It's a brand new year. And what better way to start it than with some anime.
Ghoulish, occult-themed anime. With witches.
Now, Netflix's selection of anime, at least in North America, is a little spotty. Some anime properties are spread across multiple series, and may involve several movies and TV specials as well. And Netflix, if it carries any of these parts, will usually not carry them all.
This can cause some sticky situations, where you, for example, have most of the later InuYasha movies on Netflix, but only the first two seasons of the show. Or you can just get lost in all the options presented to you.
As such, when you discover a new anime property on Netflix, and see different versions of it listed, there can be some confusion. And Little Witch Academia falls into this predicament.
A Mess of Titles
Little Witch Academia is the name of an anime TV series, but it is also the name of a one-off anime TV special.
The original TV special was so popular that the subsequent crowdfunding campaign to finance the sequel easily met its goals. And so Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade was greenlit.
And the success of these two specials was conspicuous enough to eventually land a full TV series, with one strange twist: the TV series does not share a continuity with the specials. They are two separate universes, and some of the differences are large enough as to render the two timelines incompatible.
The quality of the animation is much better in the specials, but the TV series has a more complete story. You should definitely watch both, but you'll be doing yourself a favor by watching the specials first.
You should also be aware that the two seasons listed on Netflix are actually one season of the original show. Why they decided to split it up like that is anyone's guess.
With that out of the way, lets dive into the story.
A Magical Girl Anime...in the Most Literal Sense
The easiest way for me to describe Little Witch Academia is to say it's the story of what would happen if Sailor Moon went to Hogwarts.
And the more I think about it, the more that seems like the show's ideal elevator pitch. Needless to say that this is a series that revels in the traditional shounen anime themes of friendship, cooperation, and self improvement. It just happens to do that in the middle of a "magical school" story.
It begins with Akko, as a young girl, attending a magic show put out by world-famous witch Shiny Chariot. And the little girl is so inspired that as soon as she is old enough, she relocates from Japan to England to attend the prestigious Luna Nova academy, which is where Chariot herself learned witchcraft.
This is a world where there was a short period of time, following the European witch trials but before the industrial revolution, when society began to accept witches and use their magic for the benefit of the masses. The rise in technology, however, made a lot of spells redundant, and most of the world sees witches as archaic and useless.
But Akko is determined to change all that, carrying on Shiny Chariot's legacy of ambassadorship to the nations of the world to convince them that magic is wonderful and useful. And she may be the only one who can do it, since Chariot herself vanished a number of years ago and has not been heard from since.
However, soon after enrolling at the school, she learns a heartbreaking truth: the greater witch community detests Chariot, and thinks of her as a traitor who wasted her magic on creating silly entertainments.
Couple that with the fact that Akko is not particularly adept at magic---she may, in fact, be the worst witch
in the entire history of the school---and you have a recipe for disaster.
Still, through the power of friendship and believing in her dreams, Akko may get her chance, and even save the world.
On the face of it, Little Witch Academia's story is somewhat ordinary, and has been done in a lot of other places.
Which is why it is such a good thing that the show boasts one of the best character ensembles in any anime. They never fail to captivate and have fiercely honed personalities.
Let's examine a few of them.
The protagonist of Little Witch Academia is a hopeless dreamer who is terrible at everything yet constantly sets her hopes sky high. This sets her up to be crushed, time after time, but always in an entertaining way.
A lot of anime protagonists are blank slates, useful only as an avatar of the viewer, but Akko drifts just the tiniest bit away from this trend, to establish herself more as the "lovable loser" archetype. It's great at winning the audience's sympathy and seasons her character just enough to keep it from being plain vanilla.
The most accomplished student at Luna Nova academy. Diana can do no wrong. She comes from a long line of witches and is privy to a number of spells known only to her family. Akko likes to believe she is her rival, but in reality the two of them are not even in the same league.
Diana is the only one of the students smart enough to figure out the sinister plots going on in the background while Akko and the others are having episodic adventures. She tends to look down on Akko, but also has compassion for her predicament, since she secretly is also a fan of Shiny Chariot.
The best part of the show. I'm not kidding.
Sucy is Akko's roommate at Luna Nova. And she's deviates from a lot of depictions of modern witches.
She is not a brave and bookish witch who fights evil. She is not a scatterbrained and angsty witch finding her way through a magical world. She is not a wise witch with life lessons for the people around her.
No, she is an old school, Dark Age, plague upon mankind, "fire burn and cauldron bubble"-style of witch, who studies magic because she wants to use it to hurt people, because she loves hurting people. And she pursues her passion with with such dedication that it is hard not to root for her.
She collects poison mushrooms, turns living things to stone, uses her roommate as a guinea pig for all her various toxic potions. She is a grade-A psychopath with supernatural moxie, and every moment when she's on screen is golden.
Little Witch Academia is better than it probably should have been.
It is, in many ways, a typical "Magical Girl" anime, and the setting of the "Magical School" is likewise familiar. But it rockets past that on the strength of its cast. These characters are so well developed that everything they do becomes new and interesting. It sets itself apart from a lot of other anime, and a lot of other fantasy properties in general.
It earns a solid endorsement from this Netflixer. Watch it, and be enchanted.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: