Little Witch Academia (TV) Review

Synopsis

Atsuko Kagari (Akko for short) has dreamed about becoming a witch ever since she saw a performance from the famous witch, Shiny Chariot. As soon as she’s old enough, Akko enrolls in Luna Nova, a boarding school for witches to learn magic. However, Akko soon learns that she has little talent for magic and was accepted because Luna Nova’s enrollments were down because of a declining interest in magic. Even so, Akko is still determined to become just like Chariot.

Review

There was a lot of hype surrounding Little Witch Academia’s TV adaptation. The two films it’s based on were fun magical adventures that were almost universally liked, and I was excited to see more. Ultimately though, the quality of the original became LWA’s greatest problem. The original set expectations too high, and the TV anime mostly wasn’t as good as the original. That said, it’s still a ton of fun and has quite a bit to unpack.

LWA’s biggest strength is definitely its likable cast. Akko’s kind of an idiot and often acts without thinking things through, but everything she does comes from a good place. Her entire reason for becoming a witch is to make people smile the way Chariot did. She’s passionate about magic, even if she’s not very good at it, and is generally upbeat and excited. Having a fundamentally positive goal and a generally optimistic outlook makes Akko a fun protagonist. It also helps that she doesn’t know a lot about magic and learns about it at the same rate as the audience, which lets us share in her excitement and sense of wonder at all the things magic can do. However, the show also isn’t afraid to occasionally challenge her attitude, most notably through her pseudo-rival, Diana.

Diana initially comes off as a Draco Malfoy type character: she’s wealthy, talented, hard working, comes from a good family, and generally looks down on Akko. In short, she’s the exact opposite of Akko. She could easily have been a stereotypical bully, but the show actually respects her position and never frames her in a negative light. Diana doesn’t actively bully Akko, she just looks down on her because she thinks Akko is undisciplined and immature (which isn’t completely inaccurate). Diana is someone who put a lot of work into learning magic, which is why she doesn’t initially like Akko, who doesn’t always work hard and still wants to be the best. Diana is also often the one who actually solves the problems Akko runs into precisely because Diana puts in the work to figure everything out without rushing in to things. Neither Diana nor Akko is completely right in their methods, and the mutual respect that gradually grows between them is one of the best parts of LWA. Diana cares about bringing back magic just as much as Akko, she just has a different way of going about it.

The rest of the supporting cast is fairly simple, but still likable and fun to be around. Almost every character gets at least one episode devoted to them, and they’re all fun to be around. From Lotte’s good natured kindness to Sucy’s obsession with magical fungi, every character is distinctive and memorable. Most of them are fairly simple characters, but charming none the less.

A lot of the fun in LWA comes from just seeing all the fantastical things magic can do. Magic in LWA isn’t the ordered system of rules you see in a lot of other anime; it’s more like Harry Potter, where magic exists and does magical things. There’s no concrete explanation of exactly how magic works beyond a few general rules, but that’s all we really need. LWA’s magic is, for lack of a better word, magical. We don’t need to know exactly how it works to know that it’s fun to watch. However, not everyone in the world of LWA views magic like that.

One of the major subplots revolves around how magic is declining. With the growth of technology, a lot of people stopped seeing any real purpose in magic. Sure, it can do a lot, but so can technology, and tech is often more practical to use. It’s established early on that Luna Nova is getting fewer and fewer enrollments, and everyone tries to deal with it differently. Some work on new ways of using magic, while others cling desperately to tradition. The show never comes up with a new application for magic or some practical method to solve this. Instead, it focuses on why magic is so appealing in the first place.

In episode 1, Chariot tells the crowd “a believing heart is your magic” and that goes on to be the central theme of the anime. Magic isn’t good because it has practical uses, it’s good because it can inspire people and bring happiness. Magic is a kind of idealism. Even if it doesn’t serve a practical purpose, it’s important in how it can make people happy and drive them. Chariot’s show was a life changing event for Akko and stayed with her for years. It didn’t serve any practical purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Little Witch Academia is ultimately a story about how passion and believing in yourself can triumph over cynicism. It’s hardly an original theme, but that doesn’t make it any less poignant.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention the absolutely phenomenal final episode. It’s an exciting spectacle that more than matches the quality of the original film. Without spoiling anything, the closes comparison I can make in to the final episode of Gurren Lagann (episode 25 of LWA was actually storyboarded by Hiroyuki Imaishi, the director of Gurren Lagann). LWA channels the same passion and energy that made Gurren Lagann so memorable and creates one of the best anime climaxes. It perfectly captures the excitement and fun of the film, and adds to it by perfectly tying up its core themes and character arcs. I would talk about it in more detail, but I don’t want to spoil anything. That ending is just too good to spoil.

If LWA has one flaw, it’s in the way the story is structured. While there is a main plot, the story is primarily episodic. The individual episodes mostly consist of Akko and her friends getting involved in various magical hijinks and revealing more about the world of LWA. They’re all fun little adventures that could be anything from “try to capture the magic bee that keeps making people fall in love” to “we accidently dropped our fish teacher down the drain and need to get her back before anything happens. They’re all creative and entertaining on their own, but the sheer number of side stories is a problem for the main plot.

LWA establishes early on that there’s going to be some sort of overarching plot, and even introduces a villain in the second half to get things moving faster. The problem is, the main plot is mixed in with so many side stories that it lacks urgency. Being episodic isn’t a problem on its own-Cowboy Bebop proved that an episodic structure can work great when it’s done right-but all the side stories in LWA make the main plot feel sluggish and unfocused. Don’t get me wrong, the side stories were all good on their own and served an important purpose. They let us learn more about the world, helped develop the supporting cast and allowed for a lot of creativity. One of the show’s best episodes was a side story that ended up being a Gurren Lagann homage, and that’s far from the only time the writers got creative with what magic can do. The side stories’ existence isn’t a problem. There’s just too many of them. It feels like there was enough story for 12 episodes, but the staff had to stretch it into 25. While this is an issue, it’s hardly a fatal one. Even if the overall structure isn’t perfect, LWA is never boring and none of the episodes are anywhere near bad. It just would have been better if it had been more focused.

little witch academia.gif

Being a TV show, LWA obviously can’ t live up to the film’s stellar animation, but it still looks pretty good. Trigger’s particular style is apparent from start to finish, and fits the tone of the show perfectly. It’s not the pristine, consistent quality you see in Ufotable or Kyoto Animation productions; it’s more like mid 2000s Gainax, prioritizing style and creativity over consistency or realism. It fits the show well, and adds to the anime’s general sense of fun. At it’s worst, the animation is slightly above average for a TV show and at it’s best, it’s nearly OVA quality.

The soundtrack for LWA is primarily upbeat and exciting, similar to the film. The main heroic theme is the only individual track that stands out, but the music does a good job of complementing the story. Both openings were upbeat pop songs and both were pretty good, although the first was slightly better than the second.

If Little Witch Academia has one problem, it’s that the franchise peaked too early. LWA is stuck in the shadow of the original film, and doesn’t quite live up to it. That said, it’s still a great show that’s well worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the original films.

Little Witch Academia has been licensed by Netflix, but isn’t available for streaming as of this writing.

Final Score: 8.9/10

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