of sorts, reinforces the show’s talking points that much more.
Indeed, the anime soars highest with those points as its bigger picture reveals itself on a thematic level. Distinct motifs on words, friendships, and emotions layer the anime many times over, leading to a heartfelt theme on the “magic” that exists within everyone. A positive outlook from a positive show that is positively welcome.
Once Little Witch Academia concludes, the audience can appreciate this message and apply it to their own lives. And, having experienced the well-timed comedy and the solid drama that made up the entire project, they can also walk away knowing that they just finished a nice story, too.
ART & ANIMATION
One of the best joys of watching Little Witch Academia comes from the visuals on display.
They blend together both pretty background artistry and expressive movement. The art loves its shots that showcase a wide view of the Luna Nova school as the sun, moon, or magic stone shine overhead. And the animation takes advantage of squashing and stretching to give Akko and the other characters springy, fuller actions. Combined, they make the anime a ton of fun to watch.
Interestingly, the visuals’ generally refrain from vibrant colors and bright lenses, keeping the look and feel of Little Witch Academia in a middle zone between mundane and loud. This setup allows for the designs to do much of the talking. And talk they do. Akko’s ponytail, Lotte’s large, rounded glasses, Sucy’s phantom feet, Diana’s striped-green hair, Professor Ursula’s hip game. None of these details even get into their different changes, depending on their current outing or eventual outcome.
Not to mention Amanda’s tomboyish looks, Constanze’s utility belt, Jasminka’s pigtails, and the other professors’ shapes, standings, and even species. And everyone’s witch outfits – complete with hat, coat, and belt – finish off this whole ensemble.
Andrew’s prim-and-proper demeanor and Croix’s “futuristic” outfit continue the trend of variance as does the myriad of side characters met. Even the background people, while often sporting goofy faces, deserve appreciation if only because they aren’t just an afterthought but receive at least some attention when events go down.
The show also likes its silly faces, creating for Akko many a reaction for her to use no matter the situation. Moreover, certain sequences flaunt the magic premise as much as possible. From Vajarois’s purification to the Shiny Rod’s extravagant transformations, Little Witch Academia makes it possible to pick out specific moments that dazzle in their magical splendor.
To be fair in a critical sense, not everything goes perfectly for the visuals. They replay the same “Noctu Orfei Aude Fraetor” clip from the first episode one too many times throughout the season. Later on, some of the cuts seem to involve lots of closeups rather than capturing a whole scene or at least varying the cinematography. And, despite the intriguing world around them, they don’t really vary up the locations, going so far as to visit the Arcturus Forest on at least three separate occasions.
However, the good points far outweigh the bad ones, leaving the audience with a pleasant visual experience for pretty much the entire season.
Little Witch Academia is Akko’s journey.
She comes to Luna Nova without almost any shred of magical prowess. She essentially starts from nothing, and it’s that bottom baseline that makes her a character worth rooting for. The audience wants her to fly. The audience wants her to succeed. The audiences wants her to follow in the footsteps of her idol Shiny Chariot.
Over the course of the season, Akko doesn’t always fly, succeed, and follow, though. But that’s okay. Part of her character arc involves encountering these problems and, through failure, becoming the better for it. Chariot’s signature catchphrase spells it out: “It’s your belief in yourself that makes up your magic.” Her words are constantly repeated throughout the season, becoming a pillar for Akko’s character that the events challenge again and again. So that when she does finally triumph – be it in summoning hope or transforming into an animal for the first time ever – those moments flourish that much more.
Akko doesn’t only experience failure; she also learns a lot about life along the way. Through her quest of unlocking the full potential of the Shiny Rod, she improves herself immensely thanks to those Seven Words. She gains patience. She respects tradition. She understands thankfulness. While she mainly seeks to become the greatest witch in the world (second only to her beloved Chariot), she simultaneously, slowly evolves into a better person overall.
Two constant traits stick with Akko throughout Little Witch Academia regardless of what she does or is doing: determination and optimism. These traits certainly help her on her own journey, but they also influence the people around her. Lotte, Sucy, and the others do not technically receive a whole lot of attention since (to reiterate) this tale is Akko’s and not theirs. However, Akko’s passion gives them the means to overcome their own problems, for she values them and their friendships much more than she cares about her own success.
Nowhere does her influence strike hardest than with Andrew, Professor Ursula, and Diana. Andrew, the son of a prominent politician, viewed witches and their magic as useless, repeating similar thoughts that others of his world have voiced as of late. By chance, however, he continually crosses paths with Akko – and so he follows an arc of sorts. The more she demonstrates courage in the face of adversity, the more his perspective changes in a positive manner.
Back in the magic world, Professor Ursula mentors Akko in her studies. She sticks up for Akko, too, like when she berates that one formal teacher for putting her down despite the small yet noticeable progress she has made. And she also guides Akko in her worded quest. Croix’s meddling spurs her into action, and their complex relationship forces her to hate herself for her own pitfalls. Regardless, Akko instills in Professor Ursula the hopes and the dreams that she had always instilled in others years prior. And, if for nothing else, she wishes to protect that “brilliance” (as she similarly quotes it) in turn.
As for Diana, Diana always butted heads with Akko (and vice versa), so they never really saw eye-to-eye. Diana, though, knew that, despite her own capabilities, Akko had a heart unlike anybody else. She experiences it personally when Akko goes completely out of her way to at first change Diana’s mind and then support her decisions, ultimately forming the close bond they now share.
Once Akko’s journey nears its end, all these relationships reach their storied conclusions. Andrew sees magic not as a hinderance but as something worth believing in, aiding Akko in their final battle. Akko completes Chariot’s quest, telling her idol that realizes now that she must be her own great witch. And both Diana and her other friends seek out and console her when her beliefs contradict the very traits she champions, reciprocating her kindness with some of their own.
Thus, Little Witch Academia makes it clear: Akko upholds the story’s theme on the “magic” within about as perfectly as possible. She grows as a character, affects those around her for the better, and inspires the audience to do the same. The fact that she levitates on a broom ever-so-slightly by herself – and with everyone around to see it happen at that – during the last scene of the season likewise makes for a fitting finish to her thoughtful journey.
MUSIC & SOUND
A lot of the voice-acting performances in Little Witch Academia are strong in execution, yet let it be known to everyone: Megumi Han as Akko figuratively steals the show.
She becomes the underdog witch right from the very first scene of the season. The different inflections in her voice. The wide range of emotions demonstrated. The laughs, the cries, the yells, the jubilation. It doesn’t do her performance justice to simply call it “fantastic.” Arguably speaking, Ms. Han deserves the highest of praise: that no VA except her could capture the character so perfectly.
While the rest of the music and the sound cannot match up to Ms. Han’s voice acting, it tries its absolute best to do so anyway. Specifically, the original soundtrack makes a name for itself, too. It has its slice-of-life tunes and groovier pieces during downtime or charged segments.
But it’s the other end that truly grabs the ear. Rousing trumpets, delicate violins, gentle wind instruments, soft piano keys, chimes, harp strings. These sounds blend together as sweeping orchestral arrangements that fit the triumphant direction of the story and coincide with the magical premise at large.
Little Witch Academia’s opening tracks fall next in line. The first OP “Shiny Ray” wins the top prize out of the two available. Its sparkly beginning leads into acoustic guitar and a steady drum beat which in turn invite violins and harmonizing to round out the track. With the strong vocals throughout, and the faint sound of a piano in the background, this OP captures the magic of the content that follows it.
By comparison, the second OP “Mind Conductor” has some cool electric guitar going for it early on. But much of the first half sounds too cluttered in its structure as the vocals, drums, and that guitar seem too out of sync. It isn’t until a bit over the halfway point that the song finally picks up steam with a more streamlined beat, background vocals, and a pronounced orchestral composition. So, while the second OP here starts off somewhat muddied, it finishes off clear and strong.
Last but not (too) least, the ending tracks bring up the rear. Once again, the first offering “Hoshi wo Todoreba” comes out ahead. The distinct bass and the outer-space noises give it a bump during the start of its playing, but, opposite to the second OP, the further along it goes, the less interesting it becomes.
“Toumei na Tsubasa,” the second ED, somewhat mirrors its sister song, but it ups the otherworldly sounds and the energy involved. It plateaus for the whole length of the track, though. It doesn’t go anywhere intriguing, and it doesn’t become a bore to listen to. It simply coasts along as a fine song and nothing more.
The sound-effects within Little Witch Academia do have their positives (all the wand-waving magic) and their negatives (braking broomsticks). And, again, the EDs aren’t exactly on the same level as the anime itself. However, the first OP, the grand OST, and especially Ms. Han’s VA performance as Akko keep the music and the sound from ever crashing and burning.
I owe a lot of the happiness I got out of this show to Akko.
I’m a fan of kind, happy characters, so, from the get-go, she was already someone who I liked to follow. She was also really funny. So much so that I still quote some of her mannerisms to myself to this day (e.g., “Waku wakuuu!”, using the phonetic spelling). Her silly reactions and fierce determination to accomplish the obstacles set in her path kept the funnies going, too. And her positive attitude in general was an infectious part of her personality that I value highly.
As the episodes went along, she became kinder, funnier, and optimistic-er, placing her easily at the top of my list of favorite characters from this anime. Other favorites of mine include Diana and her interesting relationship with Akko. Professor Ursula and her guiding nature. Lotte and her plainness. Andrew and his outsider’s perspective. Amanda and her rebellious phases. Constanze and the fact that she doesn’t talk. Just an awesome bunch of cast members.
I was ambivalent towards only two characters: Croix and Sucy. I thought Croix was okay. It wasn’t until her obvious care for Chariot caused conflict in her person despite her evil intentions that I started to view her in a different light.
As for Sucy, she was kind of jerk to Akko, and I wish she wasn’t. I get that her role as a Debbie Downer of sorts contrasts well with Akko’s cheerfulness. Her drug-like motif also got a chuckle out of me now and again, and she would offset her meanness with a rare kind gesture. And it’s all rather ironic in a way because my favorite episode of the series goes to episode nine, “Akko’s Adventure in Sucyworld.” It was downright hilarious, and it featured Sucy not being Sucy so much which was a big plus.
Besides the characters, I found myself getting emotional at times. Not tears or anything extreme, but I could tell that, if I let my guard down, they would escape me. I also liked the different action sequences, the individualized episodes, and the magic premise in general. And I had an immensely fun time writing about the major theme of this anime since it had ideals and thoughts that were both uplifting and worthwhile to me.
Having now completed this one and written out this review in full, I close the book on my Spring 2017 anime run. And I’m very glad that it was this show that got to have those honors.
Little Witch Academia, with a swish and a flick, conjures up a wonderful anime. Its strong thematic roots, neat visual style, purposeful cast members, orchestral music, and entertaining moments make this spell one to behold. And the lack of a lightning-bolt scar does not change this fact.
Story: Good, Akko’s positive journey brings fun comedy and solid drama, and a theme on the “magic” within people soars high and far, but the second half’s writing chops lose their flow on occasion
Art & Animation: Good, lovely character designs, expressive animation, and numerous magical spectacles outweigh some of the repetitive clips, the lagging cinematography, and the low variance in background artistry
Characters: Great, Akko grows, affects, and inspires, embodying the narrative’s main theme through and through
Music & Sound: Good, Megumi Han delivers what will most likely go down as her defining VA performance, the orchestral OST triumphs ahead, the first OP captures the spirit of this adventure, but the remaining OP and the EDs cannot follow suit
Enjoyment: Great, Akko was awesome, the other characters were nice too, the action was cool, the touching times were there, it was a lot of fun to write about, and it made for a happy closer to the overall season
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3