In 2013, Japanese animation studio Trigger was awarded a spot in the Young Animator Training Project, receiving full funding from the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs to produce a short film. Their entry was Little Witch Academia, which tells the story of Atsuko “Akko” Kagari, a young witch-in-training. After its March 2 release, the film’s popularity encouraged the studio to create a sequel–especially after fans managed to raise half of the necessary funds through Kickstarter–and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade aired in 2015. Not long after, Trigger announced that a full-length TV anime was in the works (though some may have deduced this from an Easter egg in Space Patrol Luluco). With its pilot airing on Jan. 9 of this year, its 25th and final episode is scheduled for broadcast on June 26.
Undoubtedly, telling a story in 26 minutes is a difficult task. World building, plot and characterization are three components that make a series compelling; in order to stay under budget, at least one of these may be neglected during the production of a one-shot. Series with realistic settings do not need to focus on the first component, but Little Witch Academia whizzes out of this category and requires some exposition. In the one-shot, Trigger delivers this visually; scenes feature students at flying practice and participating in a spooky scavenger hunt. This approach attracts an audience temporarily, but the story would lose believability if Luna Nova Magical Academy were the only environment through which Akko interacted with magic. The full-length series does a wonderful job of expanding her worldview through new lands and interactions with people who have differing opinions on magic. Along with this, the importance placed on Akko and her friends’ motivations as well as a more intricate plot should earn this TV anime a spot on your plan-to-watch list.
Akko’s roommates Lotte and Sucy are featured in both versions of the show, but they receive individual attention in the full-length anime. The one-shot sharply defines the two as supporting characters; Lotte’s shyness and Sucy’s ghoulish interests serve as foils to Akko’s earnest and energetic personality. In contrast, the TV anime dedicates entire episodes to building the characters’ identities (a personal favorite hilariously takes place inside Sucy’s brain). Witnessing their reasons for wanting to become witches along with their insecurities establishes a deeper connection between Akko and her friends. The theme of friendship becomes even more prevalent as other characters are introduced during Akko’s journey. How Akko treats everyone and handles the situations that arise paint a picture of the inspiring witch she is steadily becoming.
Akko may be wise in the ways of friendship, but her naive understanding of the magical world is what introduces conflict to the TV anime. The one-shot’s portrayal of magic is something honorable and pure that is rooted in tradition, but this concept is evolved in the more recent production to feature a darker side of the craft. Prejudice and greed dictate the actions of many, something which Akko often has to learn the hard way. This is seen especially in the latter half of the series, when Professor Ursula’s former classmate is introduced. She has clear-cut plans for the future of magic, and though her fresh perspective intrigues the students, her methods for attaining her goal may raise some moral questions.
From its quirky sense of humor to its more serious underlying themes, fans old and new are bound to get hooked on Little Witch Academia. Pacing may be slow in early episodes, but the show picks up speed as it progresses, and new elements and conflicts that are introduced make for an enthralling climax. My main complaint is that Akko may be a tad too oblivious, but where’s the fun in things going smoothly the first time?