Final Thoughts: Little Witch Academia

In 2013, Trigger dared to save anime and bring joy into our cold dead hearts with the original Little Witch Academia OVA. In 2015, they threatened us with smiles and magic yet again with Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade. In 2017, could they make lightning strike thrice? We share our closing thoughts on Trigger’s latest original anime series.

Gee’s Final Thoughts

Little Witch Academia has always held a special place in my heart. I recognize that at its core, it’s just a flashy little thing with some standout visual flair. Despite being mostly style over substance, I’ve always appreciated just how optimistic and charming it’s been since its debut. In many ways, Little Witch Academia TV can’t quite reach the same heights its OVAs did. Some of that is the realistic difference between the production of a special one-off short film and a serial television series, others are due to the inherently limited scope of the setting itself, which is thoroughly exposed when stretched out to 25 episodes. Overall though, I would say I came away very satisfied with what I got.

Little Witch Academia’s highs are quite high, not just compared to other anime, but even with the OVAs it has to live up to. At its best, LWA TV leans into its strengths and does things the OVAs could never do. The smaller side stories and one-off romps are LWA’s greatest strengths. Could we ever get an episode about Constanze piloting a giant robot if we were restricted to the OVA format? Or how about the silly but exciting broom race? The hilarious but heartwarming journey into Sucy’s mind? Probably not. The setting has an endless number of interesting little stories to be told, but it would be difficult justifying many of them if they required the funding and resources that a standalone OVA does. By exploring these stories, LWA offered a unique insight into its magical world.

Similarly, when running on all cylinders, LWA’s animation was also quite standout. Yoh Yoshinari’s influence is felt everywhere in the show, from the pretty handdrawn effects to the fluidity of the characters compared to the much harsher and frantic animation found when Hiroyuki Imaishi is directing. Speaking of the madman himself, while Imaishi was mostly busy with his unannounced anime, he still managed to fit a couple shots into the show, in all their bold kinetic glory. Takafumi Hori also brings his A-game to LWA, whether it’s his beautiful character animation or his explosive spectacles. Anyone who’s anyone at Trigger brought their best to LWA at least once and it shows.

Alas, when LWA’s running at half mast, it also shows. Some of this is understandable, TV production is much more resource intensive than a one-off OVA, and the budget has to be stretched further. While it never quite reaches Kill la Kill’s level of corner cutting, the latter was also much better at playing with it. Perhaps this is due to LWA’s softer less irreverent tone or Yoshinari not being as aggressively cheeky as Imaishi, but the end result is that it’s obvious when LWA isn’t looking good.

Additionally, while the destination was undoubtedly worth it, the journey was pretty rocky along the way. There’s a version of LWA that’s only 13 episodes, and based on what I watched, I feel like that version might have been a little stronger. There are just a few too many episodes that feel unnecessary or don’t explore anything interesting or new. Akko’s brand of unyielding optimism and foolhardiness can get grating when she’s in the spotlight too long. What made LWA so compelling was not only Akko’s likeable enthusiasm, but how it compared and contrasted to the interesting cast of characters she met. It’s well known that Yoshinari’s favorite character is Diana. In many ways, focusing on Akko and Diana in favor of the rest of her friends proved to be one of LWA’s greatest weaknesses.

Diana is a sufficiently decent foil to Akko in the OVAs by virtue of not overstaying her welcome. But when you’re spending multiple episodes on her, her lack of depth really becomes apparent. Not that any LWA character is particularly deep or multifaceted, but this is manageable thanks to the fairly limited scope of the OVAs. Additionally, as someone who’s always liked Sucy, Lotte, and the B Team, it felt grating to see so many episodes focused on Diana while the rest of Akko’s friends fell into the background. The fact we only got one episode per character and Lotte and Jasminka didn’t get even one episode devoted to them feels like an inherent betrayal of what LWA TV was meant to be. Of course you’re not going to do an OVA about Jasminka, but a TV series is exactly the time to see if there’s any more to a character beyond, “smiles and eats a lot.”

In general, the story could have been more interesting. There’s a potentially fascinating angle to take with Ursula/Chariot’s fall from grace. Or Croix’s melding of technology and magic in an era where magic grows increasingly irrelevant in the public eye. As a result, it’s more the shame that LWA isn’t quite able to stick the landing in that regard. Sins of the father and such is a well-worn trope, and when Trigger tends to be so good at executing familiar ideas in exciting ways, it’s even more apparent when it’s done formulaically. 

In fact, much of Little Witch Academia’s faults probably lie with its actual production schedule. Astute viewers will notice LWA didn’t go on the traditional one cour break that many two cour shows go on. Usually this time is a much needed chance for studios to recover their strength as well as spend that time ironing out any kinks in the story, animation, and overall production. However, LWA was being produced by Netflix, which introduced some unfortunate wrinkles into this. The most glaring of course is Netflix’s publishing style, which is to air a show in its entirety, allowing viewers to binge watch. While this can work with Western production methods, it runs counter to how Japan handles production. By asking for a full finished 25 episode series, Netflix needed the show to be finished as soon as possible. As a result, Trigger was forced to forego that usual break and finish it all in one unbroken run. Watching the show week to week, it’s pretty apparent that many of LWA’s underlying issues could have been addressed with the extra time. Unfortunately, that version of LWA doesn’t exist, so we’re left with the one we have. I can only hope that either Netflix will learn from this and make some effort to work with Japanese studios in a more cooperative manner, or that Trigger just stop working with Netflix entirely.

And yet in spite of all that, Little Witch Academia is still probably my favorite anime of the season. When it shines, it sparkles. When it flies, it soars. While there’s nothing inherently unique about it, within the context of what most anime do, LWA is a very special show. For all I complained in the past few paragraphs about its production issues or narrative flaws, when it hits, it hits hard. Akko’s face to face with Ursula now that she knows her teacher is also her childhood idol is maybe one of the most heartwarming scenes I’ve watched all year. The way the evil magic missile twisted and turned as Akko frantically dodged through it was so exciting. I pumped my fist as the world came together to cheer her on. I laughed and cheered when Akko literally destroyed the final boss and it exploded into a wave of pure joy, love, and hope.

In general, the final episode proved just how much a good finale can save a show. Like Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann, the former Gainax crew proved they still have the winning formula for how to make a fun and compelling finisher. In a perfect world, the journey is just as good as the destination, but when the destination is as good as it was, it becomes a lot easier to forgive the few episodes that preceded it.

In fact, that would probably describe my general feelings on Little Witch Academia as a whole. Is it as singularly excellent as the two OVAs it had to live up to? Probably not. But does it do fun interesting things with the formula those OVAs couldn’t have accomplished? Definitely. And despite those flaws, did Little Witch Academia succeed at communicating the optimistic ideals and charming enthusiasm that defined its reputation? Most certainly.

It’s not a perfect show by any means, but Little Witch Academia brought its absolute best when it mattered. Like Akko, it’s a little rough around the edges and frankly a little annoying at times, but at the end of the day, it’s just so damn charming and honest about itself that I can’t help but believe in it. It’s earned its spot with the rest of Trigger’s fine original work.

Iro’s Final Thoughts

I personally think that The Enchanted Parade is the best work Trigger has ever done to date, meaning that this show had some hella big shoes to fill. The new weekly format meant each episode would be nowhere near the visual heights of the OVAs, but the hope was that LWA TV would carry on their heart, the fun and charm we expect from the title, only spread across weeks. Other than such a vague expectation, I’m not really sure what I wanted from this, only that I both got it and didn’t.

A full series means they can have a meta-plot, a thread to carry over the whole season. The quest for the Words easily fulfills that role, but LWA focuses too heavily on such things, particularly once Croix appears and gives the audience an obviously villainous presence. Is her dark past with Chariot important to Little Witch Academia, the show about magic’s decline and an increasingly cynical world? Of course. Is it important to Little Witch Academia, the show about girls at witch school? Not as much, and I think the latter is all I ever actually wanted out of this.

The episodes we all look back on are the one-offs, allowed to be goofy, fun, charming, and done within 20 minutes: the broomstick race, journey to the center of Sucy, Constanze’s Wild Hunt feat. Gurren Lagann. Final exams, the school festival, the NightFall convention. Little Witch Academia (and Trigger in general) borrows so much from Western cartoons, and I find myself thinking back to a time where I watched Dexter’s Lab or Fairly-Odd Parents, where each full episode contained multiple self-contained shorts, eight to ten minutes long. I wonder if LWA would have worked better in this format, with maybe a “full” episode or two at the end to wrap things up. Alas, I’m not sure how feasible that would have been from a production standpoint, seeing as how it felt like Trigger was always shorthanded.

With some rough edges and a downright dull middle, Little Witch Academia TV can’t shine as brightly as its first two ventures. But that beautiful core is still there, surfacing when it really needs to, and I look back on the show fondly for that. Here’s to Trigger’s next original.

One thought on “Final Thoughts: Little Witch Academia

  1. You pretty much nailed how I feel about Diana in this series. I feel like Trigger tried to make her more sympathetic, but robbed her of a lot of the same charm she had in the OVAs. OVA Diana was at least a talented but overconfident teenager, but TV Diana doesn’t seem to have these issues at all–instead being sad and reserved yet absurdly hypercompetent at everything.
    As I recall, Hori has said that their production schedule was hell and they’d have to rethink how they handled future series if they go this route. So they seem to be aware of the problem at least.

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