Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Little Witch Academia – 25 (Fin)

Ya know, I re-read my review of last week’s episode, and started watching the finale form the same jaded viewpoint, until I said nah, “let’s just have some fun watching this play out,” not worrying about how much the finale owes to Gurren Lagann (just like Trigger’s aesthetic is basically Neue Gainax) or how crazy positive everything gets towards the end.

Say what you will about Trigger, at least—unlike the Evangelion film—series, LWA got an actual ending! And it’s one in which Akko finally takes charge and her words—combined with the believing hearts of all around her—are finally backed up by similarly lofty action.

Those like a version of myself that thinks the ending got too “cute”, may I direct you to the name of this show, which contains the words “little witch”? So yeah, I lightened up, sat back, and enjoyed it when Chariot and Croix gave the six girls their “final battle” outfits, and one by one the secondary trio falls off the mega-brom like stages of a rocket after expelling all their magic.

Eventually it’s just Akko and Diana, the ultimate demonstration of what is possible when airs are dropped and people come to understand each other. They’re fighting an evil, “magic creature”-ified ICBM that can basically do…er, whatever they feel like drawing it doing.

Needless to say, this is quite entertaining to the crowds, suddenly distracted from the fact nuclear war might have been started by one of the rival countries. The crowds start organically rooting for the two witches in the sky, being streamed online due to…something, and then goes superviral when Croix transmits the feed to the world.

The really boring, annoying old white dudes initially have a problem with these witches and it’s even suggested shooting them down, but Andrew, like the crowds, has come to believe in Akko and in witches and magic, (despite his fervent anti-magite upbringing).

Drew’s argument gains the endorsement of the prime minister, who’s a little person like the King in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, only he actually has all the power. Mr. Mustache is quickly cowed by the political chain of command.

Imbued with the positive vibes of their collected audience, Akko and Diana suddenly have a lot of surplus magic to work with, and Akko doesn’t waste it, as we get a visually arresting scene of their aerial battle in which complicated spells are flying left and right like the Siege of Hogwarts.

It’s frankly quite satisfying to finally see Akko put her money where her mouth has been all this time. She’s worked hard and gone through some things, and this is the fruit of her labor, as well as the fruit of the bonds she’s formed with her friends, including Chariot.

Heck, she even summons the legendary broom and saves Diana from falling. Diana! And she looks damn good doing all this in her “final battle” dress whites.

Eventually, it’s time for Akko and Diana to put their powers together, hold hands and point the Shiny Rod at the camera as they stare a hole in said camera, and shout GIGA DRILL BREAKER!!! (okay not those exact words, but something like that) at the top of their lungs, tearing the ICBM monster a new one.

Could I have done without the explosion becoming a smiley face that giggles like a little kid? Oh yeah…but whatevs. Akko finally proved not only that her believing heart is her magic, but everyone’s is…if that makes sense? Whatever, the soccer riots are now over, so it’s all’s well that ends well!

All that was left was to see Akko finally take off on a broom…without the aid of the Shiny Rod (which she allowed to disperse and for the stars to return to space and become the Great Bear). And…she fails, again.

Only, when Sucy and Lotte cheer her on and deliver that believing heart spiel, she’s suddenly laughing and joyful and hey presto she’s levitating all on her own! The damage Chariot did, it would seem, wasn’t permanent.

Also, Croix ends up in jail where she belongs…oh wait, no she doesn’t! She’s allowed to go out, fix the messes she made, and continue her research, presumably under supervision. Happy endings for everyone!

Little Witch Academia – 24

Show of (virtual) hands (that I can’t see because they’re virtual):

Who kinda knew going in that Naruto Palpatine Croix would ultimately succeed in activating her “Noir Rod”, only to find the world reconstruction magic she sought so vehemently would still not available to her, and that the technology she had developed would overload from all the bad soccer vibes and turn on her, requiring Chariot—who spent the first part of the episode fighting her—as the only person who can rescue Croix, and does so, because, well, she’s a good guy?

I mean, it all pretty much unfolded how I expected. Did it look great? Well, it’s Trigger on Red Bull: it’s usually gonna look gangbusters. But was it a great episode? I gotta say…no. It was merely good.

And lets start with the good. Obviously, the visuals stood out, as everything got crazy in a hurry. Watching Chariot fighting while keeping her emotions (which Croix can use against her) in check was also fun. Heck, it was also kinda fun to see Croix succeed (if only temporarily).

You really get the sense her unending quest to gain the Triskelion (and her long-standing resentment she wasn’t chosen by the ‘Rod) slowly twisted her until she became the supervillain she is today. And Chariot knows she shares some blame for the creation of the monster Croix has become, for the reasons laid out last week.

But in its quest to put on a big, bad, exciting Trigger Brand Dramatic Climax™, the beats just feel too familiar. “Borrowing” the Star Wars lightsaber, then escalating the battle to near-Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann levels of lunacy, only invites comparison to those better Trigger works—a comparison that doesn’t favor LWA.

I know it sounds ungrateful or even hypocritical to accuse LWA of going too far with the weird, wild special effects, but it’s somewhat disheartening to see characters who felt so big when we heard their stories earlier, scaled down to the size of ants before all the great big crazy stuff going on.

That’s why I appreciated Akko & Co. arriving at the scene where Chariot was desperately trying to save Croix from her self-made mess. After taking out the Noir Rod with a Shiny Arrow, it’s just Chariot and a forgiving Akko excited and elated to finally be meeting her lifelong idol.

Not only that, her dream has come true, she thanks everyone who helped her get here, and she’s hopeful Chariot will continue to teach her how to be a great witch.

With that, the Shiny Rod indicates the Final Word is ready to be unsealed, granting Akko the power to transform the dark and dreary surroundings into gorgeous, colorful scenery – the “world transformation magic” Croix could not access, seems to be available to Akko.

We’ll see the extent to which that magic will be able to stop the ICBM of negative emotional energy that has launched as a result of civil unrest hitting an untenable fever pitch. Andrew finds himself in the halls of power, among people who want to use war to their advantage.

From the look of that alert on Croix’s phone, the menacing missile soaring high in the sky, and a red-hot steaming populace, we’re probably in for a Trigger-brand Finale of Exponential Escalation™.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t totally eclipse all the little witches.

Little Witch Academia – 23

The first half of this week chronicle’s Chariot du Nord’s rise and fall from stardom, undone by a fickle public, the constant need to create bigger, flashier magic, and her school rival Croix still having a score to settle.

Such is Croix’s spite for the Claimh Solis choosing Chariot over her, she decides to exploit Chariot’s desire to make ever larger crowds happy by giving her the Dream Fuel Spirit…without mentioning the costs until after she’s already used it.

Of course, Croix has rhetorical cover: Chariot did essentially ask her old classmate for more power, and didn’t ask any questions, so none were answered.

One night, desperate to be relevant, Chariot uses the Shiny Rod and inadvertently scars the moon, and that’s pretty much it for Chariot.

Back in the present, Akko is still missing, and it feels like the longest we haven’t seen her in the entire run of the show. Something’s up, and Akko’s friends—Diana chief among them—want to do something about it. They all go looking for her, and when Diana doesn’t get the answers or action from Ursula, nay, Chariot, she finds Akko on her own.

It had been an 8 episode up to the point Diana sprang into action, and that’s when we enter more of a 10 territory (my rating splits the difference). Not only has Diana come to consider Akko a dear friend, but she manages to cheer that friend up and get her out of her funk.

It’s the first time Diana admits to Akko that she too was a Chariot superfan; that her momentary loss of magic was due to seeing that show, but she then worked hard to regain her magic, and even though her family thought she was being silly and childish, she never completely gave up on the dream to be like Chariot…which is why she initially resented Akko so much.

This is Diana at her most dimensional and likable: when she of all people has to lift the spirits of who had been until last week, almost criminally high-spirited proportional to her actual magical progress. Brass tacks: Diana tells Akko no one’s magic is stronger than hers, and she believes in her believing heart.

With that, Akko is reinvigorated, and her friends file into the store to express their relief she’s okay. I have a feeling all of them may have to be at their best for the upcoming trials, as Croix is nearing completion of her Noir Fuel Spirit-driven World Reconstruction Magic.

As powerful as we know Chariot to be, it’s not unrealistic to assume Croix’s confidence is at least somewhat based in her empirical research of Chariot herself, and knows for a fact she’s no threat. Of course, that may only be Chariot as she is now, still known to most as Ursula, drowning in regret and self-loathing.

If Chariot could be lifted out of that mire, like Diana & Co. did for Akko, perhaps then Croix will have something to worry about (here’s hoping!). This turned out to be a lovely episode. It’s so good to see Diana shine, and it was also fascinating to see Akko legitimately down for once.

All that’s really left is to find out if and how Croix is foiled, and whether that takes the remaining two episodes, or will be wrapped up next week. Leaving the final outing for epilogue.

 

Little Witch Academia – 22

As Andrew sees a worsening situation with the soccer-fueled civil unrest, Chariot decides, at last, that she’s really, truly, definitely going to tell Akko her true identity…only for her only chance in this episode to be interrupted. And by Andrew, no less, via Diana, whom he’s able to contact because of their families. All for a lost hat!

Just as Diana is asking “Ursula” if she knows anything about the greatly increased stores of energy that correspond to the installation of Croix’s SSS system, Chariot spots her rival in the window to give chase.

This is an episode that doesn’t waste a lot of time, and its most leisurely scene is also its best because of the wonderful chemistry that has developed between Akko and Andrew.

As someone being told day in day out that his path has already been set for him, and defiance will not be tolerated, an idealistic free spirit like Akko is just the kind of girl he’d fall for, almost envious of her worldview.

He’s become far less dismissive of her flowerly hopeful little speeches, especially in light (or darkness) of the soccer protests. But he makes sure to check Akko’s boundless idealism with the caveat that she herself should be the one to take action, rather than wait for Chariot to swoop in and save the world.

Akko’s in full agreement: she’ll make the world happier and preserve magic with her own hands and heart. In his criticism, Andrew is aware that it applies to him as well.

While it’s nice to see Akko and Andrew laughing together and enjoying each other’s company, when duty calls (in the form of one of Croix’s little cube drones), Akko springs into action immediately, leaving her hat behind once more.

That cube leads her to a rooftop where Croix stands, and is all to happy to explain that the cubes are her handiwork, that she’s using “Noir Fuel Spirit” to absorb negative emotions from the people and converting it to magical energy. In effect, she’s saving the magical world, her way.

That way happens to be pretty much the opposite of how Akko would want to save it; by creating positive energy—happiness—and she tells Croix this is flat-out wrong. Croix responds by fusing her drones into a giant monster and attacking Akko with it.

Chariot arrives just in time to save Akko, and destroys the drone-‘dragon’, but in the process lets the cat out of the bag, a cat Croix is all too happy to pounce on. Here Akko finally learns her idol was beside her all along, in Croix’s words, holding her back. And while that might sound like emotional manipulation, it turns out Croix means it literally.

Chariot, it seems, is responsible for sapping Akko of her magic, back when she attended her show. Chariot absorbed dreams, rather than negative energy, to gain magical power. This is why Akko can’t fly; not any lack of effort or perseverance.

Right on the heels of Akko learning Ursula is Chariot, that revelation is a gut punch for poor Akko, who merely shouts about it being all lies before running away. Croix tells Chariot she doubts Akko will be pursuing the words anymore, all but claiming victory in a rivalry in which she deemed Akko Chariot’s proxy.

With the completion of this outing we’re down to three episodes of LWA, at least that we know of, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in some order: Akko regaining her composure and rising to the occasion and gaining sufficient power (be it through the words or through her friends) to foil Croix’s plans for world “reconstruction,” and hell, maybe receive a kiss from our boy ‘Drew.

That’s a lot, but now that LWA has kicked into a higher gear, I’m confident it can deliver on the denouement.

Little Witch Academia – 21

While Akko is singularly invested in finding the remaining two words to release the Triskelion, she also learns that what she’d have regarded as a “selfish”, if successful, mission to bring Diana back has altered her relationship with her and her toadies, for the better.

Barbara and Hanna earnestly thank Akko for acting when they could not, while Diana expresses genuine concern for Akko in suggesting she heed Ursula’s warning. The power of that warning—to not go near the Wagandea tree to attempt to unlock a word, lest one get hit by toxic pollen that robs a witch of the ability to use magic or fly—is gradually whittled away by Arch-Meddler Croix.

Croix expertly manipulates the more-naive-than-most Akko, reinforcing Akko’s own assertion that Ursula’s an overprotective worrywart, while also planting a seed of doubt and suspicion regarding Ursula’s identity and intentions with Akko.

Croix also gives Akko a lift to Wagandea, hoping the pollen will take care of her latest rival to magical primacy. Years ago, she and Chariot went to the tree, with both expecting the Shiny Rod to choose her.

When it chose Chariot instead, it was a major hit to Croix, and her technologically-advanced career since has been one big attempt to overcome that rejection, as well as to stick it to Chariot.

When Ursula arrives to rescue Akko, Akko has fully gone to Croix’s side, and lets Croix “deal with” Ursula. Interestingly, Croix isn’t so evil that she wants Chariot to die in a fall, so she wakes Chariot up just in time so she can cushion her fall.

When Chariot shakes off her injuries (and Croix’s insistence she’s out of time) and goes after Akko once more, Croix doesn’t stop her; clearly she’d hoped for a cleaner operation, but since Chariot’s involved, she cuts her losses and withdraws.

Ursula catches Akko, who falls just as a cloud of magic-sapping pollen surrounds her menacingly. Overcome by shame for the things she said to Ursula, Akko takes it all back, apologizes, and says “thank you”, which she should have said a long time ago, but resonates more here, as it’s essentially the meaning of the sixth word, Lyonne, which Akko unlocks, leaving her at the same place Chariot was: with one word remaining.

Croix is unconcerned with her loss this week: she has been gathering all of the negative energy that all of the soccer fans of the world have been pouring into the popular, healing “Emotion Refresh” app she developed, and all that energy is going into a Gurren Lagann-style, giant mecha version of the Shiny Rod, presumably with the goal of releasing the Triskelion before Akko.

The social unrest being caused by football competition has been in the background for some time now, and it’s neat to see something that has a clear analog in the real world not only making an appearance in LWA, but serving as a key source of Croix’s power.

For all her megalomaniacal scheming, we definitely saw the affection for Chariot that still lingers in Croix’s heart. If Akko and Chariot are going to have a chance against her, part of their plan may involve tapping into that vestigial affection. But first thing’s first: Akko must get that seventh word.

Little Witch Academia – 20

Despite Akko’s protesting (with backup from Andrew) Diana insists she has no choice but to perform the ritual before the transit of Venus behind the moon is complete. She goes into the ritual chambers alone, but is immediately impeded in her mission by Aunt Daryl, who wraps her in one of her many giant magic snake familiars.

No matter how much logic he tosses at Akko, she knows it’s not right for Diana to be dropping out; she’s clearly putting her own dreams aside for the good of her family. When they eavesdrop on Daryl and her twin daughters talking about how she had no problem stopping Diana, Akko has all the moral capital she needs to break with sacred Cavendish custom and enter the sanctum to rescue her.

Andrew helps, convinced that Akko is right. He remembers how passionate Diana became years ago when talk flew around she wouldn’t be able to perform magic. We know the spark of inspiration was the twin pillars of her mother and Shiny Chariot. But to her credit, Akko keeps Andrew out of the sanctum: she’ll bring back Diana on her own…all the way back the academy.

Akko proves she can mostly take care of herself, using her patented partial-transformation magic in rapid-fire mode to lure the snakes away from Diana and stay one step ahead until she regains consciousness and saves her.

With Akko bitten and poisoned, Diana sacrifices her chance to complete the ritual by healing and staying with Akko, who wakes up, then scolds Diana for staying there with her instead of continuing on with the ritual. But this is just Diana being Diana: kind, caring, and healing, just like her mother and the centuries of Cavandishes who came before her.

It’s no coincidence their conversation is held in a facility borne of that family “affection”, a secret hospital where Diana’s ancestors used their considerable magical knowledge to heal the wounded from conflicts that plagued history, without regard to whose side they were on.

Diana’s confession of her lifelong dream (to protect and preserve her family’s and mother’s names and the home they left behind) moves Akko to assure her she can still achieve that dream, restoring her family and complete her education at Luna Nova, as long as she…you guessed it, believes in her heart.

In this manner, two Chariot superfans—one current, one lapsed—come together to realize her credo that a believing heart can make anything possible. To that end, traditional and modern powers mingle, and Diana realizes the fifth word is Akko’s for the taking.

Reciting it summons Chariot’s broom, which they ride together to reach the site where the ritual is to be completed…only to find Aunt Beryl and her daughters waiting to disrupt Diana once more.

For this latest act of treachery, Diana’s relations are punished not by her or Akko, but by the system itself, and are quickly encased in trees. As she did with Akko, Diana stays true to her family’s legacy again by putting judgement aside and helping others before herself.

By the time she’s saved Daryl and the twins, the Venusian eclipse is over, but Diana still gets a momentary nod of approval, so to speak, from her family’s founder, Lady Beatrix. She may not have quite completed the ritual, but it’s clear to all who will lead the Cavendish family’s future.

Until that time, Diana is free to return to Luna Nova, much to Akko’s delight. She also gives Akko a ride home on her broom, which is the perfect time for her to express her gratitude for what Akko did…softly, and only once. Still, Akko heard her, and after their shared experiences this week their bond has never been tighter.

After charming and fun but inconsequential episodes involving the B-characters, this Diana-focused two-parter was a welcome and worthwhile outing that brought two rivals closer together and brought Akko one word closer to potentially changing the world.

I also appreciated the bonhomie that’s gradually developed between Akko and Andrew (who will be back, at least to give Akko her hat back). While I would have preferred if Diana’s full fleshing-out arc had come sooner, it’s better late than never, and well worth the wait.

Little Witch Academia – 19

In a move that initially feels like she’s been underutilized in the show thus far, Diana makes the decision to drop out of Luna Nova Academy, effective immediately. The Cavendish family is in dire straits, she is the only one who can right the ship, and the window to assume the mantle of family leadership is closing, and won’t open again until the stars literally align years from now.

In true form, Akko either rejects whatever reasons Diana has or doesn’t bother to ask what they are: she’s only concerned with whether this is really what Diana wants. It’s clear Diana isn’t happy about leaving. But pride in her once-great family, and love and obligation to fulfill her now-deceased mother’s wishes outweighs her desire to stay in school.

Akko doesn’t make Diana’s departure any easier, so she throws Akko’s own main goal—the Words, and her inability to find them as quickly as she claimed she would—back in her face. There’s a nice meta nature to this: Akko has futzed around with Amanda and Cons but has yet to find the fifth, “history and tradition”-related Word.

There’s also the fact that Diana always thought she would be the one entrusted to the task of unsealing the words and opening the gate. But she ruefully accepts that Akko is the “chosen one”, and not her.

When Diana arrives at a huge but increasingly deteriorating Cavendish estate, we’re officially in Magic Falling Aristocrat Land, complete with Diana’s drunk aunt, Daryl. She and Diana exchange hollow pleasantries, barely bothering to hide their mutual disdain.

The sense is immediate that not only would Diana not have to deal with the collapse of her family before she finishes school, but that Daryl, the proxy head, has no desire whatsoever for Diana to come in and start mucking about the lifestyle she and her daughters cling to: sucking up what’s left of the Cavendish fortune and grinding its name into dust.

Naturally, Akko isn’t taking Diana’s goodbye lying down, and she’s clearly unconsciously drawn by the possibility the fifth word will lie in her interactions with Diana and her family. But whether it’s too slow, out of magical range, or the writers simply forgot, she doesn’t take the broom Cons made for her last week.

When she’s had her fill of travelling by foot, she thumbs a lift, and is reluctantly picked up by none other than Andrew and his father, who happen to be on their way to the Cavendish Manor. An initially tense, awkward backseat scene is lightened when Andrew refutes his father’s claim Akko “ruined” his party, while Akko tells Andrew the reason for their “fated” encounter: she’s going to bring Diana back.

Akko’s arrival with Andrew and his father certainly surprises Diana (Andrew’s line about finding her by the side of the road is at once cruel, hilarious, and true), but in this nest of vipers, it’s Diana who does what she can to keep Akko safe, claiming her as a guest (and as much a witch as she is), and getting her dolled up for dinner, after which she’ll go straight to bed and leave first thing in the morning. (Diana also hides her pried Shiny Chariot card from Akko…we know she was a big fan too!)

Akko holds her own in deflecting barbs from one of the few Cavendish maids left (her communist tendencies were well-documented from the faerie strike episode), but Akko also learns from the maid that Diana’s parents died when she was little, and she immediately feels guilty for all the awful things she’s said to her. Diana is also known within her family as being “kind” like her mother, in keeping with the Cavendish motto: “Affection.”

Akko also proves again that she cleans up nice, but her questionable dining etiquette earns her a simple wordless glare from Diana, one of my favorite moments of the episode.

The classiness and elegance of the evening starts to erode when Aunt Daryl reveals her reason for inviting the Hanbridges: she would like to sell them some prized, priceless Cavendish heirlooms, including the tapestry of Beatrix, one of the Nine Olde Witches who founded the family and was involved in the Grand Triskelion business.

It’s a very distasteful business, especially when Daryl all but begs a departing Hanbridge for money, offering a discount. This is what has become of the Cavendish family, other than Diana: a collection of people who have abandoned pride for greed. Daryl is only interested in maintaining her fancy quality of life, even though it’s unsustainable, considering there’s only a finite amount of Cavendish treasures she can monetize.

For her part, Daryl blames the sorry state of the family to her all-too-kind sister, Diana’s mother, and her insistence on helping others for free, as befits the Cavendish motto. But even if Daryl isn’t responsible for getting the family in this mess, she certainly has done nothing to get out of it.

That’s why Diana believes she must perform the ritual and become family head as soon as possible. Akko almost gets lost int he midst of this family drama, but there’s no way she won’t play a role in resolving it, no doubt unsealing a word and maybe even bringing Diana back to school in the process.

Little Witch Academia – 18

Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!

The Gist: Constanze is the side character of choice this week and the setup is a popular ghost hunting event called Wild Hunt, which Croix has somehow gotten Constanze permission to participate in. Akko wouldn’t have any role to play at all, were it not for her ability to cause havoc (she destroys one of Constanze’s mech helpers) and her neurotic urge to ‘help’ (she feels righteously driven to make up for destroying the mech, no matter how much additional damage she causes and how many times Constanze chases her away)

There’s a lot of legacy Gianax/Trigger going on here, with TTGL-style mecha fights — pushing to the limit — as well as Space Patrol Luluco style anachronistic aesthetic blends. (Rocket Powered Pirate Ship) While these nods are executed very well, with all the tongue and cheek over the top delivery you would expect, they are transparent call backs to better series from the companies past, and that ultimately points out how not-glory-days LWA is itself at present.

As to Constanze herself… there isn’t a lick of dialog. Nor, really, is background provided. She’s this generation’s only technomage, but she doesn’t have a strong connection with Croix (they are never in the same scene together) and that tech/magic blending doesn’t even draw comment from the other students or teachers. That’s stuff we already knew of course and the only additions are the implication that she is a deeply unhappy girl, a loner, who’s parents took a family photo in front of a swedish tall ship once… yeah, not much there?

You could probably argue that Constanze experienced character development this week. Slowly accepting Akko, even seeing value in Akko’s silly mech-drawing, and ending on a smile… but who cares? Constanze has existed as little more than background art for seventeen episodes so far. Again, who cares?

So we have another generic Croix-villain plot, featuring another B-cast member tagging along with Akko, that ends with Croix closer to whatever her villainy is but Akko gaining another friend, which will probably be necessary to unlock the final word or words. No word was unlocked this week and nothing consequential about the plot was revealed to the characters. Sucy and Lotte aren’t even in the story, save some background elements. Diana isn’t in the episode at all.

So why do am giving this week a higher rating than last? For all its negatives, in a vacuum, this episode just had more charm — and a heck of a lot more creative visuals too. Yes, it was completely generic by Trigger’s elite standards but those standards provide powerful emotional anchors and excitement all the same.

The Verdict: as a series, LWA is profoundly ill constructed. Gradually introducing more classmates as part of Akko’s world is fine but giving them stand alone episodes in the last act of a second season is idiotic. Even more so when it cuts the main cast out of the story. (I guess Diana’s research into Ursula’s true identity is just gonna… wait a bit) Beating the villains doesn’t feel earned and the world-building-elements just come out of nowhere. (For a show so full of details, I kinda wish we’d had more build up for the wild hunt… or a pay off)

But as a self contained episode it was fun and, if it had happened 10 episodes ago, it would have done wonders to round out the classmates. That said, if the pattern holds, next week will feature the girl who’s always eating… and I can not imagine that being remotely as interesting.

Little Witch Academia – 17

The Gist: Shiny Rod indicates the 5th word is nearing but, before Professor Ursula can tell Akko much more than ‘it has to do with tradition’ she’s whisked away by school duties. So Akko and a very angsty Amanda O’neal head of to the Appleton Academy, which may be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Hey, if the Holy Grail isn’t traditional enough, what would be?

Unfortunately, AA is an all boys school full of rich jerks that hate magic. Surprisingly, Amanda is able to pass for a while, but not before king of the jerks Louis Blackwell more or less becomes the main character of the episode. His father is chairman of the school and the Nation’s Minister of Defense but… its a very questionable decision to introduce another new character for an already bloated cast seventeen episodes in. Even less so when he’s just an assier version of Andrew…

Speaking of Andrew, he has a nice conversation with Akko which demonstrates how different their world views are. He is driven by duty and nearly only does things he is required to do, where she is driven by a sense of purpose and personal desire and almost never does what she is expected. The message clearly started to connect with Andrew, and was driven home even more when Akko wanders off before he finishes a tirade. (before he notices she’s left)

Eventually, Andrew has to intervene when Louis captures the girls. Being Andrew, his solution is to propose a formal duel, as is tradition at the academy. This goes well for Amanda twice and, as she’s saved Louise’ life by the end, she is free to go. Maybe the witches even gain a few young allies to boot!

The Verdict: LWA continues to do everything wrong but somehow be just charming enough to keep my attention. I appreciate that Akko doesn’t unlock a word this week but, in structure, the episode unfolds the same way it would have if that had been the case. It’s a weird throw-away module featuring mostly side characters and barely hinting at the core plot.

Amanda x Louis’ duel was nice enough (Amanda’s Chun’Li spinning kick was totally boss) but Amanda herself isn’t a terribly likable character and resolving that she will ultimately stay at school with Akko due to friendship solves a problem we didn’t have before this episode.

Sprinkel in a ton of unanimated panning shots, a very straight forward ‘Croix is still up to no good’ thread, and you have a big pile of meh?

Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.

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!