Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Little Witch Academia: The Nonsensical Witch and the Country of the Fairies
Atsuko “Akko” Kagari has come from Japan to Luna Nova, a school for witches, dreaming of becoming like her hero, the witch Shiny Chariot. Although no one approves of her goals and she's almost always in trouble, Akko doesn't let that get her down, powering through her school life with enthusiasm. On a school trip to see the hill that guards the gates of the Country of the Fairies, this gets Akko and her friends involved in the dispute over who will become the next Fairy King. With the future of the fairies at stake (to say nothing of Luna Nova's reputation), will Akko be able to pull through with just her believing heart and the help of her friends?
For many viewers, Akko, the heroine of Little Witch Academia, is either the major draw or the major turn-off; there don't seem to be many opinions that don't lean towards one of these two extremes. Even if you're of the former opinion (which I am), having the franchise's middle grade novel The Nonsensical Witch and the Country of the Fairies be told entirely in Akko's first person voice is a bit much, and it may make the book unpalatable for readers who were put off by the character in the anime version(s). Akko feels slightly less charming when she's the only character you really hear from, although that in part may also be due to author Momo Tachibana not quite capturing the character.
Regardless, this is a fairly charming book. The story takes place roughly between episodes four and five of the TV series, as both Lotte's obsession with the in-world novel Night Fall and the broom Shooting Star are mentioned, and Diana and Akko are still at loggerheads. It is possible to read the novel without having seen any of the anime, as all of the characters are sufficiently introduced and the prologue nicely places the reader in the story's world. The basic thrust of the story is that every year the students of Luna Nova go to Doras Hill, where the entrance to the Country of Fairies is. The school has to renew their permission to visit with Sifla, the guardian of the hill, each time a new witch takes up the name – witches named “Sifla” have been passing down the duty for hundreds of years. This year is one of those where they need to reform the agreement, but the current Sifla is only six years old and has just lost her only family, her grandmother, so she's not in any state to meet with Ursula or any other adult. When Akko decides that she's going to try and talk to the little girl, she, Sucy, and Lotte end up agreeing to help Sifla find her missing pets, which leads them to enter the Country of the Fairies against their teachers' orders.
This all sets up an adventure that is by turns sweet and exciting, and it allows each of the girls (including Amanda, Jasminka, and Constanze, who sneak after Akko and her friends) to have her moment of glory. Akko and Lotte get to do the most, which is too bad for Sucy fans, but since Sucy's a character who prefers lurking in shadows, it does make sense. Primarily what we see is that Akko's firm dedication to what she heard Chariot say when she was six years old actually does put her a step ahead of the more classically trained witches: her believing heart guides her to help Sifla, to reconcile the Cait Sith and the Cu Sith, and ultimately to save the throne of the Fairy King.
Folklore-savvy readers will recognize those two fey names as belonging to two groups of animal fairies, cat and dog folk respectively. (The names are the Scottish variant; in Irish “sith” would be “sidhe,” but both are pronounced “see” or “she.”) Apart from the names, these fey don't have a whole lot in common with their folkloric counterparts, instead relying on characters from fairy tales to inform their looks and actions. It's easy to see the influence of Charles Perrault's “Puss in Boots” in Feoras, the Cait Sith (the best known version of the character), while Alan the Cu Sith draws inspiration from the idea of the lazy dog, typically outwitted by the cat in folklore. This last definitely doesn't fit with the mythology of the Cu Sith, but just using the name is enough to give interested readers, young or otherwise, something to go on should they want to learn more. Generally speaking the story only uses names in general for folkloric concepts; if you're familiar with tales of Fairyland from actual British folklore, watching Akko and her friends drink something while in the Country of the Fairies will probably send a chill down your spine, even if it has no real consequences.
Momo Tachibana's writing is very firmly in the middle grade arena, although it could also be classified as a chapter book for a more advanced reader. There's never any real sense of danger and most of the action is either humorous, intellectual (as in solving riddles), or emotional. Tachibana does a good job of setting up Akko and Diana as foil figures, showing how their opposite approaches to both life and magic function even as the novel's position within the franchise means that the two aren't yet ready to appreciate each other. The theme of friendship above all is a little corny for older readers, but it isn't overdone or emphasized to the exclusion of all else, making it more a mark of the novel's intended audience than anything else.
Little Witch Academia: The Nonsensical Witch and the Country of the Fairies is a nice little addition to the overall franchise. It's also a good read for the younger fantasy reader in your life, filling the niche authors like Anna Elizabeth Bennett and Eleanor Estes used to occupy with their nonthreatening and fun witch stories.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Art is cute and fun, story is entertaining and nonthreatening, fits smoothly into the TV series timeline
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