Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Little Witch Academia
Season One 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.
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.
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
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