Little Witch Academia

Little Witch Academia

LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA

Watched via Crunchyroll

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: The biggest set back for this film was that it was only a half hour long. That’s hardly enough time to develop background, introduce a hurdle, and then wrap it all up. As such, I was left rather confused as to what all was going on. Little Witch Academia starts off with Akko as a young girl seeing a magician for the first time. This is where her true passion for magic begins. We see a time jump to Akko’s school days, where she is studying magic rather unsuccessfully. Luckily the plot is rather straight forward and predictable, so it’s pretty easy to figure out the gist of what is going on. Akko attends an all girls’ school where magic is taught to those from magical families. It reminds me a bit of the Harry Potter series, where there is an unknown hierarchy to magicians (wizards, witches?). Did they actually ever say what they were called?

Akko is teased because of her ineptitude for magic, being from a non-magical family, and for being a fangirl of some famous magician, who I guess is lame to like. The film never actually explains why these things are bad, we’re just told to roll with it. Classmate Diana bullies her, and the main plot revolves around disarming a dragon and earning the respect of this bully. At the end we get to chuckle at Diana’s mischief and feel relieved that they end up working things out.

There are a couple of threads which remain unraveled, which annoyed me, but I feel they were left that way as a means to potentially draw out this title into a series or additional movies. While I would happily watch more from this title, I’d have preferred to see a full feature length film instead. I don’t necessarily think Little Witch Academia needs to be a bunch of episodes. The plot could easily be wrapped up, loose ends and all, in a film while still successfully exploring the characters and the world they inhabit.

This could’ve been a very solid film, like Kiki’s Delivery Service, but instead it’s just an underdeveloped film that feels like an episode of a truncated series.

PLOT: Little Witch Academia begins with the young girl Akko at a magic show for the great Shiny Chariot, a witch with great, sparkly powers and an awesome broom. During this show, Chariot defeats a dragon and looks really cool, making Akko decide to join a witch academy so she can follow in Chariot’s footsteps.

Cut to Akko at the academy. She seems to be the only girl there who’s not from a witch family, so she doesn’t have any particular skills or prior knowledge, and she doesn’t even know how to ride her broom! Considering the basic plot of this short film, all of Akko’s difficulties are very stereotypical, and I wasn’t impressed by any of them. Akko’s troubles with studying and riding a broom all make me wonder why she’s at the academy in the first place instead of making me sympathize with her. Maybe it’s because I’ve taught and know how frustrating it can be when students aren’t trying hard enough or are in the wrong class.

When the girls are sent into a dungeon to collect treasure and defeat monsters for points, some of the girls go overboard and release a dragon that could destroy the entire school. Akko ends up fighting the dragon with the help of Chariot’s Shiny Rod (her awesome broom), and Akko saves the day and earns the respect of her main bully, Diana, who’s also a fan of Chariot. These developments are also pretty cliché, to the point where I have to wonder who’s going to find this film appealing. I might be okay with the plot if the film’s runtime were longer, but 26 minutes is just not enough time to cram in all of these developments, establish characters, and have the audience care at all what happens to them. Everyone and everything could use more development, but there just isn’t time for it.

The inner little girl in me LOVED the plot set up. Sure it’s cliché, but it’s simple, whimsical, and actually targeted at little girls. I enjoyed the lack of pandering and sexualization of little girls.

SETTING: Unlike Crystal, I really enjoyed the humor in just how stereotypical and average the setting for Little Witch Academia was. Akko attends an all girls’ academy where she learns magic in typical large lecture halls, sleeps in a dormitory with a bunch of other students, and has the typical classes you’d expect like flying. Sure it’s not revolutionary, but it helps keep the story simple and focused on progressing forward rather than on world building. While it’s a bit disappointing that Little Witch Academia doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre, the setting works well with the length of the film. If the title does end up having more episodes or movies, I’d then expect for some real background and world development, otherwise the setting fits well within the perimeters of the short film.

SETTING: This film’s setting is pulled from every story out there about witches who go to a fancy academy. The academy is a white castle with some stylized architecture, and the girls end up in a stereotypical dungeon towards the end of the film. Even worse, the girls defeat monsters and get treasure, making the film follow the course of tons of RPGs. Little Witch Academia isn’t trying to break any ground with its setting—instead, it’s content to present exactly what people expect a witch academy to look like. Having had my fill of stories about witchcraft and academies, I wish this film had gone a little further in being original or at least making the content funny. The stylized imagery is nice, but other than that the setting offers nothing notable or new.

CHARACTERS: Akko and her friends have a lot of potential, that is if the film was longer. Given the limited time scope of the film, everyone was broken down into basic archetypes. Again, I felt it was very much like Harry Potter, but without any real development.

Akko’s character is written to be adorable and quirky in a charming way. Maybe it’s just because I too wanted to be a magician when I grew up (seriously, like the ones on TV with the rabbits in hats and stuff), but I could really identify with Akko’s innocent desires to be something great. She’s the sort of person who wants something with all her might, and doesn’t quite seem to understand why her dreams might be unobtainable. Crystal’s right, she’s very entitled and thick headed. When her friends try to point out to her why others may not like her idol, she fails to be empathetic.

The short film ultimately rewards her stubborn and immature fangirlish tendencies by allowing her the ability to wield the magical staff that once belonged to the magician idol Chariot. Despite having no magical aptitude what-so-ever, she manages to defeat the dragon and save the day, all while earning the respect of her peers. Really this is every kid’s dream: do nothing, get awesome powers from doing nothing, and shove it in people’s faces. As such I think the series works well towards a younger audience that can identify with that type of character. Again, I’m reminded of Harry Potter.

The secondary characters are simplified, but they bring a lot of humor to the table. I rather enjoyed myself while watching Diana and her group get into shenanigans with the dragon, and Akko and her friends coming to the rescue.

I will say the character development was weak. In fact another movie or episode is almost mandatory to make up for the lack of depth. Also I wanna see more of the mysterious teacher. The foreshadowing for her is strong, and just begs to be developed.

How does Akko at all remind you of Harry Potter?! Though that series’s worldbuilding can be a bit haphazard, it has leaps and bounds on Little Witch Academia as far as character development and motivation.

CHARACTERS: Akko is my least favorite kind of character. She’s hyper, lazy, impatient, stubborn, and arrogant. Instead of studying, she just wants to get school over with and know how to use magic. When she goes into the dungeon, she’s all gung-ho about getting the best treasure, despite the fact that she has no magical skills and almost gets her and her friends killed. I can’t stand characters who think they’re amazing without having put any work into it, and Akko falls squarely into that category. If she were more self-conscious or tried harder, then I might be able to like her, but as it is she seems like a kid who feels entitled to be the best witch ever just because she thinks she should be.

Akko’s main bully, Diana, is also very annoying, since she’s the kind of character who’s great at everything but a real snob about it. Of course, her overconfidence leads to her releasing the dragon that almost destroys the school, but she isn’t really punished for it or notably scarred. She does end up respecting Akko more at the end of the film, but that kind of character shift just feels cliché and was telegraphed from the first time she showed up, making Diana an incredibly annoying two-dimensional character.

The other characters are also two-dimensional, which makes sense given the film’s short running time and plot. Character archetypes had to be thrown in to fill everything out, and most of them are types that I dislike without sufficient character development. One of Akko’s friends was sufficiently snarky to make me smirk a few times, but she wasn’t near enough to save the characters of this film.

It’s too bad you didn’t like the characters. I really enjoyed them, even in their immaturity. Maybe I’m a sucker for students, even the mediocre ones, but I really respect students who are passionate even without talent. Sure Akko may need to consider another career, but kids will be kids.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I really enjoyed the flair of the character designs. I was strongly reminded of Soul Eater with a hint of a ‘70s/‘80s touch. Every character was unique and their design worked well with their personality and stereotype. The designs of the characters worked well to give this short film a strong “movie” vibe. Really the whole project was a refreshing new take on Japanese animation and I think it really helped to emphasize how anime doesn’t have to just be OVAs or television series. This film reminded me a lot more of American film-making, rather than typical anime. I’d be really excited to see another project like this, but in a full feature length. I think it could really help Japan break out of its old labels.

As for the animation, it’s beautiful and wonderfully executed. This is top notch movie quality stuff. Characters move fluidly and camera angles are constantly moving and delivering exciting and captivating shots.

Yes Japan, more of this!

More of this only if it carries a good story and characters, please. Otherwise we’ll get another film like this or Redline—all flash and no substance.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The only saving grace of Little Witch Academia is its art and animation, which is fabulous. This was made as part of Anime Mirai 2013, which is a project with the goal of training animators. In that respect, Little Witch Academia succeeded, but I’m bothered that its animators had to use their skills on such a trite story.

This film’s animation is, frankly, amazing. The characters’ heads are constantly moving, meaning the characters’ faces have to tilt and be drawn from different angles. Furthermore, the animators paid close attention to making the faces very expressive, which helps a lot in making the characters bearable.

The character designs are also great, with nods to old-style shoujo designs and some American cartoons. Appropriately, every character’s design instantly telegraphs their personality through small details like the style of their skirt or the way they hold themselves. A lot of effort was put into making this anime visually striking, and it certainly succeeded in getting me to watch it.

OVERALL: I had no prior knowledge of this short film, and as such I had absolutely no expectations of it. Crystal just commanded me to watch it, so I did. I really enjoyed this pleasant little adventure and the brief introduction to some potentially interesting young magicians (witches?).

I found the humor to be genuine and I even liked the little jokes about RPGs and the like. Call them stereotypical if you will, but it was still cute and charming. I wish the film had been longer and that there could have been a more developed backstory and explanation of major plot points (e.g., the teacher and idol), but for how long the film was and what it was, I think it did a great job. I really think I would have loved this movie as a kid, and even as an adult it charmed the pants off of me. Crystal’s right that it isn’t revolutionary or new, but I still found it a great way to pass a rainy afternoon.

OVERALL: I was interested in this anime because of Anime Mirai and its art, but I was let down by it. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected an innovative plot or well-rounded characters from a short film for training animators, but I still feel like this film is full of wasted potential. The art and characters look great, but there’s just not the substance behind them to make this worth watching. If you like witches and don’t mind this sticking to every archetype about the genre, then give it a shot on Crunchyroll. If you like animation and want to drool over well-done facial expressions, go for it. However, don’t it expect it to do anything new or exciting outside of the art department. It’s a shame that such a good-looking anime doesn’t have any other redeeming qualities.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (6/10)
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