Tuesday 10 January 2017

First Impressions: Little Witch Academia

Little Witch Academia

When Studio Trigger first burst onto the scene in 2013 they quickly made a name for themselves beyond their impressive team of Gainax veterans. After garnering plenty of attention with their first full-length feature Little Witch Academia (released as part of the Young Animator Training Project for Anime Mirai 2013), it’s 2015 follow-up The Enchanted Parade met it’s Kickstarter goal in a mere five hours. Two years later again and the world of Little Witch Academia is back once again, this time in the form of a full-length series. Creator/director Yoh Yoshinari and writer Michiru Simada are continuing to man the helm, with the show licensed by Netflix and due for streaming alongside the movies in the near future.

Little Witch Academia continues the adventures of Akko, Lotte and Sucy as they continue their studies at Luna Nova Magical Academy, however the series takes our heroes back before the events of the films. This first episode tells the story of Akko’s beginnings at Luna Nova, and how she came to meet the two girls that would become both her roommates and friends.

Compared to the sheer insanity of other Trigger works such as Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco and Inferno Cop, Little Witch Academia is a breezy sense of wonder and adventure that ‘s far more accessible to those not in-tune with Japan’s wilder side. The inspiration from the likes of Harry Potter and other Western magic-related works is very clear, and a match made in heaven with Trigger’s distinct style and imagination. The wonderful thing about Little Witch Academia is that it has already set itself up to have no set structure so the possibilities are endless. All we have are three instantly likeable characters and a school full of magic shenanigans. In world that’s becoming seemingly obsessed with gritty narratives and flawed characters, Little Witch Academia offers an alternative where you can just sit back, relax and have fun.

With the earlier movies the viewer was thrown straight into life at Luna Nova Magical Academy, but with a longer runtime there’s now the opportunity to take things a little slower. As such watching the previous instalments isn’t a necessity here, although you should anyway simply because they’re both excellent and readily available. With an origin story viewers are offered a chance to get the know the characters a little better, learning both the extent of Akko’s adoration of Shiny Chariot and that in fact Sucy is actually a bit of a dick. The setting has also been widened – the first film took place in the school’s murky catacombs, the second moved things outside into town and now this episode show its green thumb takes us to the forbidden Arcturus Forest that surrounds the school. It’s incredible how much world building Little Witch Academia was able to do previously, but now there are weeks of it ahead of us and it couldn’t be more exciting. 

When it comes to turning movies/OVAs into a full-length series a dip in animation is always going to be a big concern, but so far Little Witch Academia doesn’t show any clear signs of slipping. Admittedly it’s a factor that’s only really going to come into play as the show continues, but at the very least the first episode boasts great animation as the girls stumble their way through the forest and come head to head with a giant fire-breathing chicken. There’s been no significant change in any of the character designs either so they’re just as wonderful as ever, with every mainstay character sporting their own unique and distinct look. Despite focusing on the three main characters the episode also features cameo appearance from all the franchise’ main players already, including the new girls from The Enchanted Parade as well as snobby top student Diana Cavendish.

The Little Witch Academia movies are some of the best anime to come out in recent years and although the budget is going to be stretched thinner it seems that the series will be more than capable of continuing its legacy. The premiere successfully captured everything that made the original films work, and with the storytelling possibilities virtually endless Little Witch Academia is far from being short of spirit or potential. Netflix are making a big mistake not simulcasting the series globally, because if they were it would undoubtedly be the runaway hit of the season.

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