Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 12

Here we are: at the midpoint of what I assume will be a 24/25-episode third season of Food Wars, and Souma has finally taken it on himself to challenge the First Seat of Totsuki’s Elite Ten.

But it wasn’t arrogance that led him to this position! What would you do if Tsukasa told you Nakiri Azami’s ultimate goal is to shut down every restaurant in Japan? Somebody has to take a stand, even if it’s foolhardy.

Despite the stakes, Souma remains calm and does his thing. I appreciated the meta nod to his bag of secret ingredients that have won him challenges in the past. He whips out a new one to use with the venison—sweet chestnuts—then cooks the meat in a seemingly very un-French way—with a charcoal brazier.

When his dish is complete, Tsukasa wonders who will judge it, clearly too focused on his cooking to notice the eavesdroppers in the hall. Souma, however, knew Megumi, Hisako and Erina were there all along, and encourages them to serve as judges.

Souma’s dish tears both Megumi and Hisako’s clothes off, and even Erina is pleasantly surprised; despite the charcoal, Souma used the bitterness of instant coffee to balance his dish, and it is presented in a way that barely passes the French cuisine test.

Then it’s time to taste Tsukasa’s dish—absolutely perfectly-cooked venison with two exquisite sauces—and it isn’t even a matter of clothes coming off or foodgasms…the girls are transported to an Eden-like dimension where they are one with the deer, the trees, and the sunshine.

So yeah…it was kinda silly to imagine Souma was never going to come anywhere close to beating Tsukasa, unless Tsukasa was jobbing. As much as they don’t want Souma working for Central, they have no choice but to pick Tsukasa’s dish as the winner; it’s just…better.

But hey, turns out Souma doesn’t have to work for Central even though he lost! He put up a good fight, and in the process demonstrated to Tsukasa that he’s far too wild and unpredictable to serve as his right hand. So he declares a draw and takes his leave. No harm, no foul!

With that, the episode moves on, with two quick, surprising wins for Megumi’s Cultural RS Nikumi’s Don RS. While sadly there wasn’t time to get into them in any kind of detail, it’s good to see that it isn’t just Souma and Ryo who can beat Central. The morale of the rebellion reaches a new high.

While celebrating Megumi’s win, Polar Star holds a grand tasting session for the God Tongue (much to her chagrin), but Hisako is nevertheless glad Erina’s fitting in with everyone (though someone needs to take that dour brown frock away from Erina and burn it, IMO).

Just when it looks like the episode will end on a happy upbeat note, Azami darkens Polar Star’s doorstep. He invites himself in, ignores demands to leave, and orders Erina to come with him. Erina almost starts to move reflexively, so completely has he conditioner her to obey, but he’s blocked by the other dorm members, Hisako, and even Fumio, who reveals Azami is a Polar Star alumnus.

Isshiki reports the results of his research on Nakamura Azami, and how he rose to Third Seat in his first year, First Seat in his second, and became a top star…until Senzaemon exiled him. Outnumbered, Azami takes his leave, but Souma follows him outside and asks, basically, why he hates Polar Star so much.

But Polar Star is nothing to Azami; neither love nor hate. He’s after bigger things. Besides, Polar Star’s Golden Age is long gone; during that time, Azami looked up to a senpai named Saiba Jouichirou. Azami’s revolution is meant to be the “salvation of the culinary world that ruined Saiba-senpai.”

Erina peaked her head out at just the right time to hear that the chef she always admired and even loved has a son, and that son is Yukihira Souma. That knowledge should make the second half of the season interesting!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

Last week I pleaded for the show to do something, anything with Erina before the cour is out, and it seems like my prayers were answered … somewhat. She’s finally out of that horrid brown frock, back in uniform, and more importantly, outside the friendly confines of Polar Star.

Erina confides in Isshiki that she doesn’t expect her relationship with Alice to improve anytime because of the “horrible things” she did to her in the past, even though those things were done when she was under the absolute influence of Azami.

So it comes as a shock to the system when Erina arrives at the Shokugeki hall to find Alice telling Azami off right to his face, demanding he let Erina be her own person. Alice knows it wasn’t Erina’s fault she never got her letters, and never again wants her cousin in the postition where she can’t write back.

But this isn’t going to work if Erina herself doesn’t stand up straight and show her domineering creepfest of her father that she’s her own person. Alice can’t let her main rival be a cowering puppet!

The Alice-Erina interaction is wonderful, but things get even better and more complex when Yukihira and Megumi’s teacher is dismissed and replaced by First Seat Tsukasa Eishi. (Additionally, as Ryo was the only rep to beat Central, Azami quickly purges of the other 32 clubs and societies that lost in the first round.)

Tsukasa, wonderfully voiced by Ishida Akira, is the siren, if you will, who will bring the students to heel through their adoration of him; the class is understandably super-stoked to have the opportunity to learn from the First Seat.

Where things get interesting is when Souma volunteers to be Tsukasa’s teaching assistant, then proceeds to exceed Tsukasa’s expectations with the skills he honed at Shino’s, keeping up with the superfast pace of Tsukasa’s cooking.

The class is wowed, and frankly, I enjoyed Souma and Tsukasa—ostensibly an enemy—putting aside their differences to work some culinary magic in perfect harmony. As Souma says, it was fun!

Meanwhile, Erina has worked up the courage to return to scheduled classes, a big step forward and a relief to her admirers. In a scene that’s touching despite the blatant fanservice, Hisako remarks how she’s noticed a change in Erina.

Erina acknowledges is a result of witnessing all of the people, from those in RS’s to Polar Star, Souma, Ryo and Alice, standing up against her father, something she once thought impossible.

She’s now become worried less about how to please father and more worried about what she Nakiri Erina, wants to do with herself…something far beyond taking a side in Totsuki’s not-quite-dead Civil War.

Speaking of sides, Erina, Hisako, and later Megumi end up eavesdropping on an extended conversation in which Tsukasa offers Souma a job as his right-hand man, making him an official member of Central.

When Souma says he wouldn’t want to present Yukihira Diner’s cooking at Central, Tsukasa calmly reveals that such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, because Yukihira Diner’s cooking isn’t necessary.

All Tsukasa wants is Souma’s “supportive abilities” to help him refine his own cooking, while Souma’s cooking would presumably die off. Tsukasa, literally Number One at Totsuki, has no qualms exposing his boundless selfishness common in many elite chefs.

Souma doesn’t see the point if he can’t serve his own cooking, and says for all they know, Souma’s cooking is better than Tsukasa’s, to which Tsukasa responds with an informal challenge right then and there. If Souma wins, Tsukasa will surrender his First Seat to him. If Souma loses, the rest of his days at Totsuki will be spent as Tsukasa’s sous chef.

Tsukasa begins cooking immediately, and the smell of his venison is so invigorating, Megumi and Hisako—outside the classroom—have foodgasms without a bite! Even Souma hesitates in the presence of such superlative cooking skill—until he hears of Azami and Central’s ultimate plans.

Central aims to literally take over the Japanese culinary world, shutting down all restaurants deemed subpar, including Yukihira Diner. This isn’t just a silly little war within the school, it’s primed to become a nationwide battle between the monolithic empire of orthodoxy and the rebellion of independence an individuality.

Here’s the thing: I just don’t see Souma beating Tsukasa. Does that mean he loses and is forced to switch sides? If this is a conflict the effects of which will extend far beyond the school, will he instead choose exile? And since she’s been listening and watching this whole time, what will Erina decide to do?

LOL. Never change, Erina.

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.

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.

Little Witch Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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