Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

Little Witch Academia – 14

The Gist: Luna Nova’s faeries form a workers union and go on strike. This is due to the very meager amount of life-giving magic energy shared with them by the school but the school cannot afford to give them more. Magic is fading from the world, after all.

An angry Akko attempts to break up the union but manages to be swayed by their argument. So much so that the faeries make her the union’s general secretary, which leads to a great scene where Akko shuts down Diana with chants of ‘Aristocrat.’ Also, the faeries seal off the philosopher’s stone, which shuts off everyone’s ability to cast magic.

Enter Professor Croix on a flying Roomba, who will teach modern magic and has begun integrating magic and technology, and is most definitely not secretly behind the strike, with her robots nor her need to get the school to buy into her research program. Her program, Sorcery Solution System, can fix the dwindling magic issues for everyone, and does, for now…

The Good: This week was full of clever details and subtle humor. From Croix’s flying roombas being the ‘evolution’ of brooms, to the headmistress’ “Oh my, what a textbook downward trend” response to a magic PowerPoint presentation, to the Shooting Star being featured on the back of Akko’s newspaper again, the world and the people in it all get a great deal of building up. (and it’s funny and charming to boot)

It’s also interesting to see parallels between Akko x Diana and Ursula x Croix, and to play with Akko being quite taken with Croix, and still unaware that Ursula is actually Chariot, the one witch Akko would align with most strongly in the world. (But may no longer, since Ursula has cocked up revealing the destiny plot for so long)

The Meh: The new opening credits sequence is clunky. It presents the Akko x Diana conflict and future Croix x Ursula conflict way too obviously, with little visual flair and forgettable music.

It’s also jarring to introduce a central villain in the second season of a show and, while that villain mirrors other themes established in the first season (magic’s inability to adapt to a technological era), it’s just so out of left field. (“Oh here’s the new teacher” is literally quipped by the headmistress.) More over, the ‘tragedy’ of Ursula not being able to tell Akko about her destiny comes off as hamfisted McShakespeare.

The Verdict: Little Witch Academia is the Anakin Skywalker of Anime. It’s the theoretical perfect storm of natural talent, it plugs into something we want to see more of (anything from Trigger) but the production around it is constructed with such a solid lack of common sense and competent story telling that you could often be excused for thinking you could write something better.

Will it go Darth Vader and kill all its younglings, or will it stay focused and never give me a reason to use a clunky Star Wars metaphor again? Only time will tell!

Little Witch Academia – 13

The Gist: The Samhain Festival is quickly approaching and Team Akko can not escape their fate as sacrifices to the sorrowful ghost Vajarois…and Sucy and Lotte can not escape the feeling that Akko’s plan to make that sacrifice more fun, is just a lot of wasted effort.

However, things begin to turn around when Diana’s lackeys Hannah and Barbara pull Akko aside and chew her out for the ‘trick’ she played on her. While making fun of Akko’s place in life, they go out of their way to throw shade at Lotte’s lack of presence and Sucy’s creepiness…while those two are within earshot in the hall. And why not? Team Akko isn’t anything but the laughable leftover losers in their eyes, and in the eyes of much the rest of the school.

The Samhain Festival gets underway and it becomes quickly apparent that the guest witches’ opinion of Luna Nova isn’t much better than Andrew’s muggle father’s. The traditional events largely bore them, or are done incorrectly like the bubbling pot that spits slime at them or the dancing flower that eats one of the girls casting the spell.

Curiously, the guest witches heap much of their criticism at the feet of Luna Nova’s Grand Mistress, Miranda Holbrooke. This struck me as a bit strange, only because Holbrooke has come off as stodgy as Professors’ Badcock and Finneran (At least, she had until Akko had raised her father from the dead a few episodes ago). Regardless, the visiting witches don’t give any examples of why Holbrooke’s management has been deficient, though she certainly lets Team Akko run with their tradition breaking idea—going so far as to restrain the other professors from interfering.

Speaking of Team Akko, with an energized Sucy and Lotte now by her side, Akko puts on a slapsticky ‘Sacrifice Show’ for Vajarois and the guest witches. While many of the laughs are at Akko, whose magic transformations teeter on the edge of failure, the crowd is laughing and, eventually, the trio manages to lift Vajarois’ curse in a fantastic display of light and pleasure.

The emotion of it all even reaches Diana, who can’t wrap her head around what she’s seeing, and who she’s seeing do it. More interestingly, she’s shocked to learn that Akko’s group isn’t even allowed to qualify for “Moonlit Witch,” because they broke the rules, in spite of creating a good and unexpected result appreciated by all in attendance, including the dissipating ghost herself…

Thankfully, winning “Moonlit Witch” was never really the point for Akko. As much as she said otherwise, all she wanted was to do some magic that other people thought was fun, and to do it with her friends.

Confronting traditions seems to be the major theme this week. That, and that witches are overly focused on magic without practical application, and don’t appreciate that practical application is needed in their world, and needed to justify them to the non-magical world.

Like AkkoAmanda, Jasminka and Constanze put on a great show of skill cleaning up after the failures of the traditional performances and, like Akko, that trio is payed no mind at all because of their place in life (magical janitors).

Even Diana’s masterful performance rings a bit hollow, as summoning a magic unicorn doesn’t serve a practical application in comparison. Diana hasn’t made that exact connection yet, but it will be interesting to see if she carries more respect for Akko and the others into future episodes. Because she was impressed, even just for the magic’s sake, this time around.

The Verdict: LWA has re-tightened it’s grip on my heart these past few weeks. Putting aside the lackluster episodes that weakened that grip mid-season, LWA knows how to charm with western style slapstick (Sucy’s casual pointing as Team Akko plummets to the ground is pure Bugs Bunny) and simple power of friendship themes.

The battle against tradition is an interesting focus as well. Consider how strange it is that Luna Nova has had the ability to lift Vajarois‘ curse for ages—right there on the shelf—but none of the witches have bothered to investigate, let alone try it out. Its little wonder that a baffoon like Akko is needed to shake up their world.

How this all plays into Chariot’s secret identity and the greater magic words plot, who knows? (I didn’t see Akko unlock another word this time out) Regardless, it moved the characters along, the world along, and was a hoot to watch throughout!

Little Witch Academia – 12

I’m pleased to report that this week’s LWA did not squander the goodwill earned in last week’s exemplary outing, as there is now a significant event at Luna Nova, the Samhain Festival, which will take us to the halfway point.

Akko knows that Chariot was named “Moonlit Witch” at her Samhain Festival, so naturally wants to pull off the same honor. She doesn’t accept the “sacrifice” duty she drew from lots, and her friends’ discouraging (if realistic) words only make her more mad, so she storms out of her dorm.

She happens upon an exchange between Committee Chairman Diana and some students who have collected some mirrors for their duty. The one Diana recommends is a “prankster” variety that, when Akko looks in it, gives her Diana’s form and voice.

Some decent comedy ensues, with every passerby asking Diana for help, including her two groupies, who Akko decides to pull a prank on by telling them they’re cursed, drawing on their faces, and leaving them in the courtyard all day and night. I’d say that’s harsh, but these girls have been asking for her wrath, and they get it here.

But thankfully, while masquerading as Diana, Akko learns a little bit more about her rival, specifically, that Diana doesn’t take her status and pedigree for granted. She works very very hard, and juggles many many responsibilities. She and Akko are also after the same thing: making the world a better place for magic again.

Akko-Diana is found out by the real Diana while trying in vain to cast a life-breathing spell on a giant statue of Jessica. Diana not only takes care of the statue, but returns Akko to her normal form. She also mentions that Akko skipped out on her meeting with her, Lotte and Sucy for her sacrifice duty.

Diana chastises Akko (and rightly so) for making big bold claims without anything to back it up, wanting to excel as a witch without putting in any of the necessary hard work, and pitching hissy-fits whenever she doesn’t immediately get her way. Akko’s only comeback is yet another big bold, baseless claim: that she and not Diana will be Moonlit Witch at Samhain.

But later, while reflecting on her own, Akko regrets those words and laments the reality: her chances of fulfilling her claim are pretty much zero, in the face of Diana’s talent, bloodline, and work ethic.

Chari-err…Ursula, who promised her mentor she’d aid Akko in the quest to revive the seven words, tells Akko what she thinks Chariot would do: only what she can do, and not compare herself to others.

When Ursula leaves her, the Shiny Rod lights up and directs Akko back to the Fountain of Polaris. This time, Akko asks it what only she can do, and she’s shown someone’s memory of talking to a younger Chariot as she’s practicing various amazing transformation magics.

But what strikes Akko about this memory, is how joyful Chariot seems as she’s performing her magic, and that it doesn’t at all look like she’s training to win the Moonlit Witch contest, but merely honing the magic that interests her; doing only what she can do. A light bulb goes off in Akko’s head: now she knows what only she can do…though she isn’t so kind as to tell us.

We’ll just have to find out what that is, and whether it helps her chances at Moonlit Witch, next week, when the Samhain Festival begins in earnest. We’ll also see if Akko manages to escape sacrifice duty.

Little Witch Academia – 11

Finally, finally LWA stops spinning its wheels with skeleton chases and fancy balls and throws us some juicy story meat, revealing the role Akko will play (or rather, is playing) in reversing the accelerating decline in magic throughout the world.

The reason Charior is so intent on helping Akko isn’t out of regard for her biggest fan: it’s because she believes Akko could be the witch to stem the tide of magical oblivion. Of course, Akko still doesn’t know Ursula is Chariot, and it stays that way, but Ursula still relays a very Chariotesque saying: “That which is dreamed cannot be grasped, but work towards it, day after day, and you will find it in your hands.” 

She’s telling Akko not to be so focused on the future and her ultimate dream—to become an amazing witch like Chariot—and instead focus on the extremely hard day-to-day work that’s needed just to become a competent witch. And Akko has been working harder, with Ursula giving her after-school lessons every day for a month.

By mentioning the blue moon, Ursula probably did not intend to send Akko digging through her trading cards, finding one that references a “blue moon apparition” in the bowels of Luna Nova—but that’s where Akko goes, when the moon is high, notably without Lotte and Sucy tagging along.

Akko’s journey deeper into the abyss is a return to the sense of awe and wonder I got from earlier LWA episodes. Watching Akko continue to move forward even in the midst of terrifying stone witches (and even a false Chariot trying to discourage her), earned her back some serious likability points in my book.

As she explores deep below the school, Diana searches the towering shelves of Luna Nova’s deep archive on her broom. The same blue moon that guides Akko also shows Diana the book related to the quest Akko doesn’t even know she’s already on: the unlocking of something called the Arcturus using seven words to unseal the “Grand Triskelion” that will “change the world.”

I can forgive Diana’s largely expository role because the archive is so cool-looking. As for the seven words, Akko unwittingly revived the first when she opened the portal to Luna Nova back in the first episode. This week she unwittingly reives the second.

She does so by rejecting the future the “blue moon apparition” offers to her, for the low, low price of, oh, her entire past, including memories of everyone she’s known, even Chariot, as well as all the mistakes she’s learned from.

She’d rather achieve that future on her own rather than taking a shortcut, and by saying the magic words that translate into Ursula’s words (about “that which is dreamed” being attained through day-to-day toil), she not only turns the Shiny Rod into an axe but uses it to free the apparition from the wood to reveal a beautiful otherworldly woman.

That woman is Woodward, the professor who inspired Chariot when she was a student at Luna Nova. Woodward was testing Akko, and for once, she passed: the second of seven words has been revived.

What happens when the remaining five words are revived? The Shiny Rod, AKA Claiomh Solais, will break the seal of Arcturus and release the Grand Triskelion, which will “change the world,” presumably for the better as far as witches and magic goes.

In a way, this episode felt like a seal had been broken, not only unveiling the overarching plot and indicating a clear path for Akko, but restoring the show’s wondrous atmosphere, was well as my faith in it going forward. For now, at least, my concerns have been nicely allayed.

Little Witch Academia – 02

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LWA’s first episode promises Akko has what it takes to be a witch, and possibly a good one, by summoning the power to save her new friends from a wild Cockatrice and transport everyone safely to school.

But not so fast…the next morning Akko can’t seem to get the Shiny Rod to do anything, and her first day of exciting classes turn out to be nothing but lecture after interminable lecture. Whether it’s a student using a small spell to keep potions away, to Sucy stealthily turning Akko’s hair into a plant, I love this kind of magic school minutiae.

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One person who stands out in every class is Diana Cavendish (of the 1,500-year-old Cavendish Family), who is believed to be the finest which of her generation, and the best to ever attend Luna Nova. I’m thinking Granger ability in a Malfoy package.

Yet while she’s undeniably talented, and a little aloof, she doesn’t come off as your typical stuck-up aristocratic jerk who needlessly harasses our heroine Akko. Indeed, she seems to follow the ideal standard of noblesse oblige: she’s polite and respectful, but isn’t afraid to tell what she believes to be a harsh truth: that Shiny Chariot isn’t all Akko makes her out to be.

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Diana also indulges Akko’s desire to show her what Chariot’s Shiny Rod can do, and waits patiently for Akko to do…something, anything. But the Shiny Rod just won’t cooperate. When it’s Diana’s turn to demonstrate her power, she does so, doing what Akko tried to do and make the statue in the courtyard not only move (in an awesomely trippy sequence that may have only happened in poor Akko’s head) but pluck that plant from Akko’s head, restoring her ponytail.

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What with all the talk of Shiny Chariot once being a pretty popular name in “performance witch” circles, no one’s seen nor heard from her in ten years…because she’s most likely assumed the identity of Professor Ursula, whom it was hinted last week could be Akko’s muse.

Considering her interest in Akko, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ursula/Chariot is trying to groom a replacement from the shadows, even bequeathing to Akko the Shiny Rod that served her so well…at least for a time. That being said, if Diana and her admirers represent the average opinion on the matter, it would seem that entertaining masses of muggles isn’t the most respected profession in the magical world.

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Still, there’s every indication the magical political spectrum is as wide and diverse as the non-magical one, with Diana Cavendish insisting (and being able to back up) that “magic is cultivated through the accumulation of lasting traditions and assiduous research,” basically the opposite of Shiny Chariot’s “A believing heart is your magic” credo.

It’s almost science vs. faith! Akko’s faith in Chariot and the power of the Rod summoned the magic necessary to save her, Sucy and Lotte. Then again, there’s a science to her “assiduous research” of the Chariot collector cards and their effects. Her “lasting tradition” is the tradition of fandom.

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This week, that lovingly-cultivated and maintained fandom comes in handy, just as her believing heart did so last week. Diana shows she’s still young and not perfect when in her hubris she believes she can singlehandedly restore the old Jennifer Memorial Tree none of the professors can diagnose.

She releases a powerful spell that indeed revitalizes the tree, but also strange glowing orbs she assumes are parasites to be exterminated. But they’re not pests; they’re chrysalises containing Papilliodya, which emerge only once every 120 years (or only a dozen times in the entire history of the Cavendish Family).

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Diana is ready to take out every one, but Akko stops her, even taking a direct hit that stuns but does not disable her. Akko casts the spell on the trading card, and thousands of magic butterflies are able to take flight for the five continents, resulting in a stunning display that inspires hope in all who behold them.

When the professors see the restored tree, both they and Diana’s toadies shower her with praise, but Diana, again displaying signs of a healthy conscience, tries to insist it wasn’t her who made it happen, running off before giving Akko the credit. I like to think Diana saw a teensy bit of promise in, and respect for, Akko, despite their very different magical ideologies.

As for LWA, it continues to impress with its eye-grabbing visuals, lean, nimble character design, surprisingly complex characters, lush action, and optimistic outlook – the very definition of must-watch.

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P.S. We already knew the OP was great, as we saw it as the ED last week. Now we see the proper ED, and it’s great too. Both feature memorable pieces of music that don’t try too hard.

Little Witch Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: After being inspired from a young age to become a witch like her idol Chariot, Kagari Atsuko, AKA Akko, enrolls at the magical Luna Nova Academy, meeting a standoffish fellow classmate, Sucy, along the way. Her journey hits a snag when she learns she needs a broom, and when she attempts to share a ride with a second classmate, Lotte, they end up going out of control in the ley lines landing in the forbidden Arcturus forest.

Sucy uses them as bait so she can pluck a cockatrice feather, and in the ensuing chase, a determined Akko summons Chariot’s “Shiny Rod” and uses it to speed Sucy, Lotte, and herself to Luna Nova in the middle of orientation. They later learn they’ll be roommates at the school.

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You Should Definitely Watch LWA because it’s gorgeous and immensely fun, and its first episode is a wonderful introduction both to Akko, the kind of tough, perservering girl she is, and the magical, whimsical world she’s gotten herself into. The show wastes no time subverting any expectations Akko’s trip to orientation will go smoothly.

Since this is my first exposure to the franchise, what it reminded me most of was, of course, Harry Potter, especially the stuck-up witches complaining about their academy admitting students who aren’t of pure blood (i.e. muggle-born). Akko is a perfect heroine, not too perfect, but has all the intangibles one needs to go far, including an unswerving faith that she’ll be able to fulfill her dreams.

It also reminds me, in a good way, of one of my favorite films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, if Kiki started out less well-versed in magic.

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As far as why you shouldn’t watch, well…what the heck is wrong with you, you monster?!? Seriously though, if you’re not a fan of Trigger’s Gainax-esque animation style (similar to Kill la Kill, but a lot less abstract and more focused here) or character design, you may find this a hard watch.

You may also just not into magical school anime, though the title should be a pretty good warning for such people to keep away. And of course, if you are very well-versed in LWA lore, perhaps you just don’t like the cut of this new adaptation’s jib. Again, I wouldn’t know.

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The Verdict: LWA is my first, and possibly only, truly Must Watch premiere of Winter 2017, joining Zane with his fine rakugo sequel. LWA sports heaps of heart without getting cheesy, exciting thrills without getting gory, and an overarching buoyant warmth and optimism that is lacking in so much anime these days, and thankfully isn’t undone in the closing moments by someone’s evil smirk or a Dun-dun-DUNNN.

It’s also less “kiddy” looking than My Hero Academia, and miles better-looking and sounding. Most of all, I’m looking forward to episode two more than anything else on TV, as Akko & Co. officially begin their training after an immensely entertaining introduction. If any of this sounds good, then take my recommendation and watch at once.

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