Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files – 00 – A Dead Cat and a Myriad of Facts

When we (or at least I) last saw Waver Velvet, he’d lost the Holy Grail War, but was ordered by Rider to survive. He told his hypnotized “grandparents” that he’d continue living with them and save up enough to travel the world Rider once conquered.

This latest Fate spin-off, which isn’t set to air this Summer, takes place ten years later, when Waver has apparently had his fill of world travel. Not only does he now lead the Modern Magecraft Theories Department at the Clock Tower, but he has taken on the title of Lord El-Malloi II at the request of Kayneth’s sister Reines, until she comes of age.

The presence of “Case Files” in the title seems to imply this show will be a series of magical mysteries which El-Malloi II must solve, with the help of his dutiful apprentice Gray and his students. This first case involves a curse on a cat that his passed to him; they must find and capture the perpetrator before he’s killed.

I have to say, lingering shots of a dying, suffering cat is a curious way of trying to lure people to watch, especially when El-Malloi lacks the magical skill to heal the poor thing. The mystery is also solved and resolved so easily it’s kind of robbed of its urgency and stakes and obviously El-Malloi isn’t going to die in a preview special. But plot aside, Case Files is a gorgeous show.

Suffice it to say, the attack on El-Malloi was ordered by someone who wants him out of the way. It’s painfully obvious his position as Lord is tenuous at best, and there’s a lot of scheming going on behind his back. But at least for now he is obeying Iskander, and surviving. I suspect I’ll be back in July to see how he manages to keep surviving while battling the magical establishment.—Braverade

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Little Witch Academia – 09

The Gist: The students are allowed to leave campus now, but there are rules! The most important of which is no magic off campus grounds! Obviously, this means Akko immediately raises a dead pirate from the grave and all hell breaks loose.

This particular undead pirate has a score to settle with a certain gentleman in town. He doesn’t exactly remember who this gentleman is at first, which means a lot of yelling at strangers, going to buildings that no longer exist, and revealing bits of magical history along the way.

After dodging the police, convincing a crowd that they are street performers, and a talk with the local magic items’ shop owner, Skelly and the Girls end up on the town’s bell tower…where Skelly finally remembers that he is the gentleman he despises.

Fortunately, Akko realizes Luna Nova’s Headmistress Miranda is Skelly’s daughter and, following a quick bell-ride, everyone is reunited for a heartfelt farewell (of sorts).

The Verdict: This week was pleasant enough, especially towards the end when Miranda talks with her father and her father dances away with the ghost of his wife in the sky, but it was pretty narrative-heavy along the way. I appreciate that telling us about magic history through a character who lived it, while that character is on a mini-quest, is a decent way to sidestep heavy exposition but Skelly’s nature (constantly shouting) and quest (running aimlessly around shouting) weren’t the most compelling on their own.

Ultimately, LWA continues to suffer from the same problems each week. The world and adventures don’t lend themselves to slice-of-life stories but the lack of a long-term narrative purpose makes most episodes feel like throwaways. Again, these’s no character development this week (not of the central cast anyway) and the whole totem/field trip ends up feeling like it was written only as an excuse for Akko to create a mess that ultimately just shows us the Headmistress (and witches in general) can be…nice. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty thin tea in my book.

Little Witch Academia – 08

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The Gist: Sucy concocts a mushroom-based energy drink just this-side of poisonous. Supposedly, it will unlock her full magic potential, which she will use to rule over the world’s mushrooms and/or get rid of anyone bothering her while she searches for mushrooms. However, before she can drink it, she faces a conundrum.

She should test the potion on Akko first, to make sure it works or is safe. However, if it the potion does work as intended, Akko’s full magic potential will be unlocked, and Akko would become ‘boring’ in Sucy’s eye.

Leaving the funnel in Akko’s mouth, Sucy glugs down the potion after all. In the morning, she is unwakeable and soon she begins to sprout mushrooms. Mushrooms that threaten to take over the school…

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As with LWA’s best episodes, what follows is full of lovely details, wild and elastic animations, humor and tons of charm. Everything feels like thought was put into it. From Akko and Lotte choosing not to get the teachers because it could lead to their expulsion, to Lotte using her book knowledge to come up with a plan and Akko offering to be the sacrifice, without blinking an eye. It’s in-character and believable, at least within the rules established by LWA’s wacky universe.

Inside Sucy’s mind is a similarly vibrant and dense space. Akko meets many Sucys that make up the core Sucy personality and all of them are terrible people in a Sucy specific sort of way. (For example, both Devil and Angel Sucy want to kill Akko, just in different ways)

Eventually, Akko meets a not-outwardly-terrible Sucy and has to save her from court-ordered execution. Actually, many Sucys Akko finds more normal and relatable are being executed, and Akko saves them all.

Then Akko hitches a ride to the drive-in movies…

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Sucy’s movie vision has a great retro art style to it and, while they aren’t surprising or terribly complex, it’s interesting to see her take on the people and world around her. While Sucy has hinted about liking Akko all along, capturing the two sides of how she see’s Akko (ridiculous but charming) in a short span of images, and playing them directly against Akko as visual reinforcement effectively drives the plot points home. Even enough that Akko herself gets it.

In a way, Akko learns a bit about herself too. At least, that her friends can find her annoying (or that she can look laughable) but still love her. She also learns that outward appearances and good intentions do not always play best with reality.

That nice little Sucy she saved turns out to be a monster, consumes many other Sucys, and threatens to make the core never the same Sucy again…

lwa8cThe license plate says LWA 008, which is the number of this episode ;)

The Boss Fight provides an exciting climax to an already frenetic episode. Not only is it visually distinct, and visually good at setting tension, but the nature of a tangible enemy, with tangible stakes should it not be stopped, elevate Sucy-Monster above previous episode climaxes.

It also helps that she was introduced as a plot thread early in the episode, and that Sucy herself is a core part of show from the beginning (I’m looking at you wtf polar bear!).

But the strongest aspect of the Boss Fight comes at the end, where the Boss itself watches Akko prepare to French-kiss-inject the sleeping Sucy core with an antidote…which really seems to turn the Monster on! (alluding to a possible additional side to Sucy’s appreciation for Akko).

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The Verdict: LWA is at its best when all of its many moving parts are composed into a complex and coherent whole. This week had character development for Akko and Sucy, world building, a self contained but complete and un-rushed narrative, wild and unique animations, and a warped sense of humor.

Friendship, weirdness and adventure. Not much more you could ask for.

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Little Witch Academia – 07

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The Gist: In a desperate attempt to turn her grades around and not get expelled, Akko ‘treats’ Professor Pisces to water only the finest of celebrities drink. Of course mineral water is a terrible thing to pour into a tropical fish tank and, all too soon, Akko has ‘flushed’ the professor into the sewer and a grade-saving adventure!

Along the way, Akko learns to speak Fish, save an endangered species from a poacher, improve on her polymorphing skills, and win the grudging recognition of the faculty (and not get expelled, obviously).

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This week finally nailed a slice-of-life tone for LWA. The supporting cast members received balanced screen time, spread across Akko’s many classes. Lotte and Sucy were the consistent observers, which is the role they fit best structurally, and the scenes felt full and fit together in a way that made Akko’s world feel lived in.

But, above all else, that world was finally fun again. From slapstick to a silent ‘talking’ character, the humor was perfectly timed and delightfully absurd. I absolutely died when Megumi Han delivered Akko’s sobbing response to flushing her teacher down the drain.

The Verdict: This is LWA doing the right things – being fun, upbeat, unexpected and bizarre. Sure, it could benefit from an overarching plot for the cast to focus on but, as long as it keeps Sucy and Lotte by Akko’s side (but not crowding her spotlight) and keeps the weird fun rolling, I don’t mind.

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Little Witch Academia – 06

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The Gist: Akko continues to struggle with magic and is forbidden to attend the school’s banquet for heads of state. So, Akko attempts to visit a forbidden magic location on campus instead.

Along the way, she meets Andrew, a handsome boy who considers magic outdated and is totally her love interest. Together, they are chased by a polar bear, saved by that professor who is totally not secretly Chariot, and gain an the understanding that magic takes hard work and dedication.

Roll credits…

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While this week continued LWA’s streak of filler episodes, it did contain a few gems. I loved that Akko’s transformation spell, which requires the caster to ‘imagine what the result will look like,’ literally turns Andrew into an Ass. The story also benefited by Andrew having no interest in Diana, thankfully removing any love triangle distractions from future episodes. It was also nice for Akko to finally get a reality check, which may allow future episodes to be framed with greater purpose.

On the down side, the episodes narrative points were heavy handed. Seeing Professor Ursula’s hair change from red to blue makes it obvious that she is Shiny Chariot. It was also unnecessary, because her interaction with Akko immediately after Akko witnesses Chariot’s school-days-montage already implies that to the viewer. I’d argue the entire chase scene with the polar bear was superfluous too, because it only results in the viewers seeing the Ursula/Chariot reveal, and gives no real development for Akko/Andrew.

And that’s saying nothing of Frank, Andrew’s friend who’s existence in the plot serves no purpose at all. Between Frank and Andrew’s father, and the uneventful moments of the banquet, not much happens. Rather, those non-scenes isolate Akko and Andrew’s argument about magic scene and the polar bear chase scene in a way that makes them feel ‘not enough’ to float the over all episode on their own.

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Are the twin dark-complexioned girls an homage to Harry Potter’s Pavarti twins?

The Verdict: The image above captures my frustrations pretty well. There are a lot of characters, few of which we know or care about, standing around doing nothing. The world is full of details, but we are told nothing about them (presuming the different color details on each witch’s costume means anything).

Akko and Chariot are the only central characters who get screen time this week, and Chariot was and still is a compete enigma. Why is she hiding? Why does she care about Akko? (beyond having a similar backstory) Why should we care as viewers when Akko’s narrative purpose is barely more than ‘she will learn magic?’

This would matter less if the show was just a slice-of-life piece, but that would require stronger relationships between the characters, and a greater emphasis on day-to-day living in the world, which LWA does not really do (Lotte’s episode was the closest we’ve seen of that…and half the reviewers didn’t like it).

In closing, I’m pretty disappointed with LWA. It’s well-animated, has a potentially interesting setting, and characters that could be charming. However, its focus on Akko is structured too much like a destiny piece to let that world grow, but isn’t focused enough to feel like an epic journey and the characters come and go from each week’s story in too disposable a fashion. You just can’t care for a character if they aren’t there.

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Little Witch Academia – 05

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The Gist: Akko and Amanda are at each other’s throats this week, which quickly lands them in detention. Fortunately, or not, this positions them perfectly to witness a flock of dragons fly off with the Sorcerer’s Stone, which leads the adversaries to pool their collective trios for a witches verses dragons chase.

Along the way they meet Lord Fafnir, an ancient but financially forward thinking dragon, get into a robot dragon fight complete with shotguns and rocket-propelled grenades, free the school from its debts (via Diana) and land back in detention. Akko and Amanda even become friends…at least, for a short period of time.

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Akko-centric ‘outbursts’ aside, this week was all about story at the edges…

Unfortunately, this week is far less than the sum total of its parts. Despite Akko’s wonderfully elastic facial expressions, her squabbling with Amanda just isn’t interesting. Similarly, when Akko flips Amanda backwards out of her chair and spends detention scowling and belligerent with everyone, our ability to empathize with her plucky underdog status is greatly reduced. Combine that with Akko’s lack of impact on the plot, her story doesn’t feel like it had any purpose (She is the reason for the six students to witness the plot’s resolution, nothing more.)

The addition of Amanda, Constanze and Jasminka to the plot presents its own issue. What value does a third trio of student witches add to the narrative? Sure, Constanze’s inventions are cute, and her mechanical broom is a plot device to get the girls to the dragon’s hideout, but she and Jasminka aren’t actually characters. Beyond their physical characteristics and plot-devices, they don’t speak and do not physically interact with the rest of the cast. This lack of presence prevents them from even serving as counterpoints of Akko’s Sucy and Lotte or Diana’s lackeys.

This is a very strange choice for characters that get as much screen time as Amanda this week. It’s too much exposure (and design work) to serve the background role they otherwise appear to have been asigned.

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Lord Fafnir, in front of his stock exchange monitors…

The Verdict: If this week’s purpose was to not have a purpose, then it succeeded. More precisely, several of the episode’s elements are best described as ‘not being important in the first place.’

Diana revealing the school’s debt is a lie? Despite being mentioned in every previous episode, its rapid resolution with no zip or humor saps any fun from the payoff. Not that the dragon was built up in any previous episode, nor has the core cast suffered due to the financial conflict. So the debt, itself, was not a consequential conflict in the first place.

Akko x Amanda’s relationship reset? Amanda has barely been in the show so far, and her only contributions have been Akko x broom rides related. So who cares?

Ultimately, competent visual design and quality rendered action give it just enough to be watchable. It’s the power of ‘stuff happened coherently and it looked good’ but not much more. Compared to last week, which I enjoyed more than Preston enough to take over reviewing it, color me not pleased…

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Little Witch Academia – 04

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We’ve got ourselves a Lotte-centric episode, with Akko and Sucy simply along for the ride. After Akko steals a tart (not a pie; she wants that made clear) from the kitchens, all three roommates are punished, and Lotte’s weekend plans to attend a new book release are dashed.

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Akko comes up with a very simple plan to sneak the three of them out of school and into town, and Lotte’s fully on board because this is a can’t-miss event: the release of volume 365 of night fall, which is a pretty blatant (and only intermittently humorous) parody of Twilight and the crazed fandom that surrounds it, a world which Akko and Sucy are decidedly not a part of.

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While some of the ridiculous snippets from the bowels of night fall’s vast milieu elicit a chuckle or two, and Akko learns there are people who don’t simply try to become those they idolize, but are content to support them…but it’s a pretty thin premise, and the episode lacked the visual panache and, more importantly, the heaping helpings of Akko-moxie that characterized the first three.

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Little Witch Academia – 03

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The heart-pounding and heartwarming fun of LWA continues as its third episode is all about broom flight, or, for the first two-thirds of it, about how totally unable to fly Akko is. No matter how hard she “focuses” or how loudly she says the magic words, gravity won’t release her from the ground.

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She’s wanted to fly her whole life, and proudly bears the scars that prove it. As Akko fails and fails again, you can feel her frustration mounting, especially once she learns there’s to be a broom relay and Diana is the favorite to win. There’s the sense Akko is right on the cusp of a magical breakthrough, but just needs something to go her way and complement her boundless passion.

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After some last-ditch “training” that seems more designed to amuse Sucy than help Akko, the relay begins, and thanks to some magical trickery and research on the competition, Sucy is able to get Lotte out to a sizable lead that she then extends. Then it’s Akko’s turn, and Sucy lends her a potion that turns her broom into a ribbiting pogo stick. As Diana says with disgust, it ain’t pretty.

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Then, the feral broom in the magical items cafe Akko wanted to try out rejects the one who stole/purchased it (Amanda) and takes an interest in Akko. It makes her fight tooth and nail to stay on, and tries to throw her off many times, but Akko won’t let go, and it takes her on a magical ride through homes, under oceans, and through the sky at jetliner speeds.

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LWA truly brings the fun and the wonder, whether it’s the sweeping sights of Akko’s detour or her veritable galaxy of inventive acrobatics and contortions. She doesn’t win – the broom handles break off and the broom turns into a bird and flies off – but she comes in a close second, once again commanding Diana’s grudging respect.

As Diana says, Akko’s got passion. I daresay she’s brimming with moxie as well. Will it be enough? Ursula looks at her younger self in the trophy case, and maybe sees Akko going down a similar path. And she seems worried. But I wouldn’t rule out Akko continuing to surprise everyone—even her apparently disillusioned idol.

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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.

Love Lab – 05

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With Riko guarding the broadcasting room and Sayo and Suzu distracting the faculty, Maki and Eno hold their radio broadcast, answering the request of their anonymous client. After the broadcast Riko gets in trouble, and when Maki finds out she’s furious. After promising not to sacrifice herself again, Riko is tutored in English by Maki, who cross-dresses as a bishounen, “Maki Makio” and Riko’s English exam score improves. The Council gets a reply from the client that she was met with honorable defeat, but doesn’t plan to give up, and will use what she’s learned in future strategies.

The first Love Lab broadcast is a success, if not a resounding one, with everyone executing nicely in their assigned roles. Bottom line, the girl doesn’t get the guy this time, but that’s almost to be expected considering none of the council members have ever snagged a guy by the means they espouse. Sayo technically has a boyfriend, but that was the result of caving to his persistence, not pursuing him in any way. The broadcast and its mixed result not only provided useful experience to the client, but the members as well, as now they know that things won’t always go smoothly even if you are brave and speak up to the one you like.

Riko also experiences a taste of the hellfire that will rain upon her if Maki ever finds out she’s not the master of romance she’s led her to believe. This time, Maki only finds out Riko is lying about having gone to the bathroom when she actually got reamed by a teacher, who considered her the ringleader in the broadcast stunt. Maki sets the record straight with the teacher (who’s a little disappointed) but one thing’s clear: Maki doesn’t like it when Riko lies (though we do much prefer her “Maki Makio” bit to “Huggy”). Hiding secrets may also get tougher if Nana and Momo lift up the rock that is the Love Lab in a newspaper scoop, potentially ruining Maki and Riko’s reps.


Rating: 6 (Good)