Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Little Witch Academia

Season One Streaming

Synopsis:
Little Witch Academia Episodes 1-13 Streaming
Atsuko “Akko” Kagari has wanted to be a witch ever since she saw a performance by Shiny Chariot, a magical idol, as a little girl. But the world is taking a turn for the technological and scientific, and magic is fading out. Despite that, Akko manages to enroll in Luna Nova High School, a magical academy for training witches…possibly because they need her enrollment money. Not coming from a magical family, Akko lacks all basic knowledge and has to start from scratch, earning the contempt of her classmates. But if there's one thing Akko has, it's determination, and nothing is going to stop her from finding her missing idol and becoming a great witch.
Review:

After the usual gap that comes of Netflix licensing a series for streaming, Little Witch Academia's TV series is at last legally available to North American audiences – and it's worth the wait. Loosely based on the two short films of the same name, Little Witch Academia follows the adventures of Atsuko “Akko” Kagari, a girl just starting her journey towards witchhood. She's dreamed of it since she was a little girl, when she saw a witch named Shiny Chariot perform a magic show. Chariot encouraged her audiences to find the magic within them, a message which resonates with young Akko. Despite not coming from a magic family (a family of magic practitioners, not with inherently magical DNA), Akko enrolls in Luna Nova, an academy for the training of witches.

When the story starts, the world is in a time of flux, and magic's heyday is long in the past, which means that Luna Nova is struggling financially. (There's a strong implication that this is, in fact, our world, à la Harry Potter.) This may be the real reason why Akko was accepted, because certainly very few of the professors seem to want her there, and she gets treated like an interloper by students and teachers alike. There's a strong possibility that a few of them are actively setting Akko up to fail – no one appears to be monitoring her class choices and only one teacher, Professor Ursula, is actually interested in her progress. Having worked in both high schools and universities, I find it difficult to believe that no one would have told her not to take a class taught in fish language when it's well-known that she's not from a magical background. But fortunately Akko is the kind of girl who doesn't let anything get her down for long, the sort of determined and optimistic that bounces back from even the worst situations. That's a large part of what makes this show so endearing: Akko herself isn't ever going to give up, even if she sometimes considers it.

There is a standalone quality to each of these thirteen episodes, although the thread of Akko's love for Shiny Chariot (and Chariot's true identity, which is heavily hinted at until episode eleven, when we find out for certain) is carried through most of the show. Thankfully, the characters and imagery manage to mitigate some of this. While Akko is undeniably the heroine, her roommates Sucy and Lotte are also fully realized characters (especially the oh-so-Goth Sucy), and Diana, the school's resident Perfect Girl, has hints of coming to understand that she may not be the chosen one like everyone's been telling her. The addition of romantic interests for Akko and Lotte is low-key enough that it isn't distracting but can still make middle school girl hearts flutter, and the choice not to give Sucy a potential love interest is a good one, as it wouldn't work with her character. The art is a fantastical mixture of Charles Vess, Alphonse Mucha, and nods to Disney, with the absolute best episode visually being eight, which takes place inside Sucy's subconscious and uses a fascinating mix of styles. In general the show is very careful to avoid panty shots, even if that means fudging the angles at times (the opening theme has a good example of this), and although there are no previews, the ending theme images do change at times to let us know what's coming, or what happened after an even in the episode.

Although the show feels aimed at a middle school audience, it has an interesting amount of references for an older audience to spot. The most obvious is Lotte's obsession with the in-world book series Nightfall, a clear Twilight parody, but there are also a couple of Shakespearean moments, such as in episode six, when Akko and Andrew first meet. The scion of an anti-magic politician, Andrew is less than kind to Akko, who is practicing her transformation magic…so she accidentally turns him into an ass, like Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Disney references abound in the Sucy's mind episode, with the most notable being the drive-in film of Sucy's memories, which looks like a Silly Symphony from the 1940s. Possibly the strangest image, however, is that the owner of the magical store the girls visit in town looks like an anime version of the actor Jack Black.

The English dub is generally very strong, with Erica Mendez doing her best Cherami Leigh impression as Akko (don't worry, it works) and Rachelle Heger doing a wonderful job as Sucy. The only dark spot is Stephanie Sheh (who also does a very nice Lotte) as Jasminka; it sounds a little too much like the “fat voice” from the Japanese-language version of Kiss Him, Not Me, especially since Jasminka is the token larger character. Both versions have a notable absence of high-pitched squeaky characters, which is a nice surprise.

This is only the first half of Akko's story, the “getting there” portion. By episode thirteen she's made great strides in catching up to her classmates, who had the advantage of magical education prior to high school, and she's well on her way to reclaiming the magic that made Shiny Chariot so great. There's a symbolism in the use of the number seven and the constellation of the Pleaides, also known as the Seven Sisters, that hasn't been fully developed, so it will be worth paying attention to that number as the series goes forward. In Japanese mythology, the constellation, known as “Subaru,” represents coming together, and that combined with the Greek myth of the Seven Sisters may be important.

Little Witch Academia's first season is a treat. Goodhearted, fun, and carrying a message of believing in yourself, the story is charming and visually fascinating. It isn't a magical girl story per se, but it has a lot to offer fans of that genre as well as anyone who just enjoys a good fantasy or magical school story without the shounen harem aspect that's been popular in the genre in recent years. It's just a nice series, and when combined with its other strengths, that makes it worth your time.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A-

+ Good voice work in both languages, fun story, strong themes, fascinating art and music
Some voices sound off in each language, occasional off-model moments, episodic format doesn't always work out

Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Series Composition: Michiru Shimada
Screenplay:
Nanami Higuchi
Masahiko Otsuka
Yū Satō
Michiru Shimada
Kimiko Ueno
Storyboard:
Masayuki
Akira Amemiya
Akitarō Daichi
Michio Fukuda
Hiroyuki Imaishi
Yukihane Kamiogi
Takashi Kawabata
Hiroshi Kobayashi
Daizen Komatsuda
Ryouji Masuyama
Makoto Nakazono
Nobutoshi Ogura
Hiroyuki Oshima
Hiroaki Sakurai
Yuka Shibata
Yoh Yoshinari
Episode Director:
Koji Aridomi
Shigenori Awai
Tatsumi Fujii
Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Yoshihiro Miyajima
Makoto Nakazono
Hideyuki Satake
Dai Seki
Takumi Shibata
Yuichi Shimohira
Keisuke Shinohara
Housei Suzuki
Yusuke Suzuki
Saori Tachibana
Unit Director:
Yoshihiro Miyajima
Makoto Nakazono
Music: Michiru Oshima
Original creator: Yoh Yoshinari
Original Character Design: Yoh Yoshinari
Art Director: Masanobu Nomura
Chief Animation Director: Shūhei Handa
Animation Director:
Youko Eki
Mayumi Fujita
Seiji Hagiwara
Yuzuko Hanai
Shūhei Handa
Tetsuya Hasegawa
Kai Ikarashi
Rie Ishige
Shōta Iwasaki
Yūto Kaneko
Masayoshi Kikuchi
Lo Ho Kim
Yong Sik Kim
Hiroki Kishi
Kazushi Matsumoto
Mayumi Nakamura
Hamuto Natsuno
Takayuki Onoda
Kengo Saitō
Mai Sakamoto
Masaru Sakamoto
Tsukasa Sakurai
Miyuki Sasagawa
Mayumi Seki
Kenji Shibata
Takuma Shimizu
Michelle Sugimoto
Yoshie Takahashi
Naoki Takeda
Eimi Tamura
Takuya Tokuda
Fuyumi Toriyama
Hatsuki Tsuji
Hiroki Tsuji
Kasumi Wada
Motoki Yagi
Mai Yoneyama
Ding Zhang
Sound Director: Jun Watanabe
Director of Photography:
Naoki Ban
Daisuke Okumura
Naoki Yorozu
Executive producer:
Yoshihiro Furusawa
David Lee
Masahiko Otsuka
Katsuhiro Takei
Producer:
Yoshihiro Furusawa
Kimitaka Suzuki
Katsuhiro Takei
Yoshihiro Usa

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Little Witch Academia (TV)

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