Little Witch Academia – 10

Note: I filled in for Oigakkosan reviewing this episode. —Preston

Akko, Lotte, and Sucy’s pleasant afternoon ice cream is marred when Diana’s Maybach limo rolls up and her two lackeys jump out just to gloat that they’re going to a sumptuous party celebrating Lord Andrew’s top marks.

Sucy has just shown Akko and Lotte a “Fallin Lovelove Bee” that was delivered to her in error, and we already know precisely where this is going: the peasant girls will crash Andrew’s party, and the Love Bee will sting him, sending him head-over-heels for Akko.

Because it’s so obvious this is going to happen, Akko’s desire to stick it to Diana’s lackeys by attending the party uninvited doesn’t feel like her own choice, only a means to get that bee sting in Andrew’s neck. While Akko and Lotte clean up great, the two-hour, half-price “Cinderella Kit” is just a means to those means…not to mention overly borrow-y feeling.

Andrew is his usual dismissive, aloof jerkface self, while his pal Frank is his usual friendly, decent self. Just when he’s tossing the witches out, Drew gets stung, Akko is the first face he sees, and we’re off to the races. The Bee also stings Frank and three other dudes who all fall for Lotte, then stings Diana, who also falls for Akko. Akko spends much of the evening flailing around, not ready for this kind of “attention.”

Eventually she gets away from her pursuers, then overhears Andrew’s dad chewing him out about staying on the precise path that has already been laid out for him, and not wasting his time on witches or “effeminate” piano playing.

When Akko gets a bead on the bee, she darts all around the party, swatting at it in vain. Andrew, still at least partially under her spell, plays the piano (“Flight of the Bumblebee”, of course) to accompany her. Finally the bee stings Drew’s father, but seconds later Akko kills the bee and the spell is lifted from all.

The Cinderella spell also fizzles out, Akko & Co. return to their uniforms, and Andrew reverts back to being a dick. Maybe he changed a little bit, like the last time he met Akko, but the guy is so stone-faced and inert, it’s as hard to tell as last time, leading to another shrug on the night.

In a nice twist, even post-spell, Frank asks Lotte out because he thinks they’d get along, but she turns him down gently, preferring they were friends first. But otherwise, after the bee reset button is pressed, we’re pretty much back to where we started. No one has changed and nothing was learned.

Now ten episodes in, LWA is not what I was hoping it would be: a show with a structured arc in which Akko gradually improves as a fledgeling witch, some kind of sustained conflict arrives that she and her friends and classmates must come together to overcome. The modern world’s increasing rejection of their craft, for instance.

Instead, the show is content to dawdle around with self-contained episodes that start and end in pretty much the same place, and an Akko who is unapologetically static in both her magical ability and personality. Her dreams remain way to vague and childish to carry any further significance, no matter how much she waxes poetic about them, and the entire premise of crashing a party for spite, leading to the pedestrian “love spell” antics, was generally unsatisfying.

Akko, Lotta and Sucy are still usually more fun to watch than not, but their lack of development and LWA’s lack of direction thus far make it hard to keep coming back. I never expected Madoka, but I would have settled for a story, rather than the series of disjointed, inconsequential vignettes we got.

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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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