There’s only so many stories one can tell. If you can think of it, it’s been done before. Harry Potter wasn’t the first boy wizard to have dead parents who needed to confront the villain who killed them. Percy Jackson wasn’t the first demigod to go on adventures based on myths. Katniss wasn’t the first child to forced to compete in a fight-to-the-death with her peers that was broadcast on TV. And the protagonist of Little Witch Academia isn’t the first magical girl to struggle with her abilities and to fit in at school.
What makes the short stand out is how it handles these ideas and concepts.
The original Little Witch Academia is a 26-minute standalone short produced by Studio Trigger. It’s one of my favorite pieces of animation due to how in introduces and creates a very interesting world in a very short amount of time. The world we’re introduced is more interesting and more in-depth than some full-length films I’ve seen.
The backdrops and scenery are incredibly detailed. I especially love how the dormitory scene with the three main characters in their room. It just feels lived-in and comfortable. While the characters aren’t unique archetypes: the impulsive, under skilled but somehow overpowered protagonist, the nerdy friend, the friend with a dark sense of humor and the rich mean girl with a heart of gold; they play really well against each other.
Akko, our protagonist, attends Luna Nova Academy. Unlike most of the other students, Akko doesn’t come from a family of witches. She was inspired to go to the school by a performing witch known by Shiny Chariot. But this love doesn’t endear Akko to her classmates, who see Chariot as a fraud or sellout or insult to witchkind. It’s helped even less by the fact that Akko isn’t a great witch.
It isn’t clear how Akko got into the school, but she must have had some kind of magical ability in order to get in. Nor does it seem like magic is something everyone can do, but only a few get to learn; there’s definitely some kind of Pureblood/Muggle-type relations at play.
Her roommates Lotte and Sucy, well mostly Lotte, try to help her all they can, but they can only do so much to help her, especially when it comes to Diana Cavendish, the school’s local rich super-student.
One day, the girls are tasked with the mission of going treasure hunting in the school’s labyrinth filled to the brim with monsters. The rarer the treasure, the more points they get. Akko is determined to win, but a mishap with Diana leads them to a room full of old junk, which just so happens to include Shiny Chariot’s old magic rod. Akko, of course, takes it despite the other characters considering it a piece of junk.
Meanwhile, Diana and her room/teammates accidentally release a magic-absorbing dragon. With every spell, potion or curse tossed at it, the dragon becomes more powerful. Diana tries to fight the dragon alone but quickly acquiesces and accepts the help of Akko, who is the one to defeat the dragon in the end.
Remembering the spell Shiny Chariot used in her show, Akko is able to defeat the dragon (and is saved by Diana.)
The short also gives us two small revelations that hint that a larger world was already planned; 1) Diana is secretly a fan of Shiny Chariot and 2) the girls’ teacher, unbeknownst to them, is Shiny Chariot, herself.
Like I said, it’s nothing unique and it doesn’t try to do anything different. There’s no surprising twists or commentary on the tropes of the genre. It’s just well-written, entertaining and extremely nice to look at. The animation, backdrops and character designs are all fabulous.
All the characters have unique designs which tell a lot about their personalities. From looking at Sucy, without seeing the show, I can tell you that she gravitates towards darker or more traditional forms of witchcraft, while Akko and Lotte are more feminine. Akko is more non-traditional in both her dress and approach to witchcraft while Lotte is somewhere in-between but more intellectual and bookish. That’s really cool; it’s hard to show who a character is by their looks alone with leaning towards stereotypes. Little Witch Academia avoids that trap.
Little Witch Academia clearly has its own identity, own rules and own characters. Setting-wise it’s obviously influenced by the Harry Potter series, but there aren’t any one-on-one comparisons that can be made for the plots or characters. Plot-wise, it’s a pretty typical YA novel/Shoujo/Shounen/Magical Girl deal.
You know what you’re getting and that’s not a bad thing. Besides, the short creates a lot of questions that invite viewers to explore the world more. One thing I’m interested in is the whole roommate situation.
From this short and Enchanted Parade, it seems to me that there is some sort of balance between skill and personality traits which are supposed to bring out the best in the students by grouping such different people together. And yet, just from this one look, Diana’s team is off balance. The two other girls are very similar to each other and don’t provide Diana with what she needs to be a better person.
I really hope the series proper goes into detail about this, especially since it seems Diana and Akko would be a very powerful duo.
Perhaps that’s a plot point the series explores? Maybe, she was supposed to be grouped with Akko originally and refused? Or her parents rejected it?
It’s a wonderful set up and story, that both works well on its own or as part of a series. It was interesting enough that I remember being super-excited about Enchanted Parade and even more psyched that it was developed into a full series.
(I’m only afraid of watching the series because I don’t want to be disappointed. I’ve put it off for so long, and have avoided as much info about it as possible, so I can go in with no expectations.)
I can’t wait though.
For now, that’s the scoop.
See you next week for my review of Little Witch Academia: Enchanted Parade.
If you like this review, check out: Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Release Year: 2013
Length: 26 minutes
Available: Netflix, totalshortfilms.com
Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Producer: Naoko Tsutsumi
Writer: Masahiko Otsuka
Voice Actors: Megumi Han, Fumiko Orikasa, Michiyo Murase, Yoko Hikasa, Hisako Kyoda, Minami Takayama, Eri Nakoa, Chinatsu Akasaki, Reina Ueda, Kenji Nomura, Noriko Hidaka