Believing in Yourself is Your Magic!
Little Witch Academia is an anime that came out of Studio Trigger after the release of two popular OVA’s. Announced during the airing of Space Patrol Luluco (I recommend that by the way) back in Spring 2016, I was pretty excited for a full series. The OVA’s were very fun and the world of witches seemed inviting. Did the TV anime manage to woo me with its magic and positive messages or was it a disappointment? Read on to find out!
First let’s start with a little background on the OVA’s. The very first one was only 26 minutes in length and titled Little Witch Academia. It came out of the 2012 Young Animator Training Project, something that had been initiated by the Japanese government in 2010. Other titles were not met with as much acclaim as Little Witch Academia, especially not internationally.
With an overwhelming amount of success from this first project, Trigger started a Kickstarter up in order to fund a sequel. This ended up doing very well, exceeding the funding goal requirements. In 2015 the sequel, Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade, spearheaded by director You Yoshinari, was released. While not quite as positively received as the first entry by fans, nonetheless, people were clamoring for a full length television anime featuring the lovable young witches Akko, Lotte, and Sucy.
This is where the story begins for me. I had held off on watching either title, despite them being on Netflix, until the conclusion of Space Patrol Luluco which formally announced the TV anime of Little Witch everybody had been waiting for. I figured I should at least check it out.
Of the two OVA’s, the first one was definitely weaker for me. While it does introduce the aspiration that Akko has to become like her idol Shiny Chariot, it never really managed to capture me outside of its opening moments. This isn’t really the OVA’s fault, I mean it is a short after all, but it did suffer from not having enough time to fully explore its ideas.
Naturally, I watched the second OVA which was longer at 53 minutes, and enjoyed things a lot more. This time there was more room for exploring the ideas that the first OVA had set out to do. I also found this one to be a lot more enjoyable. It was like watching a solid episode of a slice-of-life show with a bit of magical whimsy thrown in. There was humor and some drama too. Not perfect mind you, but it got me really looking forward to the Netflix release of the TV anime.
Finally, in 2017 the TV version of Little Witch finally came out! However… the release outside of Japan was a jumbled mess. The first half of the series came out as expected but Netflix withheld the second half of the series for whatever reason (despite the whole production already being finished and available elsewhere) until sometime later in the year (forgive me, I can’t recall exactly when or for how long). While reception was rather positive for the first half, a lot of the excitement and buzz died soon after.
With the flashy appeal of seasonal anime and the ever dwindling amount of free time for watching anime people had, it wasn’t surprising that people weren’t coming back to Little Witch. I had decided to hold off altogether until everything was available, but still had a hard time getting around to watching this. It was back on my radar once the “L” round of Anime ABC’s came around, and it just so happened to win so I had to watch it. If it weren’t for that, I might have just missed the ship entirely.
This isn’t because I didn’t want to watch it, but in 2017 I too got caught up in the seasonal bug to some degree. It was hard to find the extra time between University, my job, the site, and later finding new work. Sometimes you just need to watch stuff that isn’t coming out right now. Doesn’t matter what it is really, but mixing the old with the new is never a bad idea. So with that, I can finally begin to express my thoughts on Little Witch and if it was worth the wait.
The TV Anime of Little Witch
When watching the very first episode I actually thought I was watching the OVA’s. It had been nearly a year since I had seen them but everything felt hauntingly familiar. A sort of déjà vu. The only thing that gave away the fact that I wasn’t watching the OVA’s was the considerably upgraded animation. It was what I had been expecting.
There were some minor changes from the OVA’s in the cast’s composition. All of the characters are still there but you are primarily going to see a lot of Akko, Sucy, Diana, and Lotte. Girls like Jasminka are relegated to the supporting cast. You’ll still see them but not always as much. There is an exception to this in Amanda and Professor Ursula in particular. It may be a bit jarring if you’ve seen the OVA’s, I know it confused me a bit, so it is something to keep in mind before watching.
While the initial episodes were pretty great, I had a lot of problems with the shows. Despite enjoying things at the start, I couldn’t help but feel irked by glaring issues. On top of that, a feeling of boredom started to creep in. With that let’s walk through all my grievances with this show one by one.
Akko is an Unlikable Protagonist
Akko is the kind of character I don’t want to see fail, her dream is totally worth pursuing and something I can support. The problem lies in her character. When we first meet Akko she is energetic, outgoing, and bad at magic. Well, really, she’s kind of bad at everything. While it is true that we get to see her working hard at mastering spells in the early episodes, she also is always looking for shortcuts. When she isn’t doing that, she is acting on impulse and usually messing things up for others.
This makes Akko a pretty unlikable protagonist. I never out right felt like I just wanted to see her fail but I wasn’t cheering for her success either. If anything, I was pretty indifferent to her. That’s a huge problem for Little Witch since the show clearly wants you to in her corner.
Perhaps the biggest sin in Akko’s character is best seen with the introduction of Diana Cavendish, Akko’s foil. Diana is the best at magic, very responsible, and most importantly, extraordinarily hardworking. For the first half of the show, she’s painted as the villain though. As the series progresses, Akko learns about Diana’s history but still treats her like a bad guy.
There is a whole episode where a magic mirror changes Akko’s appearance so she looks like Diana. She gets to see how she lives and supposedly “learns to respect” how hard Diana works. However, by the end of the episode, Akko doesn’t learn anything. They end up giving Diana three different character episodes and it isn’t really until the third one where Akko finally ends up acknowledging how Diana has earned everything she has.
At the end of the day, I cared more about literally every other character more than Akko. She’s got a great character design, her voice actress does a great job, but her character is so abundantly flawed that I just couldn’t back her. I love that she’s striving for this great goal and the ultimate messages that the show delivers through her, I just wish I could like her character too.
Exposition & Plot Convenience
If Akko were the only problem with the show, I wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed with the experience as I am. The narrative is also riddled with problems. The most immediately obvious is the amount of exposition dumping and McGuffin plot convenience nonsense that Little Witch relies heavily on.
Didn’t you know about all of this complex witch history? Oh I can’t believe you don’t know about this aspect of witch culture! How could you forget that some spells work one way and others another? Nearly every episode is like this and it is just ridiculous. It’s one thing to dump some of this exposition in once in order to get the plot moving but for almost the entire runtime is just absurd.
If Little Witch wasn’t dumping gobs of information of you it was “quietly” excusing its plot through the heaps of convenience. It isn’t like MMO Junkie which relied a lot on coincidence, something that was tolerable. What this anime does is obnoxious. Here are a few examples:
- The episode where the stone that powers the school suddenly has an energy limit.
- Sometimes you can use magic outside of school, other times you can’t (there is an attempt to explain this but it never really followed its own established logic).
- Spells require a verbal component. No wait, you just flick a wand about. No… you actually just think it. Oh, never mind, this one…
- You’ve been a fish once, so now you can talk to fish because the episode requires it.
Some of these examples are a bit nit-picky and were just the examples that sprang to mind after a few weeks of not having seen it, but stuff like this happened constantly. You may notice that a lot of what I described above have to do with the magic system. It has no rules, it works however the episode needs things to work.
The example that comes to mind is actually pretty early in when Akko is having a hard time with ridding a broom. She can’t. Diana’s Mean Girls squad show up and cast a spell with verbal components to put training wheels and childish bits on the broom. It is supposed to be funny, and it is, but this demonstrates an issue the show has in that its internal logic is pretty inconsistent when it comes to the magic system here.
I’m not even one to care that much about magic systems but it is so transparent that Little Witch just doesn’t even care about how or why anything works the way it does that it bothered me. This might be ok if I liked the characters or thought the story was good but…
The Story is Overly Predictable & Boring
What I had expected out of the Little Witch anime was a slice-of-life show with positive messages that expanded on what the OVA’s did. For the first couple of episodes I got this. While it wasn’t necessarily that great, it was delivering on what I expected. This pretty quickly gets thrown out the window though.
Little Witch tries to throw in twists and turns in order to keep the show fresh and interesting. The thing is though, everything in this show is so straight forward and obvious. Even when it gets ridiculous in the final act, everything plays out exactly as expected. Let’s run through a few examples though.
Perhaps the most relevant one is who Chariot is. I had pegged this episode one, it was that obvious. The anime likes to think that this is a pretty big mystery that has eons of build up. When you finally get the reveal, the show meanders about because “Chariot” just won’t talk to Akko.
Actually, this is a HUGE problem with the whole story. Chariot causes literally all of the problems. She doesn’t tell Akko critically important information because…? Later it is assumed to be because she feels guilty about something she accidently did to Akko when she was a kid but nothing in the last act would have occurred had people just communicated with each other.
Speaking of, the last act is absurd. A new teacher shows up about half way through and she seems amazing. Teaching magic in a modern context with technology (apparently a super bad taboo but the school hired her anyway). Guess who the bad guy is? The second she was on screen it was that obvious.
That only adds to how predictable, and consequently, how boring Little Witch is. Despite having some fun and creative episodes (of which I haven’t spoken of yet but we will get to), the fact that I called literally every aspect of the show long before anything happened really hurt it. Remember, this isn’t the only problem so it just becomes a compounding issue. This brings me to my next point though.
I Heard You Like Gurren Lagann
Trigger seems to really like to reference Gainax projects when they can. I don’t blame them given their history. Usually it is pretty fun! However, Little Witch becomes Gurren Lagann at some point. There is an episode all about Akko helping Constanze (the unequivocal best girl) with some event. This episode pays homage to TTGL and is kind of fun. That isn’t what I mean.
I’m referring to the ridiculousness. That works well in Gurren Lagann but not here. What was a show about becoming your own person and self-betterment, becomes about international politics and war. For some reason, politics are greatly impacted by soccer matches and the new baddy decides to invent some technology that is powered by negative human emotion. So of course she makes things worse on purpose. This leads to an actual war to nearly break out.
In the final act, this magic poses a missile and launches itself at the “other country.” This is all in the efforts to encourage a full scale nuclear war to maximize human suffering so this magical entity can become stronger. I mean, this isn’t tossing galaxies around but it is so far removed from what the show sets out to do at the start that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. There is absolutely no way to take this seriously and is a massive betrayal for what you the viewer are promised when starting the show up.
To be fair, you still do get some of what you are promised when you first start. However, the show warps so far beyond anything that even makes sense that the main goal of the series becomes completely lost. Little Witch consumes itself by placing so much weight on this political intrigue plot that everything else becomes secondary. It isn’t a means to an end, it just overshadows everything else instead.
Technology Vs. Tradition
I’ve been tiptoeing around this particular topic because it is pretty baffling. Little Witch has a lot of messages, most of which are positive but there was one that felt super out of place: technology/progress is evil.
You get glimpses of this pretty early when everybody proclaims that magic serves no purpose in this world anymore. Science rules the day apparently. This statement literally makes no sense. Countless times you see how magic can do numerous things that science simply cannot. On top of this, Luna Nova is very adamantly against technology and everything is fueled by magic and tradition.
Akko comes and bucks the trend when it comes to the tradition department and it kind of seems like the anime suggests that traditional magic and science could work together. This idea is enhanced when Croix is introduced. However, the reason the missile incident even occurs is due to the marriage of magic and science that disregards tradition.
It’s a weird message. Ultimately tradition (aka magic) wins the day. Science is clearly the bad guy here. Now I know the ultimate message is that by believing in yourself, and with the help of others, you can change the world but it comes with a caveat. You can only make a positive difference by observing tradition and not relying on modern conveniences granted by technology. I’m not sure this was even intentional, but by the end it is so anti-progress in what it portrays that it really feels like it was.
Since I was watching The Ancient Magus’ Bride while watching this, I couldn’t help but notice how shoddy Little Witch was in comparison. The two shows share a lot of similar messages, explore magic in a modern context, while offering a sense of magical whimsy with a great cast (overall). The difference is that Magus’ Bride does a better job.
This is mostly due to the fact that Magus’ Bride is more focused. It takes its time to properly explain things and explore its world. The characters are often more interesting and well put together as well. In addition to this, Chise is a likeable protagonist who I want to root for. Even though this show is still ongoing (at the time of writing at least) it has done more for me than Little Witch could have even dreamt to.
This isn’t to say that Magus’ Bride is perfect. It isn’t. However, since I was able to compare these two shows I couldn’t help but realize that Little Witch just couldn’t deliver what I wanted. Everything I expected from Little Witch was offered in Magus’ Bride and it was almost always done better there. At the end of the day, I feel like I wasted my time with Little Witch which is a real shame since it should have been something I enjoyed quite a lot.
What are your thoughts on Little Witch? Let me know in the comments below. This article is dedicated to Sam C. who is a long-time Patreon supporter of mine. Consider joining him and showing your support for the site as well. For full details, just click the button below. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again soon!