Little Witch Academia (TV) Season 1 – Anime Review
Synopsis: Akko is finally matriculating at Luna Nova Witchcraft Academy! But she faces expulsion if she doesn’t get to the entrance ceremony. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
I’ve never been a huge fan of Trigger. Their work is normally too goofy, to whimsical. The writing often too insane, to bizarre or even self-obsessed for my tastes. I’ve only ever taken to one of their titles, Space Patrol Luluco, surprisingly the most meta and self-referential of their work. When I started the Little Witch Academia franchise I struggled to see what the fuss was about. While Academia’s art was indeed impressive, I found the writing pedestrian, predictable, and one note, something Enchanted Parade, the second short-film, failed to alleviate as it mostly retread the same plot points and themes of the first short.
Jumping to Little Witch Academia TV was a surprising turn around. My complaints of the short-films were addressed and the attractive art-style mostly preserved despite budget and scheduling constraints. This is the version of the characters and franchise that finally made me understand what was so intriguing about this world.
Getting into it let’s talk about the characters. Like the short-films LWA TV is still very much focused on Akko. That hasn’t changed, and the vast majority of episodes still pin this plucky, starry-eyed, slacker witch as the central character. While there’s an episode focused on Lotte, the brainy, meek girl of the group, it’s the odd one out of the pack. Even the episode delving more so into Sucy’s prickly persona, and finding the sweet pot that proves she isn’t just a mean ‘ole prankster, still gives Akko center stage.
Unlike the short-films, however, there’s much more to Akko’s development than “remain true to yourself” or a rather weak sense of “you need your friends by your side.” Akko is actually forced to learn some things here. When we begin the series Akko is all talk just like she is in the shorts. She wants to be the bestest witch ever like Chariot, yet never does any of the work required to be meet that dream. Gradually the series forces Akko to come to that realization, and change her attitude. It goes a long way to realizing Akko as a more endearing character and offering up a lesson for younger viewers. Believing in herself is still a primary component to Akko’s character, and message, but comes with an all too important lesson of putting in the work to reach those dreams you hold dear.
That said Akko still has some morally questionable tendencies, and likely bars her from acting as a true children’s role model, not that she needs to be. Akko isn’t adverse to cheating her way to victory and while the series never really lets her have those wins, it rarely chastises her for the attempts.
That brings me to another point: The series stand alone nature. Most episodes have little to no barring on others, outside of Akko’s character progression. While certain characters pop up from time to time, and events are referenced, this series has a distinct lack of consequences. At one point during the series Akko and friends find themselves punished for their misdoings and are forced to move in with one of their far stricter teachers. Yet this development isn’t brought up again, at least not in these first 13 episodes. In fact the teacher who is so strict, Ms. Finneran, still rarely appears after this development, making it feel wholly underutilized and pointless as an ongoing punishment or obstacle for Akko and the gang.
Speaking of Akko’s little gang, Lotte is much as you remember her from the shorts, and greatly benefits from the increased screen time as well as an episode dedicated entirely to her. Sucy’s character has undergone a little bit of a shift. She’s much more of a troll and prankster than before, and at times you might actively wonder whether she’s really a friend with Akko and Lotte or just a discreet bully. It’s probably why there’s an episode dedicated to, literally, delving deeper into her character and discovering how she really feels.
As a quick aside before moving on, the three additional witches introduced in Enchanted Parade feature, from time to time, over these 13 episodes, but never really become part of the main gang and more seem to be stand outs from the entire class to make it feel like the student body as a whole has a bit more personality.
Turning to the world of Academia, many of my quibbles with the world building, or distinct lack there of, are addressed here, or sub-textually touched upon. We get a better sense of the world, its relation to magic, why the sorcerer’s stone is so crucial and how that wasn’t how it always was… etc. It makes Academia feel much more full and deeper with its lore. It doesn’t feel like a visually minded short-form anime anymore but a true world with lively characters and history.
One way in which I was disappointed was how Chariot is seen by the witch world proper. We never actually get anyone’s opinion on Chariot besides Diana and Akko herself. Which begins to make it feel like Diana’s strict dislike for Chariot is a personal issue, rather than one shared by the rest of the community.
The world building, Akko’s greater development, all of this just aids in Academia being a really fun watch. It’s not terribly deep, nor need it be, and feels like a Saturday morning cartoon through the eyes of Trigger’s flare and style, with perhaps a little more messaging than the cartoons of the 80s and 90s it most closely emulates.
And last but not least let’s address the dub. Netflix chose to hold back the series in favor of releasing it with an English dub. This means only 13 of Academia’s 25 episodes are available in NA, despite the series having finished its broadcast in Japan just last month. While the other twelve aren’t far behind, and will likely be out before year’s end, it’s understandably frustrating. That said, the dub actually adds a lot to the series.
When I first began my watch I found myself irritated with the liberties seemingly taken between the anime’s dub and the original Japanese (at least as presented by Netflix’s subtitles.) However, as the dub went on I found myself feeling it was actually the superior way to watch, at least as presented via Netflix’s service. Whether it’s a poor translation job for the subtitles, or truly indicative of the Japanese script, Academia’s dub spices up the dialogue quite a bit, and even adds more nuance to the story and history of LWA’s world that the subtitles seem devoid of. I found the dialogue much more enjoyable, and the characters more engaging and relatable through subtle changes in the way they spoke or made their arguments during climatic scenes.
Overall I really have come around on Academia. The shorts, while visually competent and even impressive, never did much for me. Here though I feel the world brimming with life, the characters fun, Akko’s journey engaging and even touching, and just all together an entire step up from what the short-films offered. Little Witch Academia (TV) is an awesome and fun watch, sure to give you plenty of laughs and amusement. I eagerly await the release of the last twelve episodes.
Little Witch Academia (TV) is available for streaming via Netflix